Shinto, the U.S.A. and the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF)
It was in 1968, just before the completion of the construction work on the Honden that we received the first intimations of an interest in Shinto in the U.S.A. It was timely and right because we were about to complete the building whose theme was the musubi of the shichi-go-san, the 7-5-3 festival - the horizontal rope that would circle the globe in goodwill and brotherhood. A gentleman by the name of Soichi Kato, a resident of New York and a member of an old Unitarian Church there told me of the head minister of the church, a Dr. Harrington who it sems was interested in Shinto. Mr. Kato was originally from Yokkaichi, the large neighboring industrial city which is about thirty minutes by car from the Shrine. He had come back to visit his home town and of course he came to worship at the shrine. The visit of Mr. Kato and the invitation to meet Dr. Harrington in New York turned out to be very important and led eventually to my joining the I.A.R.F. The musubi of the new Honden was beginning to work even before it was completely in place!
I was taken aback at the idea of going to the U.S.A. It was daunting to think of making that journey in the late 1960s, although since then I have made that trip not once but many times! For one thing, with the massive debt to the construction company, I had no money! Furthermore, I wasn't sure what I'd do if I got there!
Mr. Kato introduced me to Mr. Shinichiro Imaoka who was chairman of the board of trustees of a school called Seisoku Gakuen and the president of a large company. Mr. Imaoka had been at Tsubaki Grand Shrine back in 1937 as the interpreter for an American scholar of that period by the name of Professor Joseph W.T. Mason. Professor Mason wrote one or two books about Shinto for Americans . Although he did not read, write or speak Japanese, he understood Shinto with his heart. He illustrates the fact that in a deep sense, Shinto is not really "taught". Rather it is "caught" by anyone whose mind and heart is sufficiently open. On of his most famous books is entitled The Meaning of Shinto: The Primitive Foundation of the Creative Spirit in Modern Japan.
Professor Mason was deeply impressed by the purification ceremony performed in the Shishimai or lion dance that is performed at the Taisai or great annual festival. It has been performed for almost 1300 years, the total life of the shrine. He was moved by the sense of kannagara, the way of the kami that was embodied in the ritual. Mr. Imaoka remembered the incident very well and he offered to write an introduction for me to various people in the United States should I decide to make the trip.
Note on Professor Mason: Mason's work on Shinto was highly intuitive and he wrote in a way which tried to capture the spirit of shrine Shinto. It struck a note that was totally obscured after the U.S. propaganda drive against Japan started singling out Kokka (State) Shinto as the principal enemy. State Department materials on Japan stressed Shinto as a principal source of the Japanese militaristic mentality, a topic that is dealt with in Yamamoto Guji's discussion of State Shinto. The significance of Mason's work, limited though it was by its author's lack of basic sources was in its instinctive appreciation of Shinto, something that many visitors to Shinto Shrines over the years Japan have felt. The view of Shinto he put forward was criticized heavily at the time by notables such as Professor Edwin O. Reischauer the Harvard based Japan scholar who served for several years as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. It was obscured by later books of a different vein such as Robert O. Ballou's ferocious monograph Shinto:the Unconquered Enemy; Japan's Doctrine of Racial Superiority and World Conquest; with Selections from Japanese texts. State Department propaganda obviously did its work well. Mason's work, while tinged with a little romanticism does no more than identify and discuss the aspects of Japanese religiosity that have been noted by other sensitive observers over the years going back to the famous Lafcadio Hearn of the late 19th century who fell so deeply in love with Japanese culture that he not only married the daughter of a samurai but adopted Japanese nationality and a Japanese name.
Well, I decided to visit the U.S.A. and I ended up attending a Universalist Unitarian Association meeting in Cleveland, Ohio which lasted from the end of June into early July. For the first time I had the opportunity to appear as a guest at a major religion-related gathering in the U.S.A. I was invited to lecture and I spoke about kannagara (see discussion in Part Two) a concept central to my own thinking. It was my first experience to speak about Shinto to a non-Japanese audience and I was delighted not only to have the opportunity to speak about Shinto but to be able to meet various people and be interviewed at the same time by different people.
At that time, Shinto was hardly known let alone understood and any associations in people's minds were with State Shinto an ideologically generated prop to Japanese militarism. I had difficulty more than once in explaining to people that State Shinto and the local, traditional and authentically spiritual Shrine Shinto that I represented were two totally different things. I sense sometimes still people's reserve when the word Shinto is mentioned, but thanks to many friends in the United States, many are beginning to see that there is another older face of Shinto that has to do with human life and place in the universe and with unlocking some of man's potential as a child of the kami.
From Cleveland I made my way to New York where I met Dr. Harrington and Mr. Kato. In New York, by invitation of Dr. Harrington, I conducted the Shinto ritual of Ireisai (a memorial ceremony for the war dead). Dr. Harrington obviously had made some study of Shinto, but the Ireisai seemed to move him.
I visited numerous other places by the kind invitation of various people and so my network of connections in the United States began to grow. On my way back I stopped off in Los Angeles and saw "Little Tokyo" for the first time as well as the *Soryoji, a Buddhist Temple and of course, the Kintetsu America Department Store. (Anyone coming to Tsubaki Grand Shrine from Tokyo will take the Super Express to Nagoya and then change to the Kinki Tetsudo, the Kinki Regional Railway. known for short as Kintetsu. As well as being a railway, the group includes Department Stores and sponsors a professional baseball team in Japan's Pacific League known as the Kintetsu Buffaloes!)
I gave a presentation to a group of members of the International Association for Religious Freedom who were anticipating the following year's World Congress at Boston. I was invited to attend and so formally became a member of the I.A.R.F. I attended the Boston Congress, the 20th, in 1969. I found other Japanese groups involved including Rissho Kosei-kai (a lay Buddhist Association headquartered in Tokyo), Konko Kyo (A Shinto based organization), Itto-en and others some of whose association dates back as far as 1932. The I.A.R.F. traces its history back about ninety years and I am happy to be associated with a movement that names such people as the famous theologian, musician and humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer amongst its early patrons.
I had performed the ceremony of oharai in Cleveland and some Japanese who were present seemed happy that the the ritual had been performed. At Boston in the following year I again performed oharai and after the Congress I flew to New York and performed kigansai a prayer of purification for the peace of the world, the well-being of mankind and the success of the Apollo Mission to the Moon. I performed this in the interfaith Chapel inside the United Nations building in New York. The ceremony was broadcast nationwide and I felt that the profile of Shinto had been raised a little. However, what I did was not without its controversial side!
One interviewing reporter challenged me quite forcefully by asking what good a 2,000 year old Japanese norito (ceremonial address to the kami) would do for a rocket on its way to the moon. It was the age of science and technology, he stated. Was it really necessary to put on such a show? I was quite upset by his harsh words. I asked him what he meant. I pointed out that three brave men were flying to the moon for the purposes of peace and science. If the hearts and minds of these men were not united and pure, they could not succeed in their mission. Therefore there was nothing out of order in offering a proper prayer by a priest so that these men might leave the earth in a purified state. For over an hour I argued and debated with him and other reporters to show that a 2,000 year old norito does indeed have vitality as well as relevance because the nature of tsumi or impurity and wrong is a constant factor within human life.
I spoke of the atomic bomb as something that had destroyed illusions about human innocence and of how man needed to purified of the consequences of many of the things he makes. I spoke of Amatsumi (pollution from above) and Kunistumi (pollution from below) and tried to give examples from modern life. If water is not given to rice, for example, I argued, it will not grow and it becomes "polluted" and unusable. It is in effect killed. The blood that flows in the human body is a purifying agent, bearing fresh oxygen at the same time as removing impure matter from the body. I am sure not how much they were convinced, but after the discussion, they seemed to understand a little more of not only what I did in the ceremony of oharai but also why I did it.
I felt on balance that my trip had been successful and that a worthwhile beginning to my relationship with the United States, the I.A.R.F. and many individuals had been made. A lot of people from Boston, Los Angeles and New York were encouraging in their support and Tsubaki Grand Shrine had become a full-fledged member of the International Association for Religious Freedom.
Kokka (State) Shinto
I think I should make my opinions on State Shinto clear. I am sure that many people reading this book will be wondering about how it came into being and what its connection is with the Jinja (Shrine) Shinto that I represent. Whenever I visit the United States., I know that the question will come up and I never try to avoid. Nor am I trying to avoid it now.
Quite frankly, we were indoctrinated to a very limited and small-minded way of thinking by our small-minded military leadership. I should say that more than being indoctrinated, even we were deceived. We had been simply cheated. Japan's early military successes against China and Russia at the turn of the century gave massive confidence as well as prestige to the military. The government was looking for ways of strengthening its hold on people and on society and decided to use Shinto. Shinto had earlier been formally separated from Buddhism and its abuse was made that much easier. When I was a student at Takunan Juku as I explained earlier, I believed that I was taking part in the liberation of Asia from Western colonial powers. In that belief I went to New Guinea. The military authorities in the government tried to unify the nation (and some other Asian nations) using State Shinto as a unifying ideology. But Shinto was not intended to be thus. The doctrine of State Shinto was a perversion of the true thought of Shinto which is about kannagara, the way of the divine as perceived by the Japanese spirit.
After the war, for example I went to the Grand Shrines of Ise and asked "Is Amaterasu Omikami the deity of the sun?" "Yes" I was told. Before or during the war the answer would have been "Amaterasu is the ancestor of the Tenno (Emperor) and the Imperial System is derived from the Sun Goddess." The doctrine of **Saisei-Itchi the union of Religion and State in Kokka Shinto was not only promulgated and taught but used to close the minds of the people even top the real meaning of religion.
We are children of the sun dependent equally upon the sun's light and heat for our survival. Consequently all human beings are children of the kami and therefore brothers and sisters in their common humanity. Shinto tries to teach people how to live naturally and one way to express this is by stressing the equality of all human beings under the sun.
But now I am beginning to speak of the positive aspects of Shinto which properly speaking belongs to the next section of this book. If what I have said has been of interest so far, do please follow me into the much more fascinating world of the ideas, rituals and mysteries of Shinto!
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