Connection between pre-historic Japan and Shintoism

by phil on Friday Oct 29, 2004 2:23 PM

There is a connection between Japan's pre-historic development and their flagship worship: Shintoism

I think that Shinto can be best be understood as a form of geographical totemism as referred to by Durkheim and Freud. As mentioned above the sacred in Shinto is almost invariably linked with a particular geographical location. In Shinto, God is something that you can point to, it is "there". The shrine or "jinja" is contains or enshrines a thing, but it is also a sacred site. The god-body of the shrine may be a mountain, a tree, a rock or other natural feature but most importantly it will be the thing in that place. (From Shintoism: a philosophical introduction)

Think bonsai trees. Think of zen gardens that are meticulously arranged. Think of taking off shoes before entering houses.

The Japanese are one of the first sedentary cultures, developing pottery well before humans by the Euphrates river. In addition, they've had a long semi-continuous occupation of their islands. So if you imagine a peoples that have stuck together in small confines without migration for thousands of years, then Shintoism seems natural. Staying in one place for a while and consecrating your surroundings would go hand in hand.

On another topic, Shintoism also has an interesting relationship with postmodernism:

Derrida, Baudrillard, and Lacan do not say that words are meaningless but argue that words and meanings cannot be split. Sure "dog", "inu" and "chien" mean something other than a particular dog. But whatever that is, it will never be present on its own. It will always be attatched to one symbol or another. It may be true that there may be sounds (such as foreign words) that do not have a meaning, but their will never be meanings that do not have at least a remembered sound or image. This non-dualist position is, I think, central to the Shinto world view.

Studying this Japan stuff is fun. This is what I'm trying to do as urged by my previous post: I've decided to focus on a single topic for 10 weeks. Instead of wasting hundreds of hours looking at the polling numbers between Kerry and Bush, I could nail at least 3 or 4 topics.

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