Why don’t you see Shinto priests around town?

Unlike (most?) Buddhist monks, Shinto priests walk around in mufti and get changed just before the ceremony. Given the importance of ritual purity in Shinto, I imagine that is probably to stop their clothes getting impure.


Why do yamabushi wear conch shells?

Apparently they are used to communicate in the mountains where these religious hermits usually live.

Why are there two ways of saying “there are” in Japanese?

I’m not asking this as a linguistic question as almost everything exists in one language or another (although if there is a linguistic or historical reason I’d love to know) but more as a philosophical one:

If the animistic Shinto tradition of rocks and trees etc being gods and having souls is so important in Japan, how can they divide things into animate and inanimate when deciding on whether to use iru or aru?

Why do the Japanese eat meat?

…if they are supposed to be Buddhists?

This isn’t unique to Japan of course – try getting truly vegetarian food in Thailand!

One possibly relevant factor in Japan is in the animist collection of beliefs that is Shinto, plants are also gods and so it is just as bad to eat a banana as it is to eat a cow. For that reason, you traditionally thank/ apologise to all food for giving up its life for your nutrition with an “Itadakimasu” and a praying gesture. Another is that extremism in diet is just as frowned upon as extremism in religion (the reason why 99% of Japanese will respond to “Are you religious?” as if it’s an accusation), so cutting down on meat is sensible and cutting it out is just kind of weird.

The other possible reason is simply that Buddhist orders in Japan have always told their public what they want to be told, so that the priests can fill the coffers which they will pass onto their sons (marriage and children being another thing that isn’t traditionally associated with Buddhism!) Again, Thailand jumps instantly to mind as proof that money grubbing Buddhist priests aren’t soley a Japanese thing, though…

Why aren’t the Japanese more interested in reincarnation?

Despite the vast majority of Japanese people having a Buddhist funeral, I think you’d probably find more believers in reincarnation in the UK or America. In fact, the Japanese use the word karuma (karma), and I’m pretty sure that’s been borrowed from English rather than directly from Sanskrit.

I wonder whether a real belief in reincarnation would clash too much with the Confucian and Shinto beliefs. For one thing, how could you pray to an ancestor who had already been reborn as a mouse or firefly?