Seeing the Forest and the Trees
An Interview with Shinto Scholar and Priest Ueda Masaaki by CHRISTAL WHELAN
Photo of Ueda Masaaki by Tomas Svab; other photos by John Einarsen
Ueda Masaaki is Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University and the Chairman of Shaso Gakkai (Association for the Study of Sacred Forests)
Christal Whelan: Japan’s Shinto shrines are usually located in beautiful natural surroundings. Over generations these places have become niches of biodiversity. Is there specific consciousness that biodiversity is being preserved?
Ueda Masaaki: In Japan, divinities might be of mountain, sea, or river. People find divinities in nature. This religious faith still exists. I think then that we can understand shrines as points in which nature, divinity, and human beings come into contact. The belief that jinja were sacred crossover points has led to their preservation. This has meant that whatever lies within their precincts is likewise protected.
In the collection of Japanese classical poetry known as the Manyoshu, compiled in the 8th century, the kanji we now use to write jinja or yashiro (two words for “shrine”) were both pronounced “mori,” which means “forest.” This suggests that since antiquity Japanese people have believed that forests were places where divinities were enshrined.
In another classical work of that era — the Izumo Fudoki — there is a “mori” north of Aeka Gori (present day Shimane) that is just a jinja. The Japanese word “hayashi” means “woods” in English, but in Japanese it means a “man-made woods” in contrast to a natural forest, which is referred to as “mori.” Nowadays, Japanese use the word shinrin, a compound of mori and hayashi, for native forest, but ancient Japanese distinguished clearly between the two types.
Suite de l'interview ici: http://www.kyotojournal.org/kyoto-interview/seeing-the-forest-and-the-trees/
Shinto — “the way of the kami”— is rooted deeply in pre-historic Japanese religious and agricultural practices. The term kami can refer to Japanese mythological deities, but also can mean divinity manifested in natural objects, places, animals, and even human beings. Shinto rituals and celebrations stress harmony between deities, man, and nature — a key feature of Japanese religious life and art to the present time.
Reflecting the understanding that the kami resides in nature, Shinto shrines were traditionally near unusual “concentrations” of nature such as waterfalls, caves, rock formations, mountain tops, or forest glens. Rather than buildings, shrines of the earliest age were sacred precincts such as mounds, groves, or caves. Rituals were held outdoors, among natural surroundings, with no particular structure for them. For example, the foremost ritual of Shinto priests, the purification (harai) was done with natural water sources such as waterfalls, hot springs and rivers.