Archives For Shinto

KOBE, Japan —  Eriko Kawanishi first came to Glastonbury as a graduate student, working on Western paganism for her thesis. Impressing the locals with her understanding, her courage in coming alone to a small English town on the other side of the planet, and her good humour, Eriko soon became an integral part of the Glastonbury community and has taken her knowledge of the UK Pagan scene back to her home country of Japan.

Eriko is a researcher at Kyoto University and will be teaching at Konan Women’s University in Kobe as a part-time lecturer beginning September 2017. She said that Western Paganism isn’t studied widely in Asia, and although Shinto, for instance, shares some common themes with Pagan paths such as Druidry, there is currently little formal exchange between the two.

Shinto shrine inside a Japanese magic shop in Osaka, [Courtesy Photo]

As the work of academics like Eriko expands, however, a more in-depth understanding of the spiritual analogies between the cultures is likely to develop. We asked Eriko a few questions about her cross-cultural endeavour:

The Wild Hunt: How did you become involved in a study of Western paganism?

Eriko Kawanishi: I first encountered contemporary Witches through the anthropology class by my supervisor when I started my masters course. He showed us a DVD about the contemporary Goddess Movement Full Circle (1993) and lent me the other two Goddess Remembered (1989) and The Burning Times (1990), all directed by Donna Read.

TWH: How much awareness is there in Japan of Western paganism?

EK: Almost nobody knows the word Paganism. But witch is a very famous word because we have a history of anime programs about witches. Also many Western novels are translated. But almost nobody knows there are people who practice Witchcraft and call themselves Witches in the West. So Witches are generally considered as figures in fantasy here.*

TWH: Are there any connections between Japanese paganism or religion and the Western spiritualities?

EK: Many people who are involved in Western spiritualities or Paganism are interested in traditional Japanese religion They usually prefer Shinto to Buddhism. They like to visit the shrines and like the divinities. But they don’t follow the traditional way of practicing. The form of current Shinto was organized after the Meiji restoration in the late 17th century. Of course Shinto was used to authorise the emperor, especially during WWII, so it always has a political side.

TWH: Do you think there is potential interest in Japan for Western Paganism? 

EK: As a culture, yes. But as a faith, I don’t think so. Because compared to Western countries, we don’t have enough chances to think about faith or religion. For example, the Japanese census doesn’t have a section of “religion.” Japanese schools don’t have classes on religion except the ones founded by Christians and Buddhists. I asked the same question of the students. They said they are interested in witches in anime or games, but not as a faith.

But always a certain amount of people are interested in spiritual things. For them, Western Paganism may spread more.

Wands, staffs, athames, and other magical items in a shop in Osaka, Japan. [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: Does the media in Japan (e.g., anime) address Western witchcraft? (I’m thinking of Clamp, for example)

EK: And Studio Ghibli? There are many comic books and TV animes too. Somebody says witches in Western anime are usually ladies; witches in Japanese anime are usually girls because we have a tradition of admiring girls (e.g., Takarazuka Revue). I don’t know Western anime so much, so I am not sure.

TWH: Where do you think Japanese indigenous spirituality heading in the future?

EK: If you are talking about Shinto, people will use it more freely, creatively, and openly in the future. Elderly people have a very negative image of Shinto, because that was a dogma to die for the emperor during WWII, and they lost their families and friends. It is not a dogma now, but it easily connects to nationalism. If you say you worship Amaterasu, for example, you will be considered right wing immediately. But those elders are dying, so the situation has been changed.

As I wrote, Japanese Witches like Shinto, but not in its [traditional] form. So for me, they use the framework of Western Paganism and compose the framework with Japanese indigenous elements. For example, one Witch likes to have four elements, earth, air, water and fire, on his altar, but all the elements are local (e.g., sacred trees, incense, sacred water) So indigenous spirituality may be intermingled with spiritualities from different cultures.

TWH: What’s the Japanese attitude toward nature in general?

EK: That’s a difficult question… Because it’s very dependent on the individual.

It’s just my opinion, but many people want to leave nature now. They like vegetables without worms and want to live without worms and insects. They like nature only as provided for humans (e.g., parks). [In that opinion], nature and daily life should be separated.

Painted Shinto Shrines sold in Osaka magical shop. [Courtesy Photo]

TWH: How might we foster connections between Japan and the UK/USA/West in this respect? 

EK: I find Japanese people like Japanese things. If they can’t find any connection, many of them (except anthropologists) lose their interest. So it is important how [something] connects to Japanese culture. Japanese people also love to hear how Japanese culture is accepted in different countries. They like to hear how Shinto, Ninjas, Amaterasu, for example, are known in the West, and they want to know the differences between Western ways and Japanese ways.

This might be a good place to start!

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As UK-based paganism continues to foster links with other countries, exchanging ideas, practices and concepts, a future in which highly diverse cultures interact around pagan issues appears increasingly likely to be on the cards. Exchanging information with academics like Eriko can only enhance this process, both ways.

As for herself, she says that it is best to describe her as ‘walking her own spiritual path.’ She does converse with a deity, but she does not put a name to it, and does not currently follow any particular religion.

Eriko will recommence teaching in the autumn term in the anthropology department of Kyoto University. She will also be taking classes on Contemporary European and Pagan Study in the school’s Institute for Research in Humanities.