As I ought to have expected, with the arrival of confirmation that I have gotten a placement in Japan so to have thoughts of what is for me perhaps the most elusive aspect of Japan – Shinto. Japan is a country that quite effectively enchants a goodly number of people who study or experience it or some part of it. The exact nature of that enchantment varies from person but there is always something that has put a spell on them and now holds them captive. For me it was, eventually, Shinto. I say eventually because there were elements of Japan that always intrigued or fascinated me but it wasn’t until I uncovered Shinto that I really understood that Shinto is what had enchanted me. In a lot of respects Shinto is the very soul of Japan and whether knowingly or unknowingly, it is guarded as such. Information about Shinto of any kind is very difficult to come across, even more so if you desire any level of detail – and this is before you even start getting into more focused interests such as comparative religion or sociological studies or even archaeology.
The closer I get to returning to Australia, the closer I get to going to Japan and the more I ponder Shinto. I have always held a desire to join a shrine and take part in the religion, a desire that has always been stymied by the many obstacles between achieving that desire and me. There is however, something different about me this time around that makes me wonder what it is about Shinto that I find captivating and also why I have this formerly powerful desire to be a part of it. Had I been successful in my application to this program a year ago; well, suffice it to say that I think I would have been disappointed with both myself and the idea that I have been chasing for a lot of my life because it is really the idea of Shinto that has been drawing me, rather than Shinto itself. Assuredly, I refer here only to my spiritual interest in it rather than my intellectual interest.
The majority of my spiritual interest in Shinto comes from my youth when I saw it as the only alternative to Catholicism (for a change I mean the denomination rather than Christianity) in terms of ‘legitimate religions’. It is hard to admit but I’ve carried that idea for most of my life, mostly unknowingly, but unlike years past I at a stage in my life where I can let that burden go. I no longer need the idea that I have been chasing, which in turn allows me to admit that Shinto is not something that would be healthy for me because of its predominant focus on self reflection – one of the things included in the traditional home shrine is a mirror so that anyone looking into the shrine sees themselves. Theologically I love that, however I am also aware that converting to Shinto the way I often dreamed of as a young teen would be more self destructive than anything else. Even as I am now, there is an extremely fine line between healthy and unhealthy self-reflection and I am all too aware how little provocation it takes for me to cross the line.
It is, without a doubt, because of my discovery of Paganism and Heathenry that I have been able to break the spell of Shinto and let go of the idea I was chasing. It requires magic to undo magic – does that qualify as a truism? Paganism and Heathenry have taken the place of Shinto; you might say that instead of making do with ‘near enough is good enough’ I have ‘your order sir, exactly as you asked’. Though I know that Shinto isn’t what I was looking for, I do still have an interest in it and I certainly won’t ignore it by any stretch of the imagination. There are lots of things that I can learn from it, spiritually speaking as well as intellectually.