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A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine
     

A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine

by John K. Nelson
 

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What we today call Shinto has been at the heart of Japanese culture for almost as long as there has been a political entity distinguishing itself as Japan. A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine describes the ritual cycle at Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki�s major Shinto shrine. Conversations with priests, other shrine personnel, and people attending shrine functions

Overview

What we today call Shinto has been at the heart of Japanese culture for almost as long as there has been a political entity distinguishing itself as Japan. A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine describes the ritual cycle at Suwa Shrine, Nagasaki�s major Shinto shrine. Conversations with priests, other shrine personnel, and people attending shrine functions supplement John K. Nelson�s observations of over fifty shrine rituals and festivals. He elicits their views on the meaning and personal relevance of the religious events and the place of Shinto and Suwa Shrine in Japanese society, culture, and politics. Nelson focuses on the very human side of an ancient institution and provides a detailed look at beliefs and practices that, although grounded in natural cycles, are nonetheless meaningful in late-twentieth-century Japanese society.

Nelson explains the history of Suwa Shrine, basic Shinto concepts, and the Shinto worldview, including a discussion of the Kami, supernatural forces that pervade the universe. He explores the meaning of ritual in Japanese culture and society and examines the symbols, gestures, dances, and meanings of a typical shrine ceremony. He then describes the cycle of activities at the shrine during a calendar year: the seasonal rituals and festivals and the petitionary, propitiary, and rite-of-passage ceremonies performed for individuals and specific groups. Among them are the Dolls� Day festival, in which young women participate in a procession and worship service wearing Heian period costumes; the autumn Okunchi festival, which attracts participants from all over Japan and even brings emigrants home for a visit; the ritual invoking the blessing of the Kami for young children; and the ritual sanctifying the earth before a building is constructed. The author also describes the many roles women play in Shinto and includes an interview with a female priest.

Shinto has always been attentive to the protection of communities from unpredictable human and divine forces and has imbued its ritual practices with techniques and strategies to aid human life. By observing the Nagasaki shrine�s traditions and rituals, the people who make it work, and their interactions with the community at large, the author shows that cosmologies from the past are still very much a part of the cultural codes utilized by the nation and its people to meet the challenges of today.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nelson, who teaches Asian studies at the University of Texas at Austin and who has lived and taught in Japan, offers a richly detailed, anecdotal study of Shintoism-the ancient, distinctively Japanese religion often misunderstood by the West. As Nelson explains in the cogent introductory chapters, Shintoism is "a body of ritual practices essentially agricultural in design and animistic in content" yet which somehow manage to attract participation from among urban-dwelling Japanese. Particularly difficult for Westerners is the idea of Kami-essentially what is inexplicable and wondrous in the world. By focusing on the seasonal ritual sand ceremonies of one Shinto shrine, the more than 400-year-old Suwa shrine in Nagasaki, Nelson succeeds in capturing the "moods and motivations" of Shintoism, and in putting a human face on many mystical practices. Ritual is central to Shintoism, and Nelson clearly describes the four basic ceremonies: purification, presentations (offerings), petitions (prayers or "beautiful words" with mystical properties) and participation-before offering specific examples of each. The ceremonies are divided into the four seasons, and each one described includes interviews with, or anecdotes from, participants-such as a Shinto priestess who used to play in a rock band and still sees herself as "a thoroughly modern Japanese woman." Throughout, Nelson demonstrates that Shintoism has survived 2000 years by its "adaptation and resourcefulness" regarding the changing needs of its participants to remain the living religion it is today. (June)
Library Journal
Nelson (Asian studies, Univ. of Texas, Austin), who has lived and taught in Japan, shows great sensitivity to the difficulty Westerners have in approaching Shinto, sometimes called the most Japanese of religions. Following a basic introduction, he describes in fairly simple terms the details of significant rituals and festivals that take place at Suwa shrine in Nagasaki. His book goes a long way toward shedding light on the unique mythology and outlook on Shinto, at times drawing significant parallels with Native American concepts. Nelson explores the connections between Shinto and the somewhat fanatical ends to which it was put in service of the political agenda of World War II Japan; he also examines the implications of the presence of this particular shrine in the heart of one of the cities on which the bomb was dropped. In his introductory and concluding chapters, Nelson reflects on the resurgent nationalism to which Shinto might once again fall prey, and these chapters strike a different, somewhat editorializing tone. On the whole, however, the book is scholarly as well as readable. Recommended for Asian studies collections and other public and academic collections with an interest in the subject.Mark Woodhouse, Elmira Coll. Lib., N.Y.
Booknews
Teeple (sociology and anthropology, Simon Fraser U.) sees the welfare state and social democracy as a period of transition from the era of national capital and nation states to one of internationalized capital and supra-national organizations. He examines the expected increases in social and personal wealth and well being that allowed the rise of welfare states, and the economic retrenchment and political reaction that are dismantling them. He also warns of the consequences for working people worldwide, the decline of political legitimacy, and the exercise of unmitigated corporate power. Paper edition (unseen), $15.00. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780295974996
Publisher:
University of Washington Press
Publication date:
04/01/1996
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.88(d)
Lexile:
1620L (what's this?)
Age Range:
18 Years

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