I read a little about Shinto and Buddhism

Today I will deal with the folklore of Japan. 

I will make a statement regarding the beliefs of the Japanese, both historical and modern, as expressed through their mythology. The Japanese culture appears to be concerned with a certain aesthetic, which regards the both the natural and the refined to be indicators of beauty. 

The sumo tradition in Japan is linked to the Shinto religion. 

The Japanese culture, and therefore their folklore, is a mixture of Buddhist and Shinto elements. 

Shinto is a naturalistic religion, concerned with the vital essence of life, and which revolves around kami, which are the living spirits that animate the world. Buddhism has many variants, many sects of Buddhism have been introduced to Japan. The one which has become most familiar to the western mind is Zen, or Chan Buddhism. However the Buddhism which originally took hold among the common people in japan is a Mahayana variant called Pure Land Buddhism. The doctrine of pure land Buddhism holds that an individual can attain Nirvana by placing one's faith in the transcendent Buddha Amida, who promised that he would save all beings from the endless cycle of death and rebirth. 

By reciting a simple prayer and holding one's faith in Amida, an individual would reach the Pure Land. 

It was during the Japanese medieval period that Zen Buddhism took hold in Japan. The zen sect is based on the belief that enlightenment, or Satori, can be achieved through meditation. There are two main schools of zen Buddhism, the rinzai, and the Soto schools. Rinzai, stresses that Satori can be achieved suddenly, Soto believes that enlightenment is attained gradually. 

So, the main historical religious currents throughout Japanese history have been Buddhism and Shinto. Buddhism has gone through many different forms in Japanese history. Shinto may be said to be more closely associated with folk beliefs, or superstitions. 

A short discussion of popular superstitions in modern japan.

Many Japanese believe that all things, even inanimate objects have a spirit. This is the essence of the Shinto idea of kami. 

Unlucky Numbers

In Japan the number four is considered bad luck along with the number nine.

The number four is pronounced as “shi” in Japanese, and is the word for death.  The number nine is pronounced “ku” and rhymes with “kutsuu” which means pain in Japanese.  The number four and two together are pronounced “shi-ni” which means to die and as a result the number forty-two is considered unlucky as is number twenty-four or “ni-shi” meaning double death.

Don’t cut your nails at night (yozume) as the kanji for the term can also be read as “quick death”.

Don’t say the word “shio” or salt near nightfall as it could be mistaken for “shi”(the word for death).

Luck, is sometimes a turd.

If you step in poop or a bird poops on you it’s considered lucky because the word for luck, “un”, is pronounced the same as the word for feces.

Eat an umeboshi (Mmmm) every morning and you will avoid accidents during the day. The American corollary: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Incidentally umeboshi are really good for your health, and taste like a sour salty picnic in your mouth.

Quiet your mouth!

Speak not the words “kaeru”, which means to go home, or “modoru”, meaning to return at a Japanese wedding or you will jinx the marriage and the bride will leave her husband’s home and return to her parents. 

Fishermen headed out to sea are sure to say “etekou” instead of the word “saru” which means to leave and not come back.

Don’t Do This

Bad luck will ensure if you:

Step on the cloth border of the tatami floor mats.

Stick your chopsticks upright in a full rice-bowl. (This has to do with the Japanese funeral ceremony.)

Break a comb.

Break the strap of your geta (wooden clog) or zori (slippers).

Eat fried eel and melon at the same meal.

Predicting the Weather

Did you know that if you throw your shoe up in the air that you can predict the weather?  An old Japanese superstition states that if the shoe lands on it’s sole the day will be pleasant.  If it lands on it’s side the day will be cloudy and if it lands upside down it will rain.

Protect Yourself from Bad Fortune

Pick up an omamori at a temple or shrine in Japan to ward off bad fortune and bring you luck.  There are omamori for good health, safe driving, good performance school exams and a whole host of other situations where a little divine intervention might ensure a favorable outcome.


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