Religious Pluralism in Contemporary Japan
Lessons Learned?

 
 
I. Connectedness
First, it is hardly surprising to point out that spirituality has something to do with feeling connected. ... For many monotheistic religions, the immanent connectedness among things is understood via an external relation to God. The sacred is the “R” that connects A to B in Figure 1 from chapter 1. For Shinto, by contrast, the immanent connectedness is inherent; the connection is part of what A and B are in themselves (Figure 2). ...
 

 
This discussion suggests that spirituality may be understood as an emphasis on connectedness — on feeling at home in the world. Most, maybe all, religions are immanent insofar as they impact upon the everyday through second-nature ideas, values, and behavior, as well as the ritualized commemoration of life’s major events. Because of this immanence, the world is lived as spiritually infused. Yet the form of immanence, how it is interpreted, taught, and experienced, may differ from case to case. For especially the last four or five hundred years, for example, Christianity has in its mainstream doctrinal development generally excluded panentheism, the idea that God is literally in every thing that exists (and yet is more than just that). In doing so, it has marginalized or excluded from its own spirituality some experiences of the kind central to Shinto. Perhaps something could be recaptured here. The holographic analysis we used to explain Shinto spirituality so fruitfully might be of help in this enterprise. (SWH, 165-6)

Can the “holographic entry point” motif help us develop a
better understanding of and appreciation for religious pluralism?


II. A Sense of Awe
The second area to explore is the importance of awe in spirituality. Again it is hardly innovative to claim religion has something to do with wonder, mystery, and awe. Yet Shinto, as a contemporary religion in a highly technological society, is striking in its insistence that awe is not to be understood or comprehended in any systematic way. ... In our own modern world, one result of the predominance of scientific thinking is that today our initial response to the awesome is to try to understand it rather than to stand under it. Instead of filling us with a sense of humility before the unknown, awe has come to challenge us as only the not-yet-known. ... That is fine. But let us never allow the impulse to understand the firmament outshine the awe and wonder of simply standing under it, feeling ourselves to be inherently part of it and it part of ourselves. (SWH, 166-7)

How does this sense of awe enrich Japanese perspectives on religion?
Have we lost our sense of awe ... and do we need to get it back?

 
III. Ritual as Respiration
The third lesson about spirituality suggested by our encounter with Shinto is the importance of ritual in sensitizing people to the connectedness we have just discussed. ... In a consumer culture stressing entertainment, the priority is on innovation. Marketing demands that we not be satisfied redoing what we have already done with what we already have. We saw in chapter 2 that Shinto emphasizes “freshness,” not “newness.” This suggests renewal rather than innovation or simple repetition. Ritual is perhaps most effective when the old patterns are practiced anew. ... In this regard, the connection between spirituality and ritual intensifies our awareness that spirituality is not separate from corporeality. ... Ritual breathes life into the spiritual. Ritual is re-spiration. (SWH, 167-8)

What role does ritual play in Japanese religion?
How does this relate to the role of ritual in the West?


 
IV. Nostalgia
Aching to Return Home

And fourth, let us consider the nostalgia for existential religious forms. In our postmodern contexts, we are often rightly suspicious of nostalgia as a romanticized construction of the past that never was. Nostalgia often serves ideologies of power by allowing them to disguise change as a return to normalcy: the rhetoric is that power is not being used to coerce change, but rather to undo factors that have corrupted an original purity. ... But is there not something positive to be said for nostalgia, especially when it is expressed as a desire to resuscitate existential forms of spirituality? ... [In conclusion, there] is the kind of nostalgia nurtured to lend authority to state control. And there is the kind of nostalgia that beckons us back to a form of connectedness that has been all but erased by the rise of scientific thinking, dependence on technology, and consumerism. ... The etymology of the word “nostalgia” is the “ache” (-algia) to “return home” (nostos). And this ache to return home is the aspect of spirituality that Shinto so well exemplifies. We all probably remember feeling it at some point. If we should forget, the frogs of Futami will remind us. (SWH, 168-70)
 

 
Kokoro no Furusato
The Spiritual Homeland

The author Kino Kazuyoshi, in a book itself entitled Kokoro no furusato (‘The Spiritual Homeland’), which is largely a travelogue of famous Japanese religious places such as Koyasan, Ise and the like, has described the Shikoku pilgrimage as a ‘spiritual homeland of the Japanese people’, while the Awaji island tourist board, in publicising two pilgrimage routes around the island, has also appropriated the same words, describing Awaji as a Japanese spiritual homeland.
 
 
This use of the image of the furusato, the homeland, and of the kokoro no furusato, the spiritual homeland, is redolent with emotive nuances of tradition, of unsullied life, peace and harmony, and acts as (and is intended to act as) an idealised contrast to the realities of contemporary, especially urban, life. These images (and hence the idealised furusato) stand as bastions of Japanese culture and tradition and as bulwarks against, and escapes from, the increasing disharmonies of contemporary life, and as representations of a peace that has been lost in the processes of modernisation. In other words, the images are restatements and reaffirmations of Japanese ideals in the modern world that serve as a means of enabling Japanese people to maintain or reawaken contact with the cultural and, indeed, spiritual roots that help to formulate Japanese identity and provide them with a sense of peace of mind, anshin, and a sense of feeling at east and at home that is lacking in modern life. There is anshin, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging in tradition, in the structures of the furusato, the native village with its social ties of belonging cemented by the shrine, temple, ancestors and festivals, far more than there is in the modern city with its crowded apartments and commuter trains. ...
 
 
This invented and pristine furusato ... stands in contrast to the (by implication) westernised chaos, tensions and problems of the city, and in many respects represents a contemporary extension and development of the Japanocentric and, especially, the nationalistic traits within the Japanese religious world. By reiterating the mythic images of Japanese cultural uniqueness and homogeneity depicted in the stories of early Shinto texts it creates an emotional nationalism within a religious framework, and an idealisation in a religious context of Japanese cultural traditions and identity. (RCJ, 238-9)
 
 
None the less, there is perhaps a defensiveness about all this as well. Japan is, as I noted in the previous chapter, tied in to the modern world, and the pulls towards nostalgic longing and traditionalism do not suggest a real desire to abandon the riches won through participating in the modern world. No one really wishes to go back to the apparent idylls of the furusato: people are still moving to, not from, the cities. Yet, as with all  aspects of nostalgia, there is an inherent sense of loss involved in this: the processes of modernisation require the inevitable and irrevocable disappearance of many aspects of life and traditional culture prevalent in earlier times and give rise to a deep-seated unease about the extent to which participating in the wider world is eroding, and will continue to erode, Japan’s own cultural heritage. ... Indeed, there is an inherent tension between the ideals of anshin, peace of mind, which are expressed within the image of furusato and are central elements within the social parameters of Japanese religion, and the wish for excitement and encounters with the mysterious found in the enduring role of miracles and spiritual intercessions.
 
 
The Japanese religious world balances these seeming tensions and contradictions, providing a means through which they can be contained and expressed within an overall framework relevant to contemporary needs. When a new religion such as Tenrikyo affirms the importance of encountering the spiritual nature of an illness through religious means, it is not denying the advances of modernity but is stating that these are not alone enough. Metaphorically, this, along with the statements of nostalgia and the importance placed by many contemporary Japanese on the incidence of miracles, shows that to live happily in the contemporary world requires a fusion of its benefits with the stabilising forces of cultural tradition. (RCJ, 240-1)

Can nostalgia for the past be reconciled with a “modern” orientation toward the future?
Does Japanese religion accomplish this — and if so, can we learn from their example?


 
Concluding Remarks
Changing Continuities
[W]ithin the fluidities of the Japanese religious framework that enable it to respond to and remain in line with contemporary change and needs, there are remarkable continuities and consistencies. The parameters of religion set out in Chapters 1 and 2, from the importance of situational needs and the emphasis on a happy present life to the centrality of concepts of causation and the interrelationship of humans and spiritual entities, are as relevant as they ever were. ... As such it is clear that religious matters, and religiosity, are very much part of Japanese life, relevant in social terms and playing roles on personal individual levels simultaneously, providing avenues through which Japanese people may express themselves and through which they may find meaning and a source of identity as well as help and support whenever they need it. Religion is thus not, in the final analysis, something that is out of date or irrelevant to a modern and changing society like Japan. Rather, as has been shown in this book, it remains an essentially contemporary phenomenon, with a constantly modernising internal dynamic that keeps in line with and relevant to the changing needs of the people themselves and to those of the society in which they live. As such it also provides a medium through which people can come to terms with social change while giving them a framework of meaning, vitality, reassurance and the continuing validities of the Japanese religious world in the rapidly changing context of contemporary Japanese society. (RCJ, 242-3)
 
 

Religious Pluralism in Japanese Religion
Final Reflections
 
Many Paths, One Destination?

Many Paths, Many Destinations?


Many Paths, No Destination?

In the end, all we know is that there are many paths, so anything we believe about the destination is a matter of faith. However, in Japanese religion the focus is on the journey, not the destination. When we demand clarity on issues that are beyond our capacity to know, we end up losing our sense of “awe” for the unknowable ... but when we focus on the journey rather than the destination, we can learn to be at home with the “here and now” and develop a deep respect for our fellow journeyers!