Most people in Japan don't follow a single religion, They are Shinbutsu Shugo, which means, like me, they incorporate elements of many religions in their beliefs. I say like me because I've been like this all my life, but my belief system solidified after several years of living in Japan. So I, too, am Shinbutsu Shugo.
The new religions in Japan aren't that new. They are variations on Shinto or Buddhism combined with various folkloric traditions.
On my last visit to Kyoto, I saw over 120 places of worship. 57 of them are Methodist. There is a Latter-Day Saints Stake Center and a Catholic Archdiocese. There are the occasional debates over doctrine, but the worst I have heard is a raised voice now and then.
It is surprising how many people in Japan speak more than one language. English is the most predominant secondary language, followed by Russian and French. One would be hard-pressed to improve on their educational system: it is encouraging, humane, and brings the children to a wholesome curiosity and surprising openness of mind -- healthy signs in my view.
It is a surprisingly peaceful place to live if you don't mind a very strict code of etiquette, mixing of old and new cultures, and being treated as a guest among very polite and very aggressive people. For example, there is a ritual for nearly everything. Handing another person a business card has its own brief and very considerate gesture.
Shinto and Buddhism are also well in view, and Hindus have made a positive impact to this huge, beautiful, and very lively city.
There will always be an atheist presence, but the one group I have seen in Japan that is genuinely unwelcome is Islam. It isn't a question of belief. It is a question of their conduct. In a nation with millennia-long traditions of feudalism and the Samurai, these people are not subject to intimidation by Muslims who demand a humiliating surrender and intolerable intrusion into their lives.
That, to the proud Japanese, is unthinkable. Christianity fits in well, but Islam is so contrary to Japan that I don't think it is a real issue.
In Jesus' Name, I bid you peace.
That's where I lived, Kyoto. Partly because that's where the works is, but also because it's the most traditional city in Japan, and because it's surrounded by the most spectacular temples in Japan, including my favorite Kyomizudera.
As far as Islam. no, it's not liked much in Japan. But it's tolerated because the government of Japan has a policy of complete religious freedom. But the behavior of most Muslims offends the Japanese sense of propriety. When people live in Japan, they expect them to respect their culture and people.
Those rituals you mention, those are vitally important and were formed long in the past to enable a small island nation with a huge population to get along with each other in very crowded and close quarters. Were I rich, I would have no hesitation in spending the rest of my life in Kyoto.
Domo aragato, Bonestructure!
The closest I ever got to Kyoto was Yokuska Naval Station. It was a great time, though. It can take awhile to develop the Japanese Sentiment. Out here we have feral cats all over the place. I adopted one (and got a bunch of kittens in the process).
Tippy is a mineki-neko: she waves! When she wants a snack, she will very gently brush the fur in her pawpads on my arm. I have to say that the Japanese have developed a fondness for cats. I did also at Yokuska.
When I think of the precious little a pet asks of us, and the priceless love they give so freely, I begin to think more of stray cats than some people I know. They are very independent, affectionate, and resourceful. And they are superb mothers. I wish I could say that of some people I know.
Oh, people in Japan have a deep, deep love for cats. Probably more than any other country in the world. They're in folklore, they're in art, in movies and anime, everywhere. Not to mention the new Hello kitty amusement park that just opened up this year. Stray cats in Japan are the best cared for in the world. Restaurants put out plates for them. So do homeowners. There's always someone to pet them. They're not considered a nuisance, but lucky. And people respect their desire to live on their own. And for some reason Japan has the absolute cutest cats in the world. I fit right in, as I am a hardcore cat person. I can honestly say I like cats far more than I like most people.
I do miss Japan a lot. I was comfortable there, and accepted. My neighbors respected me because they knew I respected them. My Japanese was never terribly good, but I tried, and that's more than most people do. Some people think the Japanese are unfriendly because there are places they don't allow gaijin. But if you speak Japanese, you're welcome in those places. A matter of respect and honor. I would have no trouble finding a wife there. And I actually do try to live my life by the principles of wabi, sabi and suki, if you know what those are. People outside Japan aren't too familiar with it, but those principles are really at the heart of Japanese life and culture. It's really more of a religion than any other religion in Japan. It explains every aspect of Japan if you know how to understand it. And a very large part of my own religion. I can only give a plain version. People won't understand, but sometimes you just have to throw a stone into a pond so as to make ripples.
Wabi: Tranquil Simplicity The refined and elegant simplicity achieved by bringing out the natural colors, forms, and textures inherent in materials such as wood straw, bamboo, clay, and stone, as well as in artifacts crafted from them like earthenware, tile, handmade paper, and lacquerware, and in textile fibers like hemp, cotton, or silk – this is the core of wabi. Wabi may describe beauty in nature untouched by human hands, or it may emerge from human attempts to draw out the distinctive beauty of materials. While eschewing decoration, contrivance, or showiness, wabi treads the fine and precarious line between beauty and shabbiness. To discover wabi, one must have an eye for the beautiful, yet it is not an aesthetic understood by the Japanese of old, but a quality that can be recognized by anyone, anywhere who is discriminating and sensitive to beauty.Sabi: Patina of Age Beauty that treasures the passage of time is sabi, echoing the original meaning of the word: rust or patina. Objects or constructions created from organic materials and used in daily life are of course beautiful when they are brand new. But sabi describes the new and different phases of beauty that evolve in the course of their use and enjoyment, and the conviction that the aesthetic values of things is not diminished by time, but enhanced. The wear and tear of daily use, lovingly repaired and attended to, does not detract, but adds new beauty and aesthetic depth. Indeed, sabi is at its ultimate when age and wear bring a new thing to the very threshold of its demise. Appreciation of sabi confirms the natural cycle of organic life – that what is created from the earth finally returns to the earth and that nothing is ever complete. Sabi is true to the natural cycle of birth and rebirth.Suki: Subtle Elegance Originally expressing attraction, fascination and curiosity, suki is aesthetic adventure beyond conventional standards, delight in the unusual, curious or idiosyncratic. Initially, suki seems to have expressed an idea of beauty that was heretical and unorthodox. The shogun Ashikaga Yoshinori (1399-1441) was a patron of the arts known for his revolt against old and established aesthetic rules. His salon was receptive to bold and new ideas that were to become firmly established in the sixteenth century as what we might describe as “subtle elegance”. Many today are devotees of suki, the pursuit of beauty in unconventional forms and guises, but their search continues to be faithful to the quality of subtle elegance, which circumscribes the ageless essence of suki.
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