In the previous post in this series, I described my personal experience of an extreme misogi water purification ritual performed in Kikonai in Northern Japan. In this post, I will continue that discussion and recount an altogether different experience I had more recently (about one month ago) at another misogi event, this time held at Teppozu Inari a Shinto shrine located in a suburb of central Tōkyō.
This article also appears over on http://genealogyreligion.net/ where I am very pleased to say I will now be a regular guest contributor. I’ll still be cross posting my articles here and will also post anything that falls outside the remit of the Genealogy of Religion blog. If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out some of the articles by Cris Campbell the creator of the Genealogy site, in fact I already recently recommended you to do so…
Misogi (禊) can loosely be translated as ritual purification by cold water and is a practice most strongly associated with Shintoism. It is also performed by practitioners of Shugendō, a syncretic ascetic sect with a long history in Japan, and by martial arts groups, such as Aikidō practitioners. The precise practices involved vary; at some locations the misogi is performed by immersion in streams/pools and at others by sitting or standing under waterfalls, sometimes the event involves collective practices by large groups (up to 200) and sometimes it is a solitary performance. But despite such diversity a clear unifying thread to all misogi practices is the endurance of cold water in order to purify oneself and by extension the surrounding community.
I’ve now participated in two misogi events: the first was held last year, in a small town called Kikonai in Hokkaidō in Northern Japan and the second was performed just last week, at Teppozu Inari Shrine in a suburb of central Tōkyō. Both events were spectacular and I was extremely fortunate to be invited to take part. However, these two events were also very different and I think they serve as a good illustration of how a single ‘type’ of ritual can be expressed differently, even when performed within the same country (Japan) and ostensibly within the same tradition (Shinto). In this first post, I’ll focus on my experience at the misogi in Kikonai last year, then in the next post I’ll make some comparisons with my experience at the recent event in Tōkyō and finally, I’ll relate both experiences to some important theories which I think help illuminate and explain some of the psychological aspects of these ritual performances.
A number of years ago I wrote a blog post about a lively debate between Timothy Fitzgerald and Ian Reader concerning whether it was appropriate to speak of ‘religion’ in Japan and whether the concept had any coherent significance prior to the arrival of the Western colonial powers and their ideological baggage. From my perspective a clear winner emerged from these exchanges (*spoiler* it did- see my previous post for details) but I’ve just become aware that, while working on my PhD, I seem to have missed a more competitive second round that has been taking place over the past few years, due in large part to the work of Jason Ānanda Josephson.
One of the first statistics that someone who is researching religion in Japan will come across is that when statistics are collected the total membership of the main religions when added together equates to almost double the population of Japan. So for instance, in 2006 the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs reported that there were 106.8 million Shinto adherents and 91.2 million Buddhists while the total population of Japan was 127.8 million people.
The explanation for these strange statistics is very straightforward- in Japan most people do not regard religions as exclusive and this includes the various temple and shrine authorities who collect the statistics. This attitude is illustrated quite nicely by the fact that it is common in Japan for a person to have Shinto ceremonies shortly after they are born and at certain ages (3, 5 and 7) throughout their childhood, have a Christian wedding when they get married and have a Buddhist funeral after they die. It is also relatively common for individuals to be unaware of what Buddhist sect they and their family belong to until after a close relative dies and they need to contact a temple and summon the relevant priests.
I received an interesting comment on an earlier article I wrote about Bujinkan Ninjutsu becoming a registered religious organisation and have decided that since it raised many interesting issues it deserved a proper reply. So here goes:
Firstly I would like to ask who the critics of the Bujinkan are and the sources that you have for their arguments against the Bujinkan? Not because I don’t believe you, it seems totally plausible criticism but I would like to know the source of this reference as you do not specify.
I have been involved with martial arts for about 10 years first practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu then Muay Thai and currently I’m training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo. I also served as the president for the Thai boxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sports societies at university so I have quite a bit of personal experience with martial arts communities and criticisms and discussions of other arts are common in such communities.
However, my main source for the arguments against the Bujinkan I presented is the large martial arts discussion forum ‘Martial Arts Planet’. I have been a member there for over 5 years and over the past year or so I have also become involved with moderating the site. At first I moderated the religion and the Thai boxing forums but for the past few months I have also took over moderating the Ninjutsu forum. As a result, I have read more discussions about Ninjutsu than probably most practitioners have and many of those discussions have revolved around criticisms. So that is the source from where I draw the criticisms from.