A recent trip to my home from home, Japan has opened my eyes to what has always been staring me in the face in Japanese culture, their ‘way of life’. I’d like to share with you my simplistic take on it.
In the West, we often look to Japan as an oasis of calm, through Zen Gardens, flower arranging, tea ceremonies and to bring down the tone somewhat, the most fantastic toilets you’ll ever sit on! As someone who spends a lot of time in the bathroom you’ll have to take my word for this. All of these rituals, I believe, have their foundation in ‘the way’, and, give people space and time to find their way.’
In addition to these numerous ‘ways’ of calm lies the predominate religion in Japan, Shintoism, which is deep in ritual and practice:
During my stay, I visited shrines in Tokyo, Ibaraki and Saitama prefectures. Shrines are a place of worship (although there are of course places of worship of other religions). In Japan, shrines are believed to be home to a multitude of ‘spirits,’ ‘Gods’ or ‘essences’ (‘Kami’ in Japanese). Welcome to Shintoism, the traditional religion of Japan, which is deeply routed in ritual to connect with Japan’s ancient past.
Shinto (the Way of the Gods) according to wiki directly translates into two components:
– spirit / essence that is thought to exist in nature or people, ‘kami’ in Japanese;
– the path – ‘michi’ in Japanese meaning a philisophical path or study, deriving from the Chinese ‘Dao.’
The translation suggests that through the rituals of life, for example flower arranging, calligraphy, tea ceremony the way can be accessed.
What’s interesting about Shintoism is that you don’t have to profess a belief in the religion to partake. This extends to the fact that a child’s birth can be registered at a shrine whether you are ‘shinto’ or not. This suggests that ‘the way’ is accessible to all, regardless.
Before you enter a shrine, there is a cleansing ritual where you wash your hands and your mouth. My friend Noriko, who used to be a guide at the Meiji Jingumae shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo, taught me how to wash my hands according to the ritual. She also advised me not to walk down the central path at a shrine as that is reserved for the Gods! Good to know! There is something strangely hypnotic about this washing ritual, and, like with many aspects of Japanese life, calming. It is I guess, part and parcel of ‘the way’.
Shrines sell a whole host of talismans for worshippers, to make prayers to the ‘kami’ and to have readings from them. I decided to have a couple of goes at ‘Omikuji‘ – fortune telling readings. The tradition is that if you receive ‘bad luck’ you tie it to a wooden board and allow the Gods to blow it away. It’s the luck of the draw and I for one, believe you make your own luck in life. However, the readings I drew resonated on a number of levels and I said thanks for this.
With regards to what the take away is from all of this, I believe that you can incorporate rituals and ‘ways’ into your life and this may help you to find the path you are looking for. Whatever cultural or religious way you follow, ‘the way’ is ultimately ‘your way’. Whatever you are handed, be it good or bad, you make your own luck in life, put your own personal stamp on it. Let your internal GPS guide you.
By all means, be guided but ultimately be your own guide. You’ll know just what to do.