FaithWorld

Japanese Buddhist priest discusses spiritual toll of nuclear crisis

(Sokyu Genyu during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo June 4, 2011/Chisa Fujioka)

In Japan, where nature is believed to cleanse spirits, how do people cope when treasured mountains and oceans are tainted by leaks of radiation from a nuclear power plant?

Sokyu Genyu, a Buddhist priest from a temple just 45 km (28 miles) west of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeast Japan, is drawing attention to the less visible scars from the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. As a member of a government panel to come up with a blueprint for rebuilding after the deadly earthquake and tsunami on March 11, Genyu is adding the people’s voice — and a different view — to debate on dealing with the loss of homes, jobs and communities.

“We need to treat the situation in areas affected by radiation separately,” said Genyu, head priest of the Fukujuji Temple and also an award-winning author, told Reuters. “It’s not just about getting compensation.”

His small town of Miharu has welcomed thousands of residents who have evacuated from around the nuclear plant, still leaking radiation after being struck by the tsunami.

A Buddhist burial in the rain for Japanese tsunami victims

burial 1

(At a funeral in Kassenuma town, Miyagi prefecture March 26, 2011/Carlos Barria)

Ten flimsy wooden coffins were laid on two sturdy rails at a hastily prepared cemetery of mostly mud as Keseunnuma began burying its dead from the tsunami that ripped apart the Japanese coastal city. Desperate municipalities such as Kesennuma have been digging mass graves, unthinkable in a nation where the deceased are almost always cremated and their ashes placed in stone family tombs near Buddhist temples. Local regulations often prohibit burial of bodies.

The number of dead in Kesennuma was 551 as of Saturday, far too many for local crematoriums that can typically manage about 10 bodies a day but are now facing shortages of kerosene. Another 1,448 in the city of about 74,000 are missing from the tsunami two weeks ago that has left more than 27,500 people dead or missing across Japan.

from Environment Forum:

Are whales and dolphins smart enough to get special rights?

whaleSome conservationists and experts on philosophy and ethics reckon that whales and dolphins are so intelligent that they should be given rights to life like humans. That could mean extra pressure on whalers in Japan, Norway and Iceland to end their hunts.

The focus on rights is a shift after conservationists successfully won a ban on almost all whale hunts from 1986, arguing that they had been harpooned close to extinction.

And in recent years (with evidence that some stocks are big enough to withstand hunts), many opponents say the moratorium should stay in place, arguing that shooting grenade-tipped harpoons at whales can mean a long, cruel death.

Japanese monk gets down with the beat for Buddhism

gold buddha

A gold statue of Buddha in Tokyo, 26 Nov 2009/Yuriko Nakao

He raps. He chants. And this month, Japan’s famed hip-hop loving monk, better known as MC Happiness, will tap dance on stage, in the name of Buddhism.

Kansho Tagai heads the 400-year-old Kyoouji Temple in central Tokyo, offering softly chanted prayers throughout the day amid traditional bell chimes and wafts of incense.

But once in a while, he raises the volume, and the tempo, of these prayers, going before an audience to rap Buddhist sutra, or teachings, to hip hop beats and in modern Japanese.

Top Japan pol calls Christianity self-righteous, Islam hardly better

japan-buddhistA top politician in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party has praised Buddhism while calling Christianity “exclusive and self-righteous” and Islam only somewhat better.  Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa made the remarks after meeting the head of the Japan Buddhist Federation, a group traditionally close to the rival Liberal Democratic Party, which was trounced by the Democrats in an August election.

Christianity “is an exclusive and self-righteous religion. And society in the United States and Europe, which are based on Christianity, are at a dead end,” the Nikkei newspaper quoted Ozawa as telling reporters after the meeting. “Islam is better, but it is also exclusive.” (Photo:Buddha statue at Todaiji Temple in Nara, western Japan, 29  Oct 2008/Itsuo Inouye)

Ozawa, seen by some as the mastermind behind the Democrats’ election win, had kinder words for Buddhism, which along with Shinto is the dominant religion in Japan, although many people take a mostly secular and eclectic view.  Christians are a tiny minority and Muslims are few in Japan.

from Raw Japan:

Where’s the holy water?

My young son and I were heading into Catholic church on Sunday in Tokyo when we noticed something odd: There was no holy water at the entrance.

It felt strange. What could be more Catholic than crossing yourself with a dab of holy water as you race into Mass to find a pew?

JAPAN-CHRISTIANS/

At least that's my image from as far back as childhood, along with all the standing-sitting-kneeling action and kids squirming in their seats anxious to grab a pastry in the basement lounge area after the service.

Matchmaking gets divine touch at Japanese shrine

match-1

Rie Suzuki has exhausted most earthly means to find Mr. Right, so now she, and dozens of singles in Japan where marriage has recently gone out of fashion, are turning to the gods for help.

Forty-year-old Suzuki was one of 14 women and 14 men gathered on a recent Saturday at Imado shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japan’s indigenous Shinto gods of marriage. Participants had varied backgrounds, but one common goal — to find a partner.

“We said it’s up to the gods now. If we go on as we have, we probably won’t ever meet anyone,” said Suzuki, who was attending the event that combines prayer with speed-dating.

Japan’s rare Catholic PM Taro Aso meets Pope Benedict

aso-popeJapanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, a member of Japan’s tiny Roman Catholic minority, had a chance toenjoy some time away from political trouble at home when he met with Pope Benedict on Tuesday.

As his first stop during a trip to attend July 8-10 summit of G8 leaders in Italy, Aso went to the Vatican, gave the pope a Sony digital video camera and discussed the global economic crisis with him. (Photo: Prime Minister Aso presents video camera to Pope Benedict, 7 July 2009/Danilo Schiavella)

His visit was timely in that respect — Benedict published an encyclical on economic and social issues today, calling for a bold reform of the world economic order to overcome the financial crisis and redirect the focus of business to the welfare of all people.

Catholic regular at Shinto shrines to visit pope at the Vatican

yasukuniPope Benedict has been criticised for his handling of relationships with the world’s other religions. On Monday Tuesday, he is due to receive at the Vatican Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has little difficulty with mixing and matching various faiths.

Though an avowed member of Japan’s tiny Roman Catholic minority, Aso regularly pays respects and offers gifts at Shinto shrines. Japan’s indigenous religion of Shinto is polytheistic — its doctrine says the world is crowded with divinities, mostly in natural phenomena such as the sun, moon, wind and mountains. Combining this with Christianity’s monotheism may sound like a contradiction, but it is something many Japanese Catholics take in their stride. (Photo: Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, 31 May 2007/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Aso’s visits have in the past included trips to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which is dedicated to war dead and to 14 people judged by an Allied tribunal to be Class A war criminals. Many in Asia see it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism. But Aso has stayed away since becoming prime minister last year, probably more to avoid offending China than for religious reasons. For more on Aso and his faith, see our post about him when he took office.

What should a German pope say at Yad Vashem?

yad-wide

What should a German pope say at Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem?

The chairman of the Yad Vashem council, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, was underwhelmed by Pope Benedict’s effort at the memorial this afternoon. “There certainly was no apology expressed here,” he told Israeli television. “Something was missing. There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, nor a word of regret.” Nor was there an “expression of empathy with the sorrow.” Lau also criticised Benedict for not specifically saying six million Jews were killed — even though the pope did use this figure earlier in the day during another speech.

While I don’t agree completely with Rabbi Lau, I also thought the speech was not up to the occasion. It was vague and evasive. It approached the Holocaust in an abstract way. Click here to see the difference between his approach and the more direct and powerful style Pope John Paul chose when he made the first papal visit to Yad Vashem nine years ago.

It is a unique situation when, within living memory of the Holocaust, a German is head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is visiting Israel as the head of a universal church, sure, but nobody can forget that he comes from the country that carried out the Holocaust. This is not to imply that he bears any personal blame. But most German clergy, politicians and average citizens acknowledge their country’s responsibility to admit its failures and pledge to never fail that way again. To do so is simply honest and to their credit – unlike for example Japan, which still struggles with admitting its own history.