Another in my on-going series of Gods recruiting and religion.
Within Shinto, Inari, the God of Rice, Prosperity and Foxes, will recruit Westerners. Often times, these Pagans are not sure what Inari wants from them. The cultural and language barrier of Japan often stands in the way. Also, Shinto itself is tied to the landscape of Japan. In response, many of these Pagans have been listening to Inari for direction of what to do next. Many have learned Japanese and setting up a kamidama (basic altar).
Shinto could considered an open religion in the sense that the Japanese are bi-religious. In Japanese practice, the Shinto and Buddhist altars are kept in separate rooms, and tended at different times. People will be married in a Shinto ritual, but will have a Buddhist funeral. Therefore, a Pagan can be a follower of Shinto and still practice their form of Paganism. They have to be careful to keep the two religions separate in their daily practices, as the Japanese do.
Since Shinto is a living religion, non-Japanese also need to be careful for other reasons. One is that others, who are unfamiliar with Shinto, regard what these people do to be Shinto. Moreover, many Shinto rituals have specific meanings, and are done in a particular way. People need to know and understand the ritual technology of this religion.
People, not from Japan, should be mindful of interjecting their own cultural ideas into Shinto. The desire to be become a “cultural colonialist” is a strong impulse for anyone to be wary of. That means the person decides what Shinto is or is not for them. It also entails taking a cafeteria approach to the religion – deciding what to follow and not to follow. To know Shinto means to see it within the terms of the Japanese culture and landscape.
In addition, many Westerners are conditioned to think that in religious terms, they can only be mono-religious. Since monotheism, in different forms, permeate Western culture, this is understandable. There is a long cultural history of punishing people for practicing the wrong religion at the wrong time and place. Therefore being multi-religious like the Japanese is a foreign concept. However, Pagans can embrace it in their practice of Shinto, always being mindful to keep both of their religions separate.
To read more about Shinto: The Encyclopedia of Shinto from Kokugakuin University (in Japanese and English).
I lived by Izumo-taisha Grand Shrine, the oldest Shinto Shrine, in Japan. From Shimane Prefecture: Izumo-taisha.
Gods Recruiting: Closed Culture: Native American – the prior entry in the series.