It is not uncommon to see non-religious Japanese people set up Kamidana within their homes (household Shinto altars), or for them to enjoy celebrating Christmas during the winter months. The contemporary Land of the Rising Sun seems to have vastly varying, and deeply unique concepts when it comes to religion.
Developing the notion of reverence towards nature over several thousand years, Shinto suggests that god resides in every single thing that exists in the world.
In ancient times, Shinto imbued the people of Japan with a flexible kind of belief system, which is suggested to have contributed to the easy introduction and spread of Buddhism throughout the islands during the 6th century.
Although Japan does not have one unifying faith, temples and shrines exist in almost every town in Japan, no matter how small.
The second oldest temple in Kutchan town is located in Asahi, and overlooks the entire town.
Originally a hermitage built by temple master, Ninzui Saito during the pioneer phase of Japan’s history, it was later established with the official temple title Daibutsu-ji in 1915. During my visit to this historical site, I could not help but appreciate the magnitude of the effort it must have taken to erect such a temple: Constructing something on untouched and remote land during that time period would have been challenging beyond imagination.
The master Ninzui’s original ceiling painting was designated and registered as a tangible cultural heritage site in 1971, and is truly deserving of special consideration in itself. The master, who was an ascetic monk by training, never formally learned how to paint, but possessed a natural talent and desire to decorate the temple in a similar way to Eihei-ji, where he had trained.
Interestingly, his painting illustrates not only the Buddha’s teachings, but also the beauty of flowers, birds, and of nature in general. Furthermore, the painting accentuates a Buddhist symbolism— the Dragon protects one of the main patriarchs, Dogen, from the Tiger who tries to disturb his teachings.
The next site I visited was Kutchan Shrine, which is located along Route 276 on the eastern side of town. In 1896, the settlers designated this shrine as the pioneers’ guardian deity.
Most of the shrine’s interior is decorated with unfinished wood— a traditional style that is beautiful in its simplicity. In contrast to the brown and cream tones of the wood, red, green, and yellow flags can also be seen within, representing direction and season. By the entrance of the shrine, there is a spear and a pike to protect those within from misfortune.
Unlike western religion, where gods often have anthropomorphic attributes; in Buddhism, god is more of an abstract concept, and inhabits everything natural and vital: Be they rocks, trees, or even mirrors. Mirrors can be found in nearly every Japanese shrine as a means of connecting with god, and visitors direct their prayers towards them with a sincere and pure attitude: There is believed to be an entrance to god’s residence deep within the mirror.
Shinto is deeply intertwined with the history of Japan, and is closely related to the many of the myths written in the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. If you are thinking of visiting the Daibutsu-ji, or the shrine, it’s worth calling ahead to check availability— a trip to either site would make both a fascinating and rewarding addition to an authentic Niseko experience.