From Publishers Weekly
Western visitors to Japan sometimes come away with the idea that Shinto, Japan's indigenous religion, is a "dead" tradition, with shrines preserved as mere historic sites or tourist traps. Not so, claims Yamakage, who represents "the 79th generation of an ancient Shinto tradition" and makes a case for living Shinto as a faith-based religion that is predicated on "the belief in the presence of the kami," or spirits. Yamakage calls for a return to koshinto, the ancient Shinto practice that he says had no shrines at all, and for a rejection of the "secular, materialistic, atheistic society" that he believes modern Japan has become. He offers a strong introduction to Shinto, stressing that it is nondogmatic, nondoctrinal and almost wholly decentralized. Still, Shintoists are united by a reverence for nature and an emphasis on self-purification, particularly through water rituals and cleansing. The book is nicely designed, with an excellent layout and black-and-white photos throughout. At times, Yamakage's voice can be overly strident, as when challenging the faith and motivations of some contemporary Shinto priests. Overall, however, this is a fine primer that makes a compelling case for Shinto as a religion invested with deep meaning. (May)
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Yamakage, the seventy-ninth grand master (he retired in 2005) of the school of Shinto that bears his family name, believes that Shinto well addresses disillusion with materialism and renewed interest in spirituality. Largely dispensing with Shinto's history, he discusses its character and practices. Reverence toward nature is the bedrock of Shinto, which otherwise has neither doctrine, commandments, gods, idols, nor organization. It does use shrines, great and small, to center devotion, and the aim of the individual adherent is to purify thought, behavior, and person to live aright, by which Shinto means what is called living the Dao, following the way, and so forth in other religions. The Yamakage theory of one spirit, four souls; the Shinto view of the afterlife; and some physical exercises--highly reminiscent of yoga, since they are concerned with breathing, and of zen, since they involve clearing the mind--are the topics of the last three chapters of this exceptionally handsome, to-the-point primer on the faith that now-more-prevalent Buddhism and Christianity both found when they came to Japan. Ray Olson
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