Jul 28, 2018

A few of Japan's religious traditions that are part of ordinary life

Having grown up over here, there are a lot of religious traditions that don't seem out of the ordinary to me, but are always new and unusual to folks who haven't seen them before.  One of the things I love about life here with my wife is that she's always opening my eyes to these things and giving me newfound appreciation for them.

I'm thinking about this because when we were out walking last night we passed by this on a plot of land where a house was about to be built:

A few of Japan's religious traditions that are part of ordinary life photo

The post is part of a Shinto practice to purify and bless the land before the house is built upon it.  

The thing is, Japanese people aren't particularly religious.  Shintoism isn't like Islam or Christianity or Judaism--it's a tradition-based religion more than a faith-based one.  As such, those traditions have just become ingrained in society to the point where folks don't even think about it, they just do it as a matter of course. 

To be honest, there are a few of those traditions that I even partake in that I didn't think about until my wife brought them up.

Here are two, in particular:

Omamori for protection

Omamori are small, colorful pouches that contain written prayers for good luck and protection.  I've carried one around with me ever since I was a kid, and I've always had one for my car.  Again, there's not some deep faith assigned to those objects, but it's just the done thing (I will say that my wife has started doing it, too, so it can't be that absurd, can it?)

Anyone can get an omamori.  They are sold at shrines, and you can request to have them personalized.  Just keep in mind that they are supposed to be renewed annually, with the old ones ritually disposed of at shrines (for a small fee).

Salt to purify objects

A few of Japan's religious traditions that are part of ordinary life photo

If you've ever watched sumo, you've seen the rikishi (wrestlers) toss salt onto the ring before entering.  They do that to purify it.  Well, the tradition also applies to daily life.  Again, I didn't think anything of it until after we moved and my wife asked me, "Why are you dumping salt on the floors and the furniture?"  For me, it's just what I've done my whole life whenever I've moved into a new house (and we moved often growing up).  In fact, to this day whenever I move, my dad (who's half-Japanese) still calls and ask me, "Hey, did you make sure to put some salt in all the rooms?"

Have you noticed any other common religious traditions in Japan that are a part of ordinary life?  Feel free to share in the comments section below!



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).

1 Comment

  • edthethe

    on Jul 28

    I put borax all over my house moving in, but that certainly isn't from tradition. I just don't want ants. hahaha! I can get on board with the omamori. It is nice to have a trinket to feel safer/wiser than before. Not that I actually believe it. There is something really appealing about the goshuin from shrines as well. I feel like a lot of the shinto practices feel more like superstitions, but it is like, well might as well do it. Better safe than sorry type of thing.