Tag Archives: jinja

Pagan, Shinto & Spiritual Book Reviews August 2016

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August is summer holiday time here in the UK so perhaps it’s no surprise that I’ve been relaxing and reading a lot of fiction recently, as you can see from this month’s reviews which include:

  • Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
  • Joseph Cali & John Dougill, Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan’s Ancient Religion
  • Witi Ihimaera, The Whale Rider
  • Brendan Myers, The Earth, The Gods and The Soul – A History of Pagan Philosophy: From the Iron Age to the 21st Century
  • J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, Special Rehearsal Edition Script

But which one have I awarded Read of the Month? Read on and find out!

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Great News from Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

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The Inari shrine at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

A month ago, I posted about a fundraising campaign to build a second torii gate at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. Thanks to tremendous support, the organisation behind the campaign, Inari Faith International, have succeeded in reaching its goal of raising $3,500 and have even exceeded it. This means that the torii construction can begin.

The fundraising is continuing to construct a third torii, so if you are interested in contributing to the development of Shinto outside of Japan, as well as showing reverence for Inari Okami, you can donate to the campaign here: https://www.crowdrise.com/torii

A great accomplishment for Shinto devotees all over the world!

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On Pagan “Temples”

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Shinto shrines in Japan are designed to stand harmoniously within nature

There seem to be quite differing opinions within the Pagan community when it comes to the idea of building Pagan “temples.” On the one hand, some love the idea of having a building where Pagans can all go to honour the deities safely and comfortably. On the other hand, there are Pagans who see that their “temple” is all around them – in the form of the forests, rivers, mountains and oceans – and so a temple is not necessary.

When I read these debates, I always think that Shinto has a good solution. [Read more]

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Funding for a Torii at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

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Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Washington, USA. By shigthenewt (shrine (8) Uploaded by Nesnad)

Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America is one of the most important Shinto shrines in the world of international Shinto. It’s one of the few large Shinto shrines outside of Japan, and it was first one to be build in mainland US after the Second World War. A number of deities are enshrined there; the prime deity is Sarutahiko-no-Ōkami, a deity often associated with martial arts, and Ukanomitama, a deity often identified as Inari.

At the moment, the shrine is trying to raise funds to build a second torii gate as an offering to Inari-sama, which would be the beginning of a torii tunnel. Projects like these are a fantastic way to raise the profile of Shinto outside Japan, and to demonstrate to the world that Shinto is for everyone, of all nations. And you can be a part of it!

If you would like to make a donation towards the building of the torii, you can do so on Inari Faith International’s fundraiser here. All donators will be invited to attend the Houno-shiki (Shinto dedication ceremony) at Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. If you choose to make your name public at the time of your donation, your name will also be published on the torii dedication page of the Inari Faith International website.

Donors will not only be showing their respect for Inari-sama; they will also be playing an important role in the effort to internationalise the Shinto religion. Why not donate and become a part of creating real Japanese cultural heritage outside of Japan?!

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The most important statue at Fushimi Inari Shrine (for me)

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Typical scene at Fushimi Inari Taisha – sacred mounds with torii gates and kitsune (fox) statues

I’ve been looking over some photos of when I lived in Japan 4 years ago, and I came across this one, which was taken at Fushimi Inari Taisha – the main shrine of Inari Okami.

Large Shinto shrines like Fushimi often consist of far more than a single shrine – they may sprawl over a very large area. Fushimi is no exception. In addition to the main shrines, there are numerous hokora mini-shrines scattered over the surrounding mountains and forests, accompanied with literally thousands of torii gates (both large and tiny) and, as one would expect from the main shrine to Inari – thousands of kitsune (fox) statues.

To see these sacred items in such huge numbers is impressive and quite awe-inspiring; you really sense the spirituality of the area as you progress. But out of all the fox statues, large and small, there was one that really stood out for me.

Fushimi1When we reached a more forested area at the base of the mountain, the number of torii and tsuka dropped. But within the hollow of one of the large trees lining the path, I discovered this tiny white, ceramic fox statue. It was so small and tucked away, it would have been very easy to miss. But to me, this was perhaps the most important thing I saw at Fushimi Inari Taisha in terms of teaching me about Shinto spirituality, and forming my own beliefs.

This statue had not been placed here by a priest, but by an unknown member of the public – perhaps as a way of praying to Inari for something they needed, or for thanking Inari for granting a wish, or simply to honour the deity. In fact, the mountains around Fushimi Inari Taisha aren’t even owned by the shrine itself, I believe, but they are still continued to be sacred.

Finding this little fox demonstrated to me how personal, spontaneous and intimate Shinto spirituality can be, and at once I felt a deep longing to honour the spirits of nature in a similar way. I felt rather sad that you generally don’t find this sort of thing in Britain’s woodlands – we have forgotten how the forests could be places just as spiritual as a mighty cathedral, and most British would not consider placing an offering there.

The little fox statue is still very much in my memory, and inspires my own spiritual beliefs and practices. I only hope one day that honouring our natural, wild places does become a little more commonplace – this is how I would like to see Paganism go.

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Filed under Nature & Environment, Places, Shinto / Japanese Religion

Hokora – Japan’s “Faerie Shrines?”

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More than any other, the type of shine that fascinates and enchants me most in Japan is the hokora, or miniature shrine. You can find these practically anywhere in Japan – on the grounds of larger jinja shrines, on country roadsides, on city street corners, or out in the middle of nature. Unlike jinja, these shrines are not necessarily under the control of any Shinto institution, and therefore represent a very pure form of folk Shinto.

Hokora can take many forms – just perform a Google image search to see. Some can be fairly large (the size of a cupboard or there abouts) and have many of the features of a formal jinja – of box for offering money, a bell to ring to summon the kami, shutters and so on. Others resemble kamidana in that they are miniaturisations of a full-size jinja, complete with tiny torii and suitably sized offering vessels (like the  hokora pictured above). The main difference between hokora and kamidana seems to be that kamidana are purely for inside worship, and also seem to have more rules about their layout and position than hokora.

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From Wiki Commons

Others, like the one pictured left, are incredibly simple – just a tiny stone “house” with a few sacred items inside. Most rural hokora make use of the natural beauty around them and are made from natural materials such as stone or wood. Although varied, the defining characteristic of a hokora seems to be some sort of house-shaped enclosure, as if providing a home for the kami.

Typically, hokora enshrine minor kami of protection, although more major deities may be venerated in hokora too. The fox statues surrounding the hokora pictured on the top of the page indicate a connection with Inari Okamisama, while the hokora above (and many of the hokora I have personally seen in Japan) enshrine Jizo Bosatsu. Jizo is a very interesting deity, as he is originally a Buddhist Bodhisattva, who has come to be venerated as a protector of children and travellers as Japan. Often depicted as small and rather endearing, Jizo is a popular deity among the Japanese, and he is often worshipped in a similar manner to the Shinto kami. This is another example of the syncretic nature of Japanese religions, where at the folk level, Shinto, Buddhism and other folk beliefs merge so much that trying to separate them becomes very difficult and, arguably, meaningless.

This deceptively casual and humble nature of hokora is one of the things that I find so appealing about them. Unlike jinja, they do not represent any kind of mass institution with deep social and political links – instead, they are an individualistic expression of the spirituality of the common people.

I also find small size of hokora, particularly those with scaled-down versions of shrine features such as torii, of great interest. When I see these tiny houses out in nature, I am reminded of the numerous legends of faeries, pixies and “wee folk” that have existed throughout the British Isles. I cannot help but think that the kami venerated in these small hokora are somehow linked to the “week folk” – perhaps it would even be fitting to translate kami in this context as “faerie.”

Hokora remind me of something else quite familiar in Britain: Garden gnomes, and other such garden statues. But while hokora are sincerely revered as sacred spaces for kami (and the proliferation of offerings at hokora is proof of this), garden gnomes and their ilk are simply seen as whimsical, even tacky, decorative ornaments, and nothing more. Yet I cannot help that somehow, people place gnomes in the garden out of a deeply-seated, subconscious feeling that there are mysterious and benevolent forces of nature at work, and a desire to somehow reach out and revere this force. Gnomes, after all, were once respected as elemental spirits of the earth.

I do wish that something akin to hokora existed in British forests, fields and roadsides, even as just a reminder to respect our natural world (my own goal at the moment is to transform my rather drab Inari altar into something more like a hokora). I have a feeling that if we did try to make little Western Pagan-style hokora venerating the fae or other nature spirits, they would end up being vandalised. But if it did become a tradition here to set up small places for offerings to nature spirits, I think we would perhaps learn to value our diminishing places of natural beauty. And moreover, it would make us feel more spiritually fulfilled too.

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Filed under Nature & Environment, Shinto / Japanese Religion