Monday, March 1, 2010

Shinto Seminar at Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki

Getting up at 6:30AM on Sunday to drive about a hundred kilometers in the pouring rain (and sometimes snow) to attend a Shinto seminar requires dedication. A lot of dedication. And we haz that.

So while the world at large is worrying about tsunami from the earthquake in Chile, I am sitting at a wedding hall nearby Kashima shrine and writing this while Prof. Kakumyo KANNO (who also happens to be a Buddhist monk) from Tokyo University, is speaking about interactions and material exchange between the individual and nature. About aggressiveness towards nature and how very un-shinto that is.

The seminar’s main theme is Shinto and Bushido. Shinto and the way of the warrior. Shinto and martial arts. Shinto and a whole bunch of really boring things.


That the conference (organized by the International Shinto Research Institute – Shinto Kokusai Gakkai) is being held at Kashima shrine in Ibaraki is not accidental. The shrine has long been a special place for warriors and martial arts practitioners. Why? It’s dedicated to the god of peace and martial valor – Takemikazuchi-no-kami.


Back in the olden days, he was ordered by Amaterasu (the big momma sun-goddess) to unify Japan. And when he got done with that, he settled in Kashima, which back then was an important place in the Kanto region. And because Takemikazuchi was such a swell guy, after his death, he was enshrined in Kashima as a god of peace. Not just any wimpy, old god of peace, but a strong and manly one. And all that manliness had a great appeal to warriors of the day.

Why would warriors worship a god of peace? Probably because he was brave, honorable and, presumably, had a large penis – something that all good warriors would like to aspire to.

In the middle ages Takemikazuchi morphed into a god of courage and martial valor, and when a very important dude of the time, such as Yoritomo MINAMOTO (源頼朝), the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate (鎌倉幕府) began to worship at the shrine, the great unwashed followed.


By the shrine entrance

These days the shrine is an important place to all those (penis or no penis) who practice martial arts. And that's not all, Kashima style martial art (with swords) was named after this shrine. And since we don’t have samurai anymore, Takemikazuchi became the patron god of martial artists. Today we saw groups of judo, aikido and kendo kids who came to pray here before major competitions. In the pouring rain, no less.

We were also treated to a kendo performance, which after freezing our butts during prayers at the shrine was a much welcomed diversion. It was blissfully warm in the training hall.


With real swords, too.

Professor KANNO is still going on about the types of nature and the origin of “bushi”. I am sure that Dr. Trouble (who is a card carrying member of Shinto Kokusai Gakkai) will give you his thoughts on this topic very soon.

Now I will pretend that I am enjoying this lecture and do everything in my power not to fall asleep.

I am waiting to hear the panel speakers: John Breen (almost bought his book on the new history of Shinto, but at 2400 yen it was too pricey for me), Alexander Bennett and Mukengeshayi Matata. Need. To. Stay. Awake… 


Yes, the panel discussion was THAT interesting...

And if anyone is interested, the whole symposium will be shown on some Japanese cable channel on April 24th and 25th. And the woman sitting in the last row, furiously typing on a MacBook – that’s me. Hi guys!

And here is a short film from the panel presentation:

1 comment:

  1. This looks like it was a very interesting seminar. Nice.


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