In amongst the bright lights of Tokyo, I was forever finding shrines and temples dotted around. From enormous pagodas and statues to quaint little arches in quiet alleyways, each one was beautiful in its own little way.
Japan’s national faith is Shinto, an ancient and traditional system of spirituality. It doesn’t have a founder or a text, but an overabundance of little traditions. There are kami, spirits or gods, for a variety of different things. Gods in nature, in places, gods of good crops or good fortune. Different shrines are dedicated to different kami, worship ranging from quiet personal prayer to complex traditions and festivals.
Like much of Japan, this faith is a fascinating link between the modern world and a very ancient one. Turning from the neon lights and loud music of Akihabara and finding oneself at a little red gate is as Japanese an experience as you can get.
Because of Shinto’s lack of strict writings or any central authority, it is able to incorporate deities, beliefs and practices from other faiths.
The other religion that permeates Japan is Buddhism, obviously from a shared history with China, India and Korea. Like Shinto, Buddhism’s focus on internal and personal spirituality allows it to comfortably exist alongside other religions. The result is that in Japan, the two religions are intertwined.
A Buddhist temple can hold a Shinto shrine inside it. Access to both can now involve the classic Shinto red arches, the Torii Gates.
I won’t pretend to be an expert in either faith, let alone how they intersect.
I can definitely appreciate the beauty of the temples and shrines though, the architecture and artwork, the quiet dignity of the gardens and grounds, the sheer scale of some and the small, intricate details of others.
I might never fully appreciate the Japanese faith and tradition, but as long as I’m here I will no doubt be overawed by the shrines. Even in the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo, they are little pockets of an older, more dignified time.
On the outskirts, there are places like the enormous Meiji Shrine, a forested area and remarkable temple complex, all dedicated to the turn-of-the-century Emperor Meiji who set Japan on the path to modernisation, all while holding tight to the traditions.