Why you should include the sacred in your trip to Japan
My original idea for this post included discussions of all the different types of shrine souvenirs as well as temple visits and at some point I realized that I needed to pause, and get something out to my subscribers. And I’m guessing that very few people have time to ready an epic email, thousands of words long.
As of May 8, 2023, Japan has ended all COVID-19 restrictions for travel, including the need to provide proof of vaccination. Airport immigration officials will instead be implementing random checks among arriving passengers, although details of how that will happen are not yet clear. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, get flight cancellation insurance, because you shouldn’t fly if you’re sick and you wouldn’t want a trip to Japan to end just as your arrived.
Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples can be found everywhere in Japan. In addition to their historic value and architectural beauty, they are integrated into community life as centers for different rituals and events. That said, most Japanese do not describe themselves as religious, and I have never seen anyone object to tourists visiting shrines and temples.
Within Shintō, the number of deities is infinite. The traditional number is 800,000 but that dates to a time when that large number was a shorthand for countless or infinite. Some deities are anthropomorphic, some are zoömorphic, some are shape-shifters, and some are associated with more abstract entities, such as mountains, rivers, and ocean bays, harbors, etc.
Simply put, shrines provide homes for deities and, as such, shrines exist for divine communication. The notion of prayer within the West, based on the assumption that a deity hears the intercession regardless of where the person offering the prayer is, differs from cultural practices in Japan where shrines (and temples) act as amplifiers for prayers.
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