1 Lee Karen

When I went outside while it was snowing to look for my headphones…

In a world

of falling snow

only I am still.




The Kitagawa reading discusses motifs of early Japanese religion, which show a highly collective mindset that is present even today in modern day Japan. We learn that while in Western culture “all religious facts have a symbolic character,” symbols are not “understood symbolically” in Japanese culture (Kitagawa 45). In this way, the reading ties in with what we learned in Professor Inouye’s Thursday lecture – that in Japanese culture, gods are not invisible, but rather available and present (Inouye Lecture 1/22/14). An example of this concept is of the role of shimenawa, which are roped around objects of nature, such as a rock. The act does not ascribe the rock as a symbol of sanctity, but actually recognizes the rock itself as being charged with sacred force (Inouye Lecture 1/15/14). The object of worship isn’t conceptual and set apart, but rather, physically and emotionally present and in direct contact with human beings. This is further shown in the Manyoshu, the oldest anthology of Japanese poems, through which we learn that the collective understanding of the early Japanese was that “each human being is a reality and should be understood as such, just as each mountain, each river, and each tree…nevertheless, the meaning of each being [is] sought…in its mutual participation, continuity, and correspondence to and with others within the total framework of the monistic world of meaning” (Kitagawa 48). In this way of thought, human beings are not insignificant in the face of nature, but rather, there exists a “continuity and correspondence” between them, and they are all interconnected (Kitagawa 48). Thus, human beings are not placed below or apart from any particular object of sanctity, but are in direct contact with them. This belief in a singular body of existence is reflected in the structure of Japanese “waka,” which stress lyricism and suggestion unlike the linguistic creativity sometimes preferred in Western poems (Inouye Lecture 1/22/14). For the Japanese, it is not so important to create something new and imaginative that only existed in an individual’s head, but rather, something that is mutually understood and can be shared by many. This value is likely why a good “waka” invokes emotions that anyone can visualize in their mind, rather than having an intricate phrase that is the product of one mind. As such, this notion of a group network in which all members correspond with one another is very reminiscent of the strongly group-oriented mindset of modern-day Japan.

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2 Responses to 1 Lee Karen

  1. Tommy To says:

    Great discussion on the Kitagawa readings of religion!

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