Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 2, 2011
COMING to Japan from the United States, it sometimes seems as if the people of the former have a more relaxed approach to their many traditions than do the people of the latter about their fewer traditions. That’s to the extent that people in either country take an active interest in tradition at all.
Here’s another example I discovered recently. Nakashima Biniiru Kako in Hitachi, Ibaraki, manufactures torii for Shinto shrines using polyvinyl chloride pipe. That’s a good idea when you think about it—the material is cheap, durable, light, easy to replace, impervious to water or ultraviolet rays, and if it’s red, most people won’t notice the difference anyway.
Company President Nakashima Masayoshi came up with the idea to use PVC pipe as a replacement for the usual stone, steel, or wood about 17 years ago. (There are also a few made of porcelain, including one at a shrine in the ceramics center of Arita.) Mr. Nakashima says he receives orders for about 20 in a good month, so there might be more of them around than anyone realizes. In fact, he does well enough to have a website for them, which you can see here. (Japanese only, of course) His company has another clever product, by the way: folding, portable storage containers for garbage. Keeping the magpies away until the garbage trucks show up can be a problem.
No one has come up with a satisfactory theory on the origin of torii, which mark the entrances to the shrine’s sacred space, and have become the symbol of shrines themselves. A few of the oldest ones have doors, including those at secondary shrines at Ise, so they probably were real gates at one time. Now the gates are all doorless, which means anyone can come and go as they please. “Straight is the gate and narrow is the path” isn’t an idea that would have originated in Shinto, but then the Japanese have a relaxed approach to religion, too. Try this torii and shrine combo in Okayama City for another example.
None of this should be surprising. After all, no one is able to agree whether Shinto is a “religion” to begin with.
Here’s something that is a bit of a surprise, however: Eighteen-year-old Terakubo Erena holding her own with some very heavy hitters.