|Such a pretty shot, I thought it was worth using again. ^^|
|Hiding behind this curtain is a very shy middle-school kami.|
They're Shinto priestesses. They have male counterparts too, which you can see in the picture in this article here. (It's about a third of the way down the page.) You'll also see Shinto priests in anime every now and then, who generally wear a very special looking smock-like kimono that covers the front entirely rather than showing the overlap of the two sides of the kimono like most normal ones do. As to what Shintoism is as a whole, well you could say it is a religion and it isn't. From the earliest records of Japanese history, there has been evidence of a shamanic tradition of worshiping spirits called kami. We often translate this word as "God" but it has a much more flexible meaning in the Japanese language which more or less evokes the idea of something drawn from the divine. This set of indigenous beliefs varied by region and was not officially codified into what we know as State Shintoism until early in the Meiji Period (which began in 1868). This particular brand of State Shinto basically added an extra element to the already existing kami related tradition by adding in the worship of the Emperor as a direct descendant of the sun goddess, Amaterasu. (As a side note, the Emperor was forced to renounce this claim at the end of World War II.) This tradition is also where we get those paper tassels on rope that are often used to mark sacred sites and sometimes are attached to sticks for ceremonies. The thing about kami is that they can be just about anything, from oddly shaped rock, to really old trees, to certain animals, and even charismatic people. Of course in anime, you can even make things even more interesting by actually making them literal gods rather than just believed to be gods. Such a thing happens to Yurie Hitotsubashi when she wakes up one morning and realizes she's become a god in the anime, Kamichu! As a result of this discovery, she's taken in by the local Shinto shrine and spends quite a bit of time trying to help out the local spirits, while also having to deal with the ceremonial responsibilities of being a living god.
|Shamon: What? You mean most monks |
don't get to drink sake all day? That's not right!
In anime and manga, it's more often just played for humor and parody today. However, this isn't particularly new. Japanese artists and story tellers have been using this joke as far back as the original emaki complete with the drinking and lechery, like Shamon from the anime Amatsuki who loves to drink with the best of them. In fact, it probably wasn't as unusual back in the feudal period seeing as a common practice for wealthy families with multiple children was to send the younger siblings who wouldn't get any of the inheritance to Monasteries and I'm sure there were probably a few who were used to better life styles as a result and had trouble adapting, but I doubt they were or are nearly as prevalent as Japanese popular media seems to make them out to be. You can even find some monks that actually are serious practitioners within the medium itself. In reality, none of them are supposed to do any of this stuff if their serious practitioners anyway, since it violates Buddhist precepts.
|Miroku: Your post-its ain't got nothin' on these babies!|
Once in a while when a Monk finds himself in a bind, you might hear him reciting a chant that sounds something like "Namu ami, namu ami..." while holding a rosary in his hands. Actually, it's a specific chant from the Pure Land Sect of Buddhism which had a lot of followers during the feudal period (and even still a few today). The Pure Land school of Buddhism holds that gaining enlightenment through traditional means is very hard, and therefore the best way to do it is to appeal to the compassion of the Amitabha Buddha (or Amida within Japan itself) to gain entrance to a pure land overseen by the above mentioned. This pure land's influence as well as Amitabha's guidance will provide followers with the ability to eventually achieve Nirvana. The chant is actually called the Nembutsu and it is said that reciting it is a form of generating good fortune and benefit for everyone who hears it as the speaker puts his faith in the Buddha. While there are many minor sects within this sub category, this is one of the major ways you can tell whether a monk is in general a member of a Pure Land sect or one of the others. Itenerent monks in the feudal period such as Miroku from the anime Inuyasha, are a lot more likely to be Pure Land monks than a monk from a monastery (not to say that there aren't Pure Land monasteries because there are) as many of the other sects required a lot more discipline and teaching in a monastic setting while many of the pure land sects lend themselves more to proselytizing and going among the populous. Pure Land also lends itself more to using sutras as charms and exorcist tools since they're a lot more faith-based rather than having more of a basis in discipline or meditation. They still have these things, but not necessarily as much.
|You can't see the altar very well, but it still contains |
a lot of the the items associated with a Buddhist funeral.
Well, as I said, Shintoism is a religion and it isn't. One of the interesting things about what happened when Buddhism came to Japan was that a lot of the Japanese decided that it wasn't so different, and they figured many of the kami they already worshipped might just be reincarnations of Buddhist figures anyway. Interestingly, this has spawned a more recent setup where Shinto shrines cater more closely to matters of life, while Buddhist temples deal more often with matters of death. As a result, you're more likely in modern times to see Shinto priests and mikos presiding over festivals, while most funerals are conducted in the Buddhist tradition as seen in this shot from Detective Conan.
|Seriously, kids get horribly dismembered in this series, |
yet the moral guardians are more worried about this?
I can't exactly give a clear answer on this one because it depends on the context, but a lot of the time, there's nothing subliminal going on, someone just decided to add some extralocal symbology for effect. In fact there's even instances of manga being edited and redrawn when it came to the states because someone put something in that the moral guardians thought would be offensive (they find a lot of things offensive it turns out). This happened to the manga Fullmetal Alchemist, in which there is a scene where originally the character Greed was chained to a stone formation that looked distinctly like a crucifix. When they adapted the manga for the United States, they redrew it so it was just an ordinary rock. There hadn't really been any symbolism to the original drawing, Hiromu Arakawa just thought it looked cool.
So there you have it. If there's anything you'd like to comment on or you just want to tell me I'm flat wrong about something and want to correct me, feel free to post down below. So until next time, take care, and have a great week.
Images are taken from Amatsuki, Detective Conan, Ghost Hound, Inuyasha, Kamichu!, and the manga Fullmetal Alchemist.