May 14, 2011
Pure Animism in Okinawa
I wrote the journal "My Religion Is Animism" on my weblog. Of course it's kind of a joke, but a little bit serious. Common Japanese people, including me, don't have faith in a certain religion, but they have religious feelings. I call these religious feelings “Animism”.
Most of sacred objects of worship in old shrines are natural objects, for example mountains, big rocks, deep forests, waterfalls and so on. Kumano Nachi Taisha (熊野那智大社), which is one of the world heritages, is in front of the Nachi Otaki (那智大滝 Nachi large waterfall). None knows when it was founded, but it was at least 1,400 years before. It is clear that the sacred object of Nachi Taisha is the waterfall itself. I guess that at first there were no shrines in front of the waterfall and people directly prayed to it. This is the archetype of Japanese "Animism".
My wife and I have been to Yosemite National Park in U.S.A. When we saw the Yosemite waterfall, we felt that it was sacred like Nachi Otaki. This feeling proved that we had sense of "Animism". We believed that Yosemite waterfall was the sacred object of worship for Native Americans, who lived there.
the Yosemite waterfall
Buddhism was introduced to Japan and it made Japanese "Animism" from just worship of natural objects to a religion called "Shinto". Shrines and Buddhism temples were built in the sacred places, where people had prayed to sacred objects, and then people began to pray to shrines and temples, not to sacred objects themselves.
Buddhism was also introduced to Okinawa, but it was not common there. There is a lot of Utaki, which are places of worship, in Okinawa. Ordinary Utaki is just a place in a jungle without any architectural structure.
I have been to Seifa Utaki (斎場御嶽 ), which is also one of the world heritages. It is the most sacred Utaki in Okinawa, and it is also just a place before huge rocks in a jungle. But I was really impressed by the sacred air in Seifa Utaki, and I could understand why Okinawan people select this place as the most sacred Utaki. It a the special place with full of sprits.I think that it is pure "Animism".