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The Spirit of Japan

Spirit and Practices

Temples, shrines and home worship centers are woven into the fabric of Japanese culture -- but like other traditions, the younger generations treat this heritage differently than their elders.

I was touched by the reverence for nature and personal immersion in thankfulness and active prayer practices.
Homes had their own worship center in which honor was given to ancestors and Buddhist practices that included offerings of food and flowers to the spirits of family beyond this life.

Little actions of community were honored...such as this water fountain at a Buddhist temple. Frugal respect for water and the utensils for drinking, as well as natural energy -- instead of total reliance on electricity, made a trip to the temple for family and personal reasons a respite from the onslaught of everyday life.
Children are taken to the Buddhist temple at 3 months, 3 years, 6 years...and so forth for a special ceremony. Here, Satoko carries her infant daughter, Maria, and they are wrapped in a formal kimono for the occasion. It is wrapped and tied around both mother and child. As the child grows, both boys and girls wear kimonos for their special ceremonies. Proud Papa and brother look on...David and Kent.
The temples are frequently located on large tracts of natural land...and this temple in Obuse has a natural spring at which local people fill their water containers. It is an honor system, as are all funding resources at the temples -- and each visitor can contribute to maintain the resources available to the community.
Leading from the front entrance to the temple grounds is a long wide walkway that takes you to the ancient temple located on the mountainside. The trek puts you in a very meditative mood...and takes you away from the hustle bustle of the roadway and township located in the valley below.
New buildings are topped with metal roofing to withstand the heavy snowfalls in this mountain valley...but ancient structures still sport their thatched roofs. This thatch was about three feet thick, with a lovely brushing of moss on it's topside. The wide eaves and sloping roof also help with protection from the rain and snowfall.
Temples are privately maintained and they are a site for housing of guests, festivals, and major tourist attractions. They maintain tours and giftshops, as well as small stalls of fresh foods, and water. Because it is both a cultural tradition and a spiritual practice, the temples are the site of a wide variety of human activities.

One such tradition is leaving a gift at the temple when followers come to visit. Several sites on the temple grounds were adorned with pebbles...carefully stacked everywhere a little tribute would fit. One protruding nail even had a stack of pebbles balanced on it!
Buddhist temples are visited when prayers are in special festivals, when school tests were eminant, and at weddings, births, and birthdays. These wooden prayers are placed here by students asking for special favor as they undertake their strenuous testing.

The cemeteries also reflect the great respect for tradition and heritage exhibited in daily life. Ancient grave markers are included in many small graveyards at the forest's edge. And the centuries are marked by the wear from weather and wind. New family markers are elegantly designed with engravings and vases in which to bring flowers, and places to place food for visiting spirits.

All Japanese are born Shinto -- the ancient religion that emphasizes a creation story unique to the Japanese people. Today, small Shinto shrines are located in the natural countryside and people honor their heritage by visiting the shrine on their birthdays, among other times. Children visit the shrine on their birthday and put one stone at the shrine for their first birthday, two stones for their second year, etc.
Photos: Copyright 2005 Carolyn Allen. All rights reserved. Links to these articles are welcome.

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