Art, Culture, and Shintoism in Japan: Faith in the Shadow of Modernity

Art, Culture, and Shintoism in Japan: Faith in the Shadow of Modernity

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times


Buddhist temples from various sects appear to dominate the religious discourse in Japan but inwardly the faith of Shintoism remains within the soul, irrespective if cultural, religious, or secular. Indeed, the splendor of ultra-modern cities including Tokyo and Osaka can’t hide the footprints of the Buddhist and Shinto faith, even if spirituality is now dimmed. This is based on small shrines, temples, religious festivals, and special occasions – irrespective if cultural like New Years Day, or remembering your ancestors during Obon.


The beauty of Shintoism is that spirits (kami) exist within natural objects. Given this reality, the mystery of this world, nature, and humanity exist naturally. In other words, the darkness of caves, stunning lakes, mountains – and other areas like springs for health – are collectively imbued with kami spirits. Therefore, in the early period of Shinto, some mountains became sanctified.


Mountains in old Japan provided people with safety and the tools to eat and trade. People naturally gained from agriculture, fishing, and hunting. Divinities would soon spring up in the pantheon of Shintoism in the mountains of the land of the rising sun. Nature was viewed based on mystery and the kami spirits that blessed this life – and connected with the afterlife. Not surprisingly, veneration in mountains to bless the rains and the natural cycle of the seasons took place. Of course, Shintoism existed throughout the length and breadth of the land irrespective if mountainous regions, coastal areas or flat plains. In other words, the natural flow of life and death – abundance or struggle depending on nature – meant that Shintoism was all encompassing in ancient times.


Turning the clock to modern Japan then Buddhism and Shintoism survive in plentiful areas. In a past article, I say, The spirit of the old word still connects strongly within Japanese animation. Therefore, several of the most powerful films in this sector have been based on this reality. This applies to Spirited Away and the rich underlying themes of culture and faith in Princess Mononoke. In this sense, while the old world appears natural within the holy places of Buddhism and Shintoism that dot the land – and within areas of Japanese art, literature, and aspects of kabuki – the truth is that it exists within modern themes including animation, cultural events, festivals, video games, and other areas of society.”


Artists throughout the centuries have depicted Buddhism and Shintoism in many forms and from different angles. Sawako Utsumi, a contemporary Japanese artist – just like animation and video games that preserve the old world – also focuses on aspects of faith in her art. Therefore, the ultra-modernity of cities throughout Japan and the growth of secularism may be a reality. However, despite this, the reality is that the old world is surviving even if in the shadows – or surviving in new themes like animation.

All art images by Sawako Utsumi



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