Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Tree of Life & the Tree of Knowledge -- A Response

Thanks Scot for "The Tree of Life & the Tree of Knowledge" post. As you know, Japanese pop culture is saturated with spiritual symbols and themes (it astounds me how often I hear someone label Japan "secular" -- using the word to mean that there is a very low interest in the metaphysical).

You posted your article about the tree being an important symbol in Japanese media the day after Jonathan Herring and I visited Meiji shrine in Harajuku (one of the more important Shinto shrines in Japan). Meiji shrine is huge, the biggest I have seen. We entered the grounds and walked along a lovely path with a majestic forest on both sides. This path passes through three large torii (shinto gates) made from massive trees (each vertical post and cross beam is made from a single tree); the gates lead into an alternative world.

After walking for ten minutes we arrived at the main shrine, which is an amazingly ornate and large complex of buildings, gates and fences that took a tremendous amount of skill to build. In the court yard is a very old, stunningly beautiful "sacred tree" that is surrounded by a wooden fence. The fence has a large number of pegs on it where people hang little wooden placards with personal prayers written on them (the placards are sold for 500 yen each, there were well over five thousand of them hanging on the pegs, I will have to go back and find out how often they are removed to make room for new ones).

I was deeply impressed by the size and majesty of this tree, and by the way thousands of people believe that it is a source of power. Well dressed, educated, articulate Japanese (plus a few foreigners) going to a majestic tree to get some help for their problems.

In Japan the spiritual significance of trees (what Scot observes in Japanese pop culture) began long ago when the land was covered with virgin forests full of magnificent trees like the one at Meiji shrine. It must have been awe inspiring to walk in such a forest; I would love to be able to do so.

Thanks again Scot for your excellent article!

The second and third photos are by Richard Eccleston

No comments: