Sasami-san@Ganbaranai has gotten noticeably darker with the appearance of Sasami’s dead mother. By now I’ve dropped the hypothesis that Sasami is an ordinary girl with Shinto-based delusions. This really is an offbeat story about ancient Shinto gods and goddesses. (I think.)
Anime in general is full of references to the Shinto religion, but it is usually a lightweight pop Shinto. Sasami-san takes a more scholarly approach, one that is both more esoteric and darker. To fully understand the show you need some background in some of the older Shinto traditions.
There are actually 3 fairly distinct concepts of death and the afterlife associated with Shinto.
October 26, 2011
I am making a single post for the Kiyomizudera Temple and Jishu Shrine since these popular sites are located right next to each other and anyone who visits one of them will probably visit both.
October 24, 2011
Yoshinogari is located in an isolated farming area in northwestern Kyushu, but it was once an important center of early Japanese culture. This was the site of a major settlement during the Yayoi Period (approximately 300 BCE – 300 CE) during which rice farming and metalworking were introduced into Japan.
Archeological excavations beginning in the 1980s have shed a great deal of light on this early stage in Japan’s history.
19 October 2011
Not far from Takamatsu, also on the island of Shikoku, is the town of Kotohira which is best known as the location of the huge Konpira Shrine (officially called Kotohira-guu). This is another shrine whose origins are lost in the mists of antiquity. It is dedicated to the welfare of seafarers. It is also built up the side of a mountain, which makes visiting it rather strenuous.
If you ask an English-speaking Japanese person about religion, you will probably be told something like this: “I am not religious but I practice Buddhism and Shinto because that is my tradition.” This leads many people to conclude that Japan is not a very religious country. After all, most Americans would claim to believe in Christianity, even if they never go to church.
Things aren’t necessarily that simple. We need to allow for cultural differences in how people talk about religion and what religion means to them. The “non-religious” Japanese person may actually spend more time in religious activities than the typical American Christian. And any anime fan who is paying attention will have to agree that there is vastly more religious content on Japanese TV than there is on American TV. Religious sites and artifacts appear constantly. Clerical characters such as monks and mikos are regularly included in the cast. (Imagine if a high percentage of American TV shows included a nun with supernatural powers.) Ordinary characters routinely pause to engage in some sort of religious observance.
Sometimes the religious elements aren’t obvious to outsiders. Most Americans who watch My Neighbor Totoro would never think of it as a religious movie, yet it is loaded with Shinto symbolism (and to a lesser extent, Buddhist symbolism.) Shinto in particular is so different from what Americans think of as a religion that references to it are sometimes overlooked.
Even those Japanese who do not think of Shinto as literally true tend to think of it as a key part of their national and cultural identity. One reason that anime characters are so often shown visiting or praying at a Shinto shrine is that this is an easy way to establish that they are Japanese and proud of it, without invoking nationalistic symbolism that might be seen as militaristic and controversial.
Even secular symbols of the nation often show a Shinto influence. The Japanese flag for example features a red disk, representing the sun goddess Amaterasu, on a white field representing purity.
Brian Ashcraft of Wired was having terrible luck with cell phones: he ran through four of them in less than a year. So he took his next one to the Kanda Shrine near Akihabara, which specializes in spiritually purifying electronic equipment. Result: one shiny new purified and blessed cell phone.
He describes the process in a photo essay: Gadget Blessings: Shinto Priest Protects Electronics From Bad Mojo.
(Presumably it won’t let him browse for porn, but he doesn’t seem to mind.)
According to this article in The Register, the Kanda-Myojin Shrine near Akihabara does a brisk business blessing laptops to protect them from viruses and other mishaps.
I’ve been burned by articles in The Register before, but this one includes a photo of the ceremony.