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Book Review: A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine

Originally posted on LJ on July 23, 2011


I’ve finally got my hands on more Shinto based books. The first one I was able to get was “A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine” by John K Nelson. It’s one of the only Shinto books I’ve seen in Barnes and Noble, so I grabbed it.

The premise of this book was more or less comments and observations that the author noted during attending various festivals throughout the year at Suwa Jinja. I guess he not only wrote his own comments, but he interviewed many people about their experiences as well about the festivals/rituals and them compiled them into a book.

I like this book. It wasn’t earth shattering in it’s knowledge, but it was still insightful, esp. since I have yet to even set foot onto/into a Shinto shrine. I really have no idea what goes on there, what it’s like to be there, the architecture, etiquette- it’s all foreign to me. Being able to read about how the rituals in shrine work was very helpful. Because of this book, I actually can sorta figure out how to use my Norito book that I have. To see some of the things they do during a matsuri helps myself when I go to my own local-ish Japanese festivals.

This book also helped with various symbols and various other ritual elements that I’ve seen,, but didn’t fully understand. In many ways, it has cleared up a lot for me.

I think the most important parts of this book, though, were interview type things relating to the various priests at the shrine. To hear their opinions on things, to see how they viewed stuff. Very interesting for me. Many times it seems like they don’t have harsh opinions. Most paint the Japanese to be very white wash, always considerate. So it was interesting for me to see some of the… negative aspects? Things that worry them, biases they have. I wish there was a book full of things like that- the human element of things.

Another interesting part of the book was at the end. I liked it, but at the same time, I felt it sorta was out of place, and took away from many of the warm fuzzies I got from the rest of the book. At the end, Nelson talks about political aspects of Japan, the break btwn older culture and the younger generation, and the potential future path of Shinto. Some of the things he discusses, like some Japanese wanting to move back towards nationalism, raising Japanese above others, and┬áre instituting┬ámore power with the emperor. I don’t know.. it was just a lot to take in, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Of course, most of his information was from the 80’s and 70’s, so I don’t know how things have changed since then. But it was interesting to read. I just sorta wish it wasn’t right at the end. It was kind of a damper for me.

Overall, the book was good. It has helped clear up a lot of information for me. Hopefully it has laid a nice foundation for me to read more about Shintoism and Japanese culture.

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Posted by on August 5, 2011 in Shinto Book Reviews, Shintoism


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