Archives For Japan

For some time now I’ve been writing and warning about the Christian Neo-Pentecostal movement known as the “Third Wave” or “New Apostolic Reformation”. Guided by World Prayer Center co-founder and “Convening Apostle” C. Peter Wagner, this small group of Christians helped nurture the career of Sarah Palin, and have been slowly climbing into positions of influence among the ranks of ultra-conservative politicians. So who cares if yet another iteration of the Religious Right supplants an older version? The problem with this version is that they have an almost singular obsession with spiritual warfare and destroying any faith they see as non-Christian. This includes bragging about giving a Wiccan cancer through group prayer and fighting all agents of the global-level demon they call the “Queen of Heaven”.

“Atop the hierarchy of demon spirits are the ‘territorial demons’, and squatting near the apex, over Mount Everest, is a purported global-level demon spirit called ‘The Queen of Heaven’ that prevents, according to Peter Wagner, prayers of Catholics, Muslims, and adherents to other supposedly illegitimate forms of religious belief, from reaching God.”

As you might imagine, a group so focused on cheering the destruction of non-Christian faiths may not be able to resist crowing about the current crisis and tragedy in Japan, a country where Christianity is a tiny minority. First, Ed Brayton of Dispatches From the Culture Wars points to NAR leader Chuck Pierce, who claims his “strategic prayer gathering” has sparked a course of prophetic actions that caused (through God) the earthquakes in Japan.

We declared, “Awake, O north wind! Awaken the north wind, and cause this garden that has been enclosed by the enemy to open up so that these seeds of harvest will come forth.”

We also shared that it will be heard on the news that the nation of Japan is surrounded by wind. This will be a sign that harvest will sweep that nation. At that time I also encouraged the leadership to establish schools of the prophets both on Hokkaido Island (the far north) and Okinawa (the far south) to keep the wind of God blowing and to neutralize the demonic forces that are influencing and holding Japan in captivity.

If you think what this group is doing sounds like malefic magic, I’d be hard-pressed to argue with you. At the end of his missive, one of Pierce’s followers shares the hope that Japan will become the “Land of the Risen Son”. They are ready and waiting to exploit this tragedy for all it’s worth.

Meanwhile, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion zeros in on NAR prophet(ess) Cindy Jacobs, who previously gained our attention when she gloried in the destruction of Haiti, and is now blaming Shinto for the destruction and horror the citizens of Japan are now facing.

“However, of recent years, this link with Amaterasu and sun worship was reinstated in a ceremony in which the new Emperor once again participated and “spent the night with the goddess” after eating the sacred rice. I believe this is one major reason that Japan has gone downhill economically in such a drastic way. [...] this island, Hokkaido, looks like the head of a dragon with the body being the rest of Japan. The people of Asia have worshipped the dragon for 5,000 years. If one looks at the place where the earthquake took place, it looks like the soft underbelly of most vulnerable part of the dragon. Let’s pray that the deep idolatry and the worship of hundreds of idols under the guise of Shintoism, Buddhism, and allegiances to being “sons of the dragon” will be broken and thousands will turn to the Lord.”

Jacobs tries to couch her bizarre anti-Shinto and ultimately anti-Japan rant in concern for the Japanese people, but it’s clear what the priorities are here, the “breaking” of non-Christian religion and the successful “turning” of people to Christianity. When Jacobs isn’t busy finding the bright side in mass tragedy and death, she shares a stage with Virginia’s Republican attorney general, burns indigenous art, and casts out homosexual spirits. Oh, and did you know that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was what killed on those birds recently?

Again, this would all be sad and laughable, a delusion rightly mocked and shunned by the civilized world, were it not for the political clout and influence this movement, and its allies, are currently trying to grasp. Many of us would like to believe that those who disagree with us on various issue are, at heart, decent people with different philosophies about the world. In most cases this is true, but any group that would welcome mass death and destruction as a method to changing minds is spiritually, emotionally, and mentally bankrupt. That this “Third Wave” and other anti-Pagan ideologues like David Barton are given unprecedented access to lawmakers and people of influence is frightening. Any politician who associates with them, who doesn’t condemn and distance themselves from them, are to be held as suspect by anyone who values pluralism and secular democracy.

While I’m on the subject of Japan, and its struggles, I would like to remind everyone that the Pagan Community is holding a fundraiser for the work Doctors Without Borders is doing there. There is a goal of $30,000 and we’ve almost hit $20,000! Let’s send a message of hope and solidarity to counteract the hatred and fear. Let’s send a message that the true spirit of Japan will never die, and will certainly not bend to these vultures who pretend to preach the word of Christ.

A few quick news notes to start your morning.

Pagan Japan Relief Project a Success: As of this writing, the Peter Dybing-initiated drive to raise money from within the Pagan community for Doctors Without Borders’ work in Japan has raised nearly $10,000 in three days. Here’s a message from Dybing about the drive that was posted yesterday.

“Pagans from all over the country have donated and stepped forward to endorse the project. We received donations from individuals as well as organizations. To all those who stepped forward THANK YOU. We still have been unable to generate significant numbers of small donations. It continues to be the goal of this project to engage the entire Pagan community in a unified effort. If you are concerned that you do not have the funds to donate consider just a few dollars. Each of us can only do so much in these tough economic times. What is important is participation not the donation amount.”

The Pagan Japan Relief Project is working towards a goal of $30,000, and it looks like this target may be reached sooner than anticipated. Major figures within modern Paganism like Selena Fox, Thorn Coyle, and Starhawk have already been spreading the word on Facebook, and Peter Dybing says that statements from well known Pagans about this effort will published today. This is a hugely positive cooperative effort, one that we can all take pride in. So continue to spread the word, and be sure to read about the work Doctors Without Borders is doing on the ground in Japan.

You can find all The Wild Hunt’s coverage on this issue, here.

ADDENDUM: Please see this update on the Pagan Japan Relief Project from PNC-Minnesota.

More Pagan Voices From Madison: Nels Linde at PNC-Minnesota has posted more interviews with Pagans taking part in protests against anti-union initiatives enacted by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and state Republican lawmakers.

“I’m a teacher and I’m here because I am very passionate about what is wrong with our democracy today. I am a Druid, I have been practicing for about 12 years now, with a group out of the Twin cities. It is very powerful to be here today because the energy is just so intense. There is so much pride and hope. People are coming together, it brings tears. I have already signed my petition to recall my Senator, Sheila Harsdorf, and also for Walker. I am involved in some local community protests, next in Hudson on the bridge, Sunday. I have been through all the emotions, you know, shock, anger, and despair. I’ve cried. You start with one group and target, demonize them and once they are taken out, there is another group. Most Walker supporters do not like non-Christians, so it is very, very scary.”

Nels has been doing amazing and essential work covering Pagan involvement in these protests, and I urge everyone to head over to PNC-Minnesota and catch up on his reports. Here’s his installment on Saturday’s events. More is promised on Thursday.

You can find The Wild Hunt’s previous coverage on this issue, here.

Checking In With Treadwell’s: In a final note, the Guardian interviews Christina Oakley Harrington, proprietor of the well-regarded esoteric bookstore Treadwell’s, about her shop and the unique spirit of London that makes its success possible.

“London is a place for unusual people who need to find other unusual people. Cities are where misfits always go. If you can’t manage in the village with the curtain-twitchers – if you can’t live like that because you’re gay, or you’re massively artistic, or because you have to talk to angels and demons and spirits … Where else are you going to go to find others who might be like you? You go to London. Could Treadwell’s exist anywhere outside of London? No.”

Treadwell’s recently moved to a larger space, the very building where Mary Wollestonecraft wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women. Congratulations to Christina and Treadwell’s on their continued good press!

That’s all I have time for at the moment, have a great day!

With the world’s focus turned to Japan as it deals with the aftermath of a cascade of earthquakes, a massive tsunami, and dangerously damaged nuclear reactors, press and commentators are starting to touch on the question of religion, and how belief is informing Japanese reaction to these events. However, this approach as been somewhat tentative so far, partly because we’ve been riveted by the immediate disaster response, and partly because Japan’s religious makeup is so very different from that of the United States and other Western nations. In Japan, Christianity is a tiny minority, while religions like Shinto and Buddhism dominate, and several smaller syncretic faiths thrive. In addition, Japan is highly secular, with few of the culture war issues that seem to constantly haunt us.

Rescue workers in front of a Shinto shrine. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Rescue workers in front of Shinto shrine. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

CNN was one of the first mainstream news outlets to foray into how religion interacts with these current events, with Religion Editor Dan Gilgoff exploring how Japanese faiths confront tragedy.

“Japanese are not religious in the way that people in North America are religious,” says John Nelson, chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco. “They’ll move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations. For things connected to life-affirming events, they’ll turn to Shinto-style rituals or understandings,” Nelson says. “But in connection to tragedy or suffering, it’s Buddhism.”

Next to weigh in is USA Today, with religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman focusing on the role of tradition, and how Japanese Buddhism isn’t necessarily the Buddhism many Americans would be familiar with.

“Such talk of gods and hell kings doesn’t sound like the meditative Buddhism better known in the West, cultural anthropologist John Nelson said. He’s an expert on Shinto and Buddhist shrines and chairman of the department of theology and religious studies at University of San Francisco [...] “Japanese Buddhism is similar to Western religions with deities that can be petitioned and can intervene in worldly affairs, and there are many mechanisms to appeal to them, to pray for miracles,” he said.”

Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic points to a short essay by former Anglican priest and journalist Mark Vernon, who meditates on the difference between the Shinto and Christian responses to natural disasters.

“In Christianity, human beings are at the centre of nature: creation is for humanity, along with other creatures, and it’s humanity’s task to care for it. Hence, in part, the offence we feel when nature turns against us. In Shintoism, nature is recognised as infinitely more powerful than humankind – as in the wave – and that humankind is in nature with the permission of the gods but with no particular concern from the gods. Shinto rituals show respect for the gods of nature, befriending the enormity of the forces, if you like.”

From there we have many smaller nods and mentions, the Telegraph explores the “tradition of rebuilding the great Shinto shrines,” the Washington Post evokes the image of a woman praying at “a small Shinto-inspired shrine to her ancestors,” while ABC News noted that local funeral homes “volunteered to provide traditional Shinto rites to the dead, donating white shrouds and cremating the bodies,” before becoming overwhelmed by the demand. Disappointingly, the Religion News Service’s coverage has so far been disproportionately focused on Christian reactions to the tragedy. One hopes that more robust reports on Shinto and Buddhist perspectives are forthcoming.

As things progress, we can hope that a larger sense of the importance of ancestor worship, tradition, the divine within nature, and the multiplicity of spiritual beings within Japanese culture will shine through in future aftermath coverage. In this disaster there is a rare opportunity to understand how a culture outside the Christian context grapples with universal questions and problems. Religion journalists should rise to this occasion, and minority faiths in the West should ask for the true diversity of faith in our world be accurately and fairly covered.

In one final related note, I also want to point to an article up now at PNC-Minnesota, where Hawaiian Pagan Lamyka, a former resident of Japan, is interviewed about how Hawaii’s experience with the tsunami triggered by the Japanese earthquake was, in her opinion, ignored in favor of California by the media.

“Hawai’i is seen as ‘foreign’ by many Americans, as evident by people’s reactions to the President coming here for holidays.  We’re never included in national dialogue, probably because it’s incredibly obvious that we shouldn’t be part of the USA to begin with.  Hawaiians have been protesting since being illegally usurped, fighting for our rights since statehood, and continue to fight for sovereignty rights denied to us.  We’ve had protests here numbering from 50,000-60,000 but never once made national news like in Wisconsin.”

Yet another perspective that should likely get more attention by the mainstream media. Do check out the entire article, and share your perspective.

ADDENDUM: You can find resources for donations here, and here.

I just have a few quick news notes for you this morning.

UUA Japan Relief Fund: Those still looking for locally-focused and Pagan-friendly options in their donations towards aiding Japan in the wake of Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, the Unitarian Universalist Association has set up a fund that sounds very promising.

“Following Friday’s devastating earthquake and resulting tsunamis, the UUA has been in contact with our religious partners in Japan to express our concern and our willingness to partner with them in recovery efforts.  Our partners, including Rissho Kosei-kai, Tsubaki Grand Shrine, the Konko Church of Izuo, the Tokyo Dojin Church, and the Japan Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom are all in discernment about the specific efforts they will be taking to support recovery work, and the UUA will walk with them in the directions that are ultimately chosen.  Please join with UUs throughout the United States by contributing to the UUA’s Japan Relief Fund which will support the work that our Japanese partners pursue.”

A partnership of UUA, Buddhist, Shinto, and Japanese religious freedom organizations would seem to help avoid the allegations and scandals that some international aid organizations are encountering, and work towards immediate and locally directed assistance. For more ways to stand with Japan during this time, see my previous post on the subject.

Call For Submissions: Sarah Thompson and Gina Pond from Circle of Cerridwen, who initiated the protest and discussion over the exclusion of transgendered women at a public women-only ritual during this year’s PantheaCon, are hoping to take the ongoing discussions on the issue of gender and transgender within our interlocking communities to the next level with the publication of an open-submission freely available book.

“The recent events surrounding Pantheacon 2011 and the internet-wide debate that followed it have raised awareness publicly of the issues surrounding gender and transgender in the wider Pagan community. This book will comprise a number of chapters, some invited and most by open submission, which will give all sides of the debate an opportunity to clearly state their positions. In a sense, the book will serve as a written equivalent of a talking-stick debate, whilst also making it possible to capture the sense of this historic time, as accurately as possible, in the words of the people involved. Though space is limited in the print version of the book, we hope to make all submitted papers that meet the submission criteria available for download on the web. The publication will be on a not-for-profit basis, with proceeds (if any) donated to a suitable charity/nonprofit (to be determined). Invited chapters are being solicited from as many key people as possible.”

Chapters from all sides in the ongoing discussions and debate are welcome, details can be found at the Circle of Cerridwen’s page devoted to this project. Chapter submissions for “Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism” are due by June 21st. I’m glad to see attempts to move these discussions forward in a responsible manner, and hope that many of the more vocal contributors to the discussion at The Wild Hunt will look into writing a chapter for this new work.

New Religious Climate Study at Air Force Academy: Word has come that retired Air Force general Patrick K. Gamble will be conducting an “independent, subjective look at the overall climate at USAFA relating to free exercise of religion.” The Air Force Academy has long come under fire for instances of religious intolerance, favortism, and aggressive proslytization from an entrenched culture of conservative evangelical Christianity. Problems that Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, says won’t be addressed in this new review.

“The problem at the school is not with any restriction on the free exercise of religion, but with unwanted proselytizing by fundamentalist Christians, a violation of the constitutional concept of the separation of church and state, he said. Gamble said he had not ruled out looking at the separation issue. He said his review team is still getting organized and its scope hasn’t been determined. “We’re going to take a blinders-off look, and nothing’s off the table, but nothing’s on the table, either,” he said.”

In recent years the Air Force Academy has tried to change its image as an aggressively Christian organization, and much was made in the press about their support for the installation of a Pagan worship area, though perhaps even more press was generated at the subsequent vandalism of said site. That circle was a response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, one that has permeated all aspects of life there, and I can only hope that this nascent support for minority religions by the Air Force Academy can help counteract the larger culture of intolerance that many encounter.

That’s all I have for the moment, have a great day!

I have assembled some resources for the Pagan community regarding donation recommendations and other resources for showing solidarity with the people of Japan in the wake of Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. First, Peter Dybing, National First Officer, Covenant of the Goddess, who spoke on this issue on Friday, has posted some recommendations at his blog.

Over the past few days I have been researching, looking for small NGO’s that have a preexisting presence in Japan. They are few and far between in a country with so much wealth and strong social programs led by the government. One such organization is Peace Winds Japan, which is already erecting temporary housing and providing services on the ground. This organization has partnered with Mercy Corps international to do fundraising for their operations in Japan. Note: to insure that your donation goes to the right place you must write “funds to be used for Peace Winds Japan only” in the comment line on the donation form.

My primary suggestion for donations is Doctors Without Borders. This organization now has two teams on the ground in Japan setting up medical treatment centers. While this is a well-known NGO, I am recommending them due to their level of accomplishment in Haiti saving lives. Additionally, when this organization raised enough funds for its Haiti response it stopped accepting donations. It is important to recognize that organizations have a logistical limit as to how much they can accomplish. By suspending fundraising this organization demonstrated a commitment to spend funds wisely and not just take the opportunity to raise unlimited cash as other large NGO’s did. With this in mind, a Pagan Community donation Page has been set up to enable donations to this organization.

If you want your donation to Doctors Without Borders to be recognized as coming from the Pagan community, be sure to use the special FirstGiving page set up by Peter Dybing.


Poster by James White, which you can buy at the Signalnoise store. All profits go to the relief effort.

In addition, The Delaware Valley Pagan Network is raising funds for Shelter Box USA (official web site), and the ADF will be sending any donations made to its ADF Cares program to the International Red Cross.

Finally, for those wanting to do a targeted spiritual working, Selena Fox from Circle Sanctuary and Shibaten of Japan are planning a healing rite for Japan this evening (Sunday).

On Friday, Japan was hit by the largest earthquake in its history, followed by a tsunami which has destroyed two thirds of its eastern coast. Japan also now is in the midst of a nuclear emergency due to damages to several nuclear power plants. Please focus on sending healing to Japan, to its inhabitants, and to all those impacted by these disasters.

Shibaten, who is in his native Japan and is OK, and Selena, who is in her forest home in Wisconsin, have been in frequent contact by email since the disasters, and will be working together in facilitating this rite. Shibaten will be playing healing music on a didgeridoo & Selena will be playing the healing sounds of a singing bowl from Japan. They will be joined by others from Canada, Ireland, and other countries in this ritual.

If you have one, work with a quartz crystal and a symbol of and/or from Japan to help focus your healing prayers. Participants also are invited (not required) to work with the Elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit, and the Japanese Sun Goddess as Amaterasu Omikami in this rite. More info about the ceremony, also with posts from some of those who will be taking part is on Selena’s main Facebook page.

The ritual is at March 13th, 7 pm CDT Sunday/9 am Tokyo time Monday.

Thanks to Star Foster at Patheos.com for helping to pull these resources together. My prayers and best wishes go out to the people of Japan.

Peter Dybing, National First Officer, Covenant of the Goddess, who has participated in hands-on activism in places like earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince in Haiti, and in clean-up efforts on the Gulf Coast in the wake of the massive oil spill there, has sent out a brief message regarding sending assistance in the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami.

As disaster strikes again let me take this opportunity to remind the Pagan community of the lessons we learned when Haiti was severely damaged over a year ago.

Pagans from around the US and the world focused their giving on a small NGO that had operations established in Haiti and were able to respond quickly with established infrastructure and save lives.  Dollars raised from our community went directly to the purchase of medical supplies.  This emphasis on direct giving to a small organization ensured that our giving was focused and effective.

As we all witness the destruction in Japan, it is important to not make rash decisions and provide funding to organizations with poor track records of delivering services and use of funds. .  I am urging the community to be wise in their giving. Yes, commit your self to an amount you are willing to give, set these funds aside, but wait until you or others identify an effective use for these funds.

Many of the large NGO’s that collected tens of millions for Haiti relief have yet to spend but a fraction of what they collected more than a year later.  Both myself and other members of the community are attempting to establish ties with small organizations providing services in Japan.  Hopefully our community will be able to identify groups who will directly serve the affected communities as they receive funding.

It was my privilege to witness funds raised by the Pagan community save many lives in Haiti, may we be as wise and effective as we respond to this current crisis.

In Service to the Goddess and all humanity,

Peter Dybing, National First Officer, Covenant of the Goddess

Many of us want to show solidarity with the people of Japan in this time of trial, but let’s be sure that any fiscal donation is going directly towards constructive, and ideally, Japanese-led service-oriented initiatives. I’m currently awaiting recommendations from a few different sources, and will post them here as I receive them. For now, you can receive basic information at the evolving Wikipedia page, and some resources at the Google Crisis Response page.

ADDENDUM: Peter Dybing has some recommended giving resources up now at his blog.

A few quick news notes for you today.

Trademarking the Gods: Video game company Nintendo just received permission from the Japanese Patent Office to trademark the name “Amaterasu” in relation to video games.

And you thought it was bad when Nintendo filed to trademark the phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong.” The Japanese Patent Office recently revealed that Nintendo trademarked the kanji “Amaterasu” as well as the katakana form in relation to video games. “Amaterasu” certainly seems to refer to the Shinto goddess, but the full name for the deity is Amaterasu Omikami. This name was not trademarked, as it’s unlikely that the Japanese Patent Office would allow Nintendo to copyright an actual god or goddess.

While this may seem like no big deal to some, it could set a troubling precedent. If corporations and private businesses start grabbing trademarks to the names of deities within different contexts, what will that mean for the religions that worship and revere those figures? This is especially true as video games, art, and social interactions start to blur within contexts like Second Life. If someone can trademark a god’s name in one context, there’s little to stop them from doing it in others.

The Birth of Freedom: City Journal features an essay by Andre Glucksmann concerning the birth of the idea of freedom, and the differences between the “epic freedom” of Hegel or Marx and the “tragic freedom” of Athens and Socrates. Glucksmann notes that polytheism creates a more “radical” idea of freedom than most monotheistic conceptions.

With the Athenians, however—and this is an important difference—the gods are as imperfect as human beings, and the divine words are consequently doubtful and impure. In this sense, the Greek experience seems more radical than that of the monotheisms, since it presupposes no adherence to a unique word that would dominate the thought and freedom of men and women. For the Greeks, there was no way around the permanent crisis that constitutes the existence of a free human being.

Glucksmann also credits ancient Greek thinkers with providing the framework for the separation of church and state, and our modern ideas of “human rights.” The whole text is worth a look.

Telltale Signs of Santeria? What happens when you mix “occult experts” with animal parts? You get assertions that the dead animals are a “telltale sign” of Santeria.

“Don Rimer, who spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer and now provides training in the fields of ritual crimes and the occult, said the decapitated animals are telltale evidence of people who practice a faith known as Santeria. Followers brought the faith with them to the New World when they were taken from Africa during the slave trade, first establishing themselves in the Caribbean region, he said. Santeria is a blend of ancient African religion and Catholicism, Rimer said. A Utah state agency alerted Rimer to the Park City cases, he said. Rimer, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., said the circumstances of the Park City discoveries resemble those of Santeria practices elsewhere. Rimer said people who adhere to the faith sacrifice animals and then place the carcasses close to transportation corridors like pathways, railroad tracks and streams in honor of the means slaves used to move about.”

Yes, you read that right. The expert was Don Rimer, who also happens to be an expert on Paganism, Satanic crime, and vampires. One wonders where he gets the time to become so knowledgeable when he’s so busy traveling the country giving talks. No doubt Rimer thinks his influence was positive because he asserted that animal sacrifice was legal and the alleged practitioners of Santeria meant no harm, but instead he verified the for many the idea that leaving dead bodies lying around is a normal practice for Santeria (instead of acknowledging that there could be other explanations).

Martin Fakler at the New York Times profiles the ever-dwindling numbers of Japan’s itako, shamanistic female spirit mediums who communicate with the dead. Tolerated by the Buddhist and modern Shinto clergy they predate, they have dwindled down to a mere handful, down from around 20 a decade ago.

“They have survived government efforts to stamp them out, as well as the continuing disdain of many Japanese, who look down on them as charlatans who trade in superstition. Even the deputy abbot at Bodai-ji, Mount Osore’s temple, said the itako were not connected to the temple, which he said only tolerates their presence. Now, however, even these last remaining itako are vanishing. Only four graying itako appeared at Mt. Osore’s weeklong summer festival this year, three having died of old age in the last year. Worse, the only practicing medium younger than retirement age — 40-year-old Keiko Himukai, known among believers as the last itako — stopped coming this year for health reasons. “We can see a very ancient flame dying out before our eyes,” Ms. Himukai said in a separate interview.”

Fakler goes on to interview Keiko Himukai, the youngest (and some say last) itako, who hopes that perhaps this current fading away is the prelude to some sort of rebirth.

“She said she felt guilty about not going to Mount Osore. However, she said she may no longer be able to attend because of health problems, including a chronic stomach ailment. Instead, she said she wanted to write a book or make a movie about the itako. “The end can also be the beginning of something new,” said Ms. Himukai, who wore a plain gray suit with pants and spoke in a whisper.”

You can read more about the itako, here, here, and here. There is even an itako manga/anime character. Whether a rebirth of this uniquely Japanese spiritual practice happens remains to be seen, and if it is reborn, if it will greatly resemble the currently waning tradition. In the meantime, it is nice to see Martin Fakler and the New York Times pay some attention to the itako.

The Washington Times reports that after years of shrinking popularity post-WWII, the Shinto religion in Japan is making a comeback, in part thanks to the Internet.

“With an assist from the Internet, the ancient religion of Japan, Shinto, is experiencing a comeback among the Japanese. “We see more people coming here,” said a priest at the Meiji Shrine in the middle of Tokyo. “We see more weddings, more people bringing their babies for blessings, more requests for prayers to be rid of a curse or to prosper in business, more people taking part in festivals such as shichi-go-san,” in which children of ages 7, 5 or 3 are feted.”

Shinto is the native religion of Japan, and deals mainly with the worship of Kami spirits. In addition to the spirits of nature, ancestors and important personages (like the Imperial family) are also honored. Some worry that this upturn in Shinto observances is tied to a renewed interest in Japanese militarism, but it looks like the majority are trying to keep their Shinto practice apolitical.

“Another, perhaps less noble, reason for the Meiji Shrine’s appeal is its freedom from political contention like that surrounding the Yasukuni Shrine, where the spirits of Japan’s war dead, including several convicted war criminals, are enshrined. Japanese leftists, as well as legions of Koreans and Chinese, have criticized Japanese politicians for visiting Yasukuni, saying it glorifies past Japanese conquests in Asia … In contrast, Japanese officials regularly take foreign leaders to the Meiji Shrine without raising eyebrows; President Bush visited the shrine when he was in Tokyo in 2002.”

This revival hasn’t happened overnight, and there have been several cultural forces urging a renewed interest in Japan’s ancestral faith. This includes the efforts by acclaimed Japanese artist and animator Hayao Miyazaki who has incorporated Shinto perspectives and myths into several of his widely popular films.

“Being true to the Shinto insight that all phenomena often become polluted and are in need of cleansing and purification in order to manifest their vitality, Miyazaki has this strange array of creatures come to the bathhouse to be restored to their original freshness. This is made especially vivid when a “stink spirit” [in the film "Spirited Away"] actually the kami (or nushi) of a badly polluted and smelly river, is cleansed of all sorts of trash including an old bicycle. Once refreshed, the river’s mask-like visage says to Sen “It feels good” (English version: “Well done;” cf. below). Sen sees the true nature of this river kami through the purifying waters — at that moment her kokoro is clean and bright and she witnesses the forceful dragon-like river kami sail away white and pure.”

Also benefiting a Shinto revival is the fact that like all polytheistic faiths, Shinto has no problem incorporating outside religious traditions. As a result many followers of Shinto also practice Buddhism.

“Moreover, Shinto and Buddhism coexisted after Buddhism was imported from China. Japanese, unlike Westerners who belong to only one denomination, see no conflict in following the tenets of both faiths.”

With increased public support and practice of Shinto, it should be interesting to see how this affects Japanese culture (and Japan’s cultural exports). It seems that polytheism is once more on the rise in the land of the rising sun.