Thursday, March 17, 2011

After the Tsunami, Japanese return to Ancient Practices

Listening on the radio, I heard a strange statement concerning the anger of the gods from the Japanese Governor. The statement was thought provoking. Considering our modern day knowledge of science and plate tectonics, who would shout out the gods have rained down upon the Japan? But I recalled this also happened with hurricane Katrina from right-wing Christian extremists, who blamed the natural disaster on the "sin city". The difference here is that it was the government stating the heavens were angry and not religious devotees, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina. Here is what the governor said on Monday:
...Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara startled many when he said, "The Japanese people must take advantage of this tsunami to wash away their selfish greed. I really do think this is divine punishment."
In both cases the victims are blamed for the atrocity. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, one is left wondering why the most decadent part of New Orleans, namely the French Quarter, remained relatively unscathed.
In Japan, the Governor quickly apologized for his comments. The Japanese were shocked by this comment as it conflicts with their modern day beliefs rooted in science. While the country is widely secular, natural disasters often trigger a return them back to their ancient practices and beliefs in the supernatural. This is because the risk of improper burial can have lasting affects on the family.
In times of calamity, ancient practices of Shintoism are likely to be followed in order to restore harmony in the universe. While these practices are more about practice than belief, they are a reflection of Japanese cultural that continues to endure in times of great need.
A Time For Shinto

After the funerals, when people begin building new homes and their lives, Shinto will move center stage. If Buddhism deals with death in Japan, Shinto deals with life. At the center are kami — life forces that are a little like deities, and are ever-present.

"The deities have two faces," Nelson says. One face is benevolent, as the deities help people in their day-to-day lives. "But those same deities have this wrathful side," he says, "which can manifest itself at unpredictable moments." And people turn to Shinto priests and rituals, he says, to restore the balance between the human and the divine.

Read more about it at NPR.

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