David Chart's Japan Diary

May 2nd 2006

I don't really have a great deal to report this time. I've been tired for the last couple of weeks, and while it seems to be getting better now, I've been trying to balance resting and keeping on top of all my work, which hasn't been terribly easy. Still, a few things have happened.

A couple of weeks ago I had the first lecture in the course on Shinto that I'm taking. Thanks to my preliminary reconnaissance, I had no problem getting to the lecture room slightly early, which proved to be a good thing; there were a lot of people on the course, possibly around a hundred. The lecture itself was interesting, about the basic structure and historical background of the daijousai, a festival held on the accession of a new Emperor. All the buildings are built specially for the festival, and demolished afterwards, and only the Emperor himself knows what happens at the central part of the event. The next lecture will cover the details of the publicly known parts of the festival.

I also had a look at the university library. As a member of the Open College, I am allowed to enter the library and read the books there, but not to borrow. On the one hand, it would be nice to be able to borrow. On the other hand, I can read the books in the library of a university that specialises in the traditional culture of Japan. I only looked at the Shinto section of the open stacks, which the librarian described as 'small', and I found lots of books that I'd quite like to read. Glancing at the other shelves, there was even more material of interest. I imagine that, if I request things from the closed stacks, I can find out just about anything I might want to know about Shinto, Japanese Buddhism, Japanese literature, and Japanese history. I'll get my library card, to operate the automatic entry barrier, next time I go, and from that point I can use the library whenever I want (within opening hours, of course). I will have to think about planning around it; since I can't borrow, I only want to go when I have plenty of time.

I think it would be worth paying the fee for Open College membership even if I wasn't taking any courses, just to get access to the library. As it is, I think the course is likely to be good value for money, as well. I'm certainly looking forward to the other lectures.

We haven't done a great deal at the weekends recently. Last week we had a fairly easy day, and Yuriko went to see a friend's exhibition in Yokohama in the afternoon. This week, Yuriko went on a one-day experience course on art restoration, so we did nothing. (I did a lot of reading.) Yuriko really enjoyed the day, so she may look into studying the subject further. Of course, like all other jobs in the arts, there's no money in it.

Yesterday, the weather was absolutely glorious; blue sky, bright sunshine, and really warm. Since it was my day off, I decided not to stay cooped up inside, and went to visit an old shrine to the north of here. It's called Okunitamajinja, which means "Great Country Spirit Shrine", and it's the shrine to the guardian spirit of the old province of Musashi, which includes Tokyo, and parts of Kanagawa, including the part where we live. The shrine claims to have been founded in 111 AD, and is therefore preparing for its 1900th anniversary. The foundation claim is a little doubtful, as Japan's history is still largely legendary at that point. On the other hand, it is definitely really old, as it was already there, and had been for some time, when people came to write records down in the early seventh century.

The shrine has its big festival of the year around now, so the precincts were largely taken up with preparation for that. However, following the path round the back of the main hall, there was a nice wooded area, a very common feature of Shinto shrines, particularly the older ones. This is one of the reasons why there are so many green places in Japanese cities; the kami were thought to live in the woodland, so the shrine forests had to be preserved. Indeed, the character for 'shrine' originally meant 'woodland'. The precincts were quite busy, which reminds me of some figures I saw quoted in a book about Shinto. (I was reading this one in the shop, so I may have misremembered; it's next on my list to buy.)

4% of Japanese people give their religion as "Shinto" when asked. 50% of Japanese households have a household shrine to the Shinto kami of Japan and their local area, and others they particularly revere. 70% of Japanese people visit a shrine on New Year's, make an offering, and pray for good fortune. (Of the ones who don't, most are probably on holiday abroad, where there are no shrines.)

Japanese religion is different, which is one of the things that makes it so fascinating.

Talking of Japanese, the other major event is that I have started a Japanese blog. Given how good reading every day has been for my Japanese reading ability, I have decided to make the effort to write a bit of Japanese every day. I don't know whether anyone will actually bother to read the blog, as my life isn't that interesting, but the idea that somebody might well notice if I skip a day will help with the motivation. We'll have to see how it goes. I've kept it up so far, but that's only five days.

Today's weather, incidentally, is awful. Thunderstorms this morning and repeated rain. I'm glad I'm not going out much... Instead, I get to teach and do editing. So, back to work for me.