Every place we turn there is a shrine, a temple, a world cultural heritage treasure. For a nation that is generally not religious, to hear them tell it, they certainly have more than enough gods and places to worship them. The most common religion is Shintoism which seems like animism as there are places of worship for many different gods and objects of worship. Another major characteristic is syncretism, the blending of worship from more than one religion. Shinto and Buddaism seem to get along just fine. We had a lovely home visit, four of us went to the home of Akiko and Kane (as in Citizen Kane, he said). We were warmly welcomed with tea and sweets after a tour of the magnificent garden. The house tour began with a stop in front of the Shinto shrine set up in a corner of the living room. Kane said they pray at this shrine daily for what they want in their daily lives. In the formal living room we were introduced to the Buddhist shrine set up to honor their ancestors. Kane said “Shinto is for the living and Buddah is for the dead.” Kane made his living in commercial and residential real estate and was very active in Rotary, even ascending to District Governor. Along the Rotary flags he has on display is one from Buffalo NY.
Shinto prayer as we have witnessed seems to consist of making an offering to the local God, ringing a bell, bowing, clapping twice, praying for what you want and bowing again. People buy papers and symbols carved of wood and write their prayers on them and hang them in the shrine. The major things people seem to pray for are safe delivery of a healthy child, wealth and good grades. I’m sure this is not the sum as I know we participated in praying for world peace. We have no experience of Buddhist prayer yet. There are no prayer wheels like in Tibet.
Cherry blossoms! We missed the massive cherry blossom festival in Tokyo. We have seen thousands of trees in bloom in the mountains. By the time we leave in less than a week there will be no more cherry blossoms, but this is a country of gardens and no matter where we turn we see more beauty. This is also a nation of people devoted to design. Presentation of food in stores and restaurants seems always be beautifully designed to please the eye as much as the palate. Houses are very simple and design is focused on simplicity while displaying one or two selected objects of beauty. Kane’ s house was a bit more cluttered with display of his carvings and paintings of horses.