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Switch to Forum Live View What is Shinto to the West?
6 years ago  ::  Nov 04, 2007 - 1:02AM #1
fuyunohana
Posts: 6
I'm a Japanese/East Asian Studies major, and I'm extremely interested in Shinto from a historical and cultural standpoint. However, I'm very curious about how the Western practitioner carries out many of the Shinto practices away from Japan. Is there some sort of form of American Shinto, and if so, how is it similar and different from the traditional form?
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6 years ago  ::  Nov 09, 2007 - 12:09PM #2
Aquari
Posts: 1
Well, Shinto in the West is automatically different from Shinto in Japan. For some reason, Japanese immigrants and their descendents don't seem to keep practicing Shinto very much, perhaps because of the difficulty in practicing a shrine-centered, community-oriented faith in a place with nearly no shrines (I can count the ones I know of on one hand!) and a very small and scattered community.

So, most of the North American practitioners I know of are of European ancestry, trying to practice Shinto alone and without shrines, and learning what they know from books. Many have some sort of cultural connection to Japan - either they've studied it academically like you, or else they have married a Japanese person, or they lived part of their life there, or have learned a bit about Japanese spirituality through the martial arts community. We have to adapt the religion to our new environment, e.g. finding replacements for unavailable supplies, translating prayers from Old Japanese into English, and trying to answer hard questions like, should we honour the spirits of Japan or try to identify the spirits of our own environment?

Here's a link I came across recently. The author describes her personal devotion to the Shichifukujin group of spirits. She doesn't consider herself a Shintoist, but a Neo-Pagan; but it's typical of practitioners worldwide to consider themselves Buddhist or Taoist or 'no religion' while practicing Shinto at the same time.

My Life With The Lucky Seven

Here are some links to North American Shinto sites you may find useful:

Shinto Mailing List
Tsubaki Shrine

-- Aquari, Former Forum Host and still acting like one ^.^;
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6 years ago  ::  Nov 09, 2007 - 12:09PM #3
Aquari
Posts: 1
Well, Shinto in the West is automatically different from Shinto in Japan. For some reason, Japanese immigrants and their descendents don't seem to keep practicing Shinto very much, perhaps because of the difficulty in practicing a shrine-centered, community-oriented faith in a place with nearly no shrines (I can count the ones I know of on one hand!) and a very small and scattered community.

So, most of the North American practitioners I know of are of European ancestry, trying to practice Shinto alone and without shrines, and learning what they know from books. Many have some sort of cultural connection to Japan - either they've studied it academically like you, or else they have married a Japanese person, or they lived part of their life there, or have learned a bit about Japanese spirituality through the martial arts community. We have to adapt the religion to our new environment, e.g. finding replacements for unavailable supplies, translating prayers from Old Japanese into English, and trying to answer hard questions like, should we honour the spirits of Japan or try to identify the spirits of our own environment?

Here's a link I came across recently. The author describes her personal devotion to the Shichifukujin group of spirits. She doesn't consider herself a Shintoist, but a Neo-Pagan; but it's typical of practitioners worldwide to consider themselves Buddhist or Taoist or 'no religion' while practicing Shinto at the same time.

My Life With The Lucky Seven

Here are some links to North American Shinto sites you may find useful:

Shinto Mailing List
Tsubaki Shrine

-- Aquari, Former Forum Host and still acting like one ^.^;
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6 years ago  ::  Nov 23, 2007 - 8:08PM #4
Ancestral
Posts: 153
I always find this interesting because many folks do not know that there is a Western Northern European tradition of ancestral and spirits of the land and house (wights) which is called Asatru (True to the Gods) or Forn Sed (Ancient Ways). The Gods are even viewed as our Elder Kin or Ultimate Ancestors, and libations of food and drink (called a blot) or ritualized toasting (called sumbel or symbel) are done to honor them, our own ancestors, and the spirits of the land and house. Asatruar often look to Shinto as an inspiration as it is a continuous tradition while we have had to reconstruct Asatru from our lore. Of course, we would think that it would be more respectful to our ancestors to honor them, the Gods, and the spirits of the land in the ways that our ancestors practiced.

Here is a link to the Asatru Folk Assembly:

http://www.runestone.org/home.html

There is also Asatru discussion here at Beliefnet (under Reconstructionist Religions):

http://community.beliefnet.com/forums/f … .php?f=314
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6 years ago  ::  Mar 02, 2008 - 1:31PM #5
AshtarothKarnim
Posts: 92
ilu shelem

I think a shinto shine should be easy to make in a china town!
This could be the way forward, and many western cities have china towns, and they too honor ancestors so would understand the idea.

good luck

salem
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6 years ago  ::  Mar 03, 2008 - 2:03PM #6
pinkboi
Posts: 3
A Shinto Shrine in Chinatown would make as much sense as a Shinto Shrine in German Town. It's a uniquely Japanese thing, and the fact that Japanese are a rather minor ethnic group in terms of number and usually scattered, combined with that Japanese are usually either not religious or simply identify with Buddhism as the more important faith is why Shinto is rare in the continental US.

That being said, it is NOT rare in Hawaii, where there is a sizable Japanese community (and 10% of the population is in the Buddhist Churches of America, effectively a Japanese organization). There are even Shinto churches that have services like Christian churches do.

In the continental US, there is one actual Shinto shrine in Washington. Mostly Japanese members, but a few Japanophile White people too (it seems Japan-obsessed individuals who are interested in Japanese religion get interested in the foreign import, Buddhism.. strange considering how Japanese Shinto is).

There are also a few Mikoshi in America, and those are portable Shinto Shrines that are carried around at fairs. One is in New York, and 2 are in Torrance (where there is probably the highest concentration of Japanese in the continental US). I carry it with the Japanese about 2 times a year, once at Nisei Week in Little Tokyo, and once in a festival in Torrance.

You might be also interested to know that Konko is considered a type of Shinto and there ARE Konko churches in America, usually in places with sizable Japanese populations (though it is a rare/unusual sect, even in Japan).

And, as Aquari noted, there are similar religions. I'd say Asatru is to Northern Europeans as Shinto is to Japanese, not that there'd be anything wrong with a White person being Shinto or a Japanese person being Asatru, though there are some right-wingers on both sides of the Pacific who'd argue the point. Basically, they are both what we could broadly call paleo-pagan religions (though Asatru is revivalist, making it neo-paleo-pagan) - strong emphasis on nature, ancestor worship, animism, and polytheism. There are differences between the two of course, but if Shinto appeals to you, then Asatru or Native American spirituality or whatever else might also for the same reasons.

Coming from an Asatruar who participates in Shinto rituals from time to time (and speaks Japanese).

[QUOTE=AshtarothKarnim;327208]ilu shelem

I think a shinto shine should be easy to make in a china town!
This could be the way forward, and many western cities have china towns, and they too honor ancestors so would understand the idea.

good luck

salem[/QUOTE]
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6 years ago  ::  Mar 05, 2008 - 12:01PM #7
fuyunohana
Posts: 6
Wow, I had no idea Shinto had these kind of established practices in the United States. I am on the East Coast, so I am quite removed from most of the Asian influences that have impacted Western US culture, but I hope to go out West for grad school and I would be very interested to see shinto in action. I also understand that it is similar to some of the Northern European reconstructionist religions, so I can also understand going that route in trying to recreate some of the practices.

Yes, Pinkboi, what you said about Japanophiles going to Buddhism instead of Shinto seems to be correct, at least in my case, ha ha! Maybe because it feels more adaptable because of its universal quality, as well as fitting with viewpoints already shared by many Western thinkers of the 21st century. My question would be, what in particular is it about Shinto that you feel attracts Westerners to it? I don't mean this to sound critical, but rather I want to know to better understand the transmission of the religious culture to the West.
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6 years ago  ::  Mar 06, 2008 - 1:11AM #8
pinkboi
Posts: 3
[QUOTE=fuyunohana;334320]Wow, I had no idea Shinto had these kind of established practices in the United States. I am on the East Coast, so I am quite removed from most of the Asian influences that have impacted Western US culture, but I hope to go out West for grad school and I would be very interested to see shinto in action. I also understand that it is similar to some of the Northern European reconstructionist religions, so I can also understand going that route in trying to recreate some of the practices.

Yes, Pinkboi, what you said about Japanophiles going to Buddhism instead of Shinto seems to be correct, at least in my case, ha ha! Maybe because it feels more adaptable because of its universal quality, as well as fitting with viewpoints already shared by many Western thinkers of the 21st century. My question would be, what in particular is it about Shinto that you feel attracts Westerners to it? I don't mean this to sound critical, but rather I want to know to better understand the transmission of the religious culture to the West.[/QUOTE]

Well, given that it's such a small number of Westerners, I'd almost wonder what doesn't attract so many Westerners. Though I think it's not a matter of attraction. People only have an evoked set of choices (in this case, religion). Religions that have a lot of followers or that evangelize get more attraction to them.

But I think if someone likes Shinto, they probably either had a Shinto experience, probably when in Japan, or really like the nature-orientation, animism, and so forth. It usually "feels right". Buddhism is a much more cerebral religion so usually appeals to people in completely different ways, though Japanese Buddhism certainly contains many elements of Shinto and Chinese Buddhism is of coursed infiltrated with Dao (it's interesting to note that the to in Shinto means dao.. it's the Japanese butchery of the Chinese pronunciation of the symbol 道)
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5 years ago  ::  Dec 09, 2008 - 3:16PM #9
velvetsanity
Posts: 1
You are correct in saying that Shinto is uniquely Japanese......but the statement that most Japanese people aren't religious isn't quite true.  The truth is, Shinto is so deeply ingrained into the culture that the Japanese don't see it as religion, they simply see it as part of life.  If you truly want to understand Japanese culture (and also how they think, and how they perceive things), a study of Shinto is vital.  However, analyzing it won't work.  Like with most religions, the only way to truly understand it is to practice it.

Another thing which you may not be aware of is the practice of having a small shrine within the home (it's called a kamidana, and it will generally fit in the corner of a room (typically the living room)).  Japanese who move to the US may bring their kamidana with them and continue their Shinto practice that way.  There are also several places online where you can order a complete kamidana setup.
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5 years ago  ::  Dec 09, 2008 - 9:06PM #10
John_T_Mainer
Posts: 1,658
[QUOTE=velvetsanity;945441]You are correct in saying that Shinto is uniquely Japanese......but the statement that most Japanese people aren't religious isn't quite true.  The truth is, Shinto is so deeply ingrained into the culture that the Japanese don't see it as religion, they simply see it as part of life.  If you truly want to understand Japanese culture (and also how they think, and how they perceive things), a study of Shinto is vital.  However, analyzing it won't work.  Like with most religions, the only way to truly understand it is to practice it.

Another thing which you may not be aware of is the practice of having a small shrine within the home (it's called a kamidana, and it will generally fit in the corner of a room (typically the living room)).  Japanese who move to the US may bring their kamidana with them and continue their Shinto practice that way.  There are also several places online where you can order a complete kamidana setup.[/QUOTE]

As others have said, this is similar to Asatru.  We consider it more a folkway than a religion, and our alters are often little more than a few sacral objects near the hearth that is the sacral focal point of our home.  While it is nice to have large festivals of many families, one can do ones duties to the ancestors and the spirits of the land with no more than the hearth shrine and a few offerings to the land and house wights (Japanese would say Kami).
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