Presentation on “Ise and Japan” Experience

Octogonal hall with rolling roof, metal lantern in the foreground

Today is the second to last day of the “Ise and Japan” study program at Kogakkan University, and every participant was asked to give a presentation on a topic related to the program. I decided to choose “神仏習合”, or “Shinto-Buddhist syncretism”, because that was the most surprising thing I learned during the program.

I had long known that Shinto and Buddhism are the major religions in Japan, but I made the mistake of thinking that they were distinct, even though many Japanese practice both. The truth is that since Buddhism arrived in Japan (6th century, possibly earlier), both religions heavily influenced each other, to the point where it was more appropriate to consider them one syncretic belief system. And when the Meiji government tried to remove the “foreign” Buddhist influence from Shinto, the success was rather limited.

Large red and white shrine building, entrance on the left
Main building (本殿, “honden”) of Yasaka-jinja

For the presentation, I’ve collected the examples I’ve written about here, too:

Hachiman is particularly interesting, because he’s worshiped both as a kami in Shinto and a bodhisattva in Buddhism, although with a difference: The samurai honored him as a kami of war, an aspect which is missing in the Buddhist variant.

Wooden Gate and wall in white and red, with a black roof, stone lanterns on both sides of the road to the gate
Entrance to the 八幡 (Hachiman) shrine at 東大寺 (Tōdai-ji)

I’m still lacking a lot of details, though, and that’s before getting started on the really difficult question of what Shinto actually is and where it comes from. The other presentations had widely varying topics, from representation of Shinto in anime, via photos and memories of the time we spent in Ise, to considerations of what Ise has to offer to travelers and tourists.

Anyway, tomorrow before lunch is the closing ceremony, and on Saturday I’ll leave Ise for Sendai before returning to Germany on Tuesday. I still have some stuff to blog about from the last two days as well as general things (which will require some research), but I don’t know when I’ll get to that. Hopefully soon, and thanks for reading so far! 😉

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