First of all, I would like to show my deepest gratitude and respect to support and prayer sent from all over the world for people suffering from the Earthquake struck Japan on 11th March.
On the day, 11th March, I was in Tokyo. Fortunately the building of our office was not damaged, but still I cannot forget the fear I felt when I experienced the ground waving for the first time in my life. Since the day, even though six months have passed, the situation of suffering people has not been improved. Like other religious institution in Japan, Shinto shrines were severely damaged. The earthquake and tsunami caused damage to approximately 4,500 shrines. Among them, about 230 shrines were totally destroyed or wiped away and disappeared. There are Shinto priests who lost their lives. In addition to natural disaster, the issue of nuclear power plant has not been solved and economical situation is hardly recovered.
Under such difficult condition, Japanese religious organizations are involved in various activities to help suffering people. Immediately after the earthquake and tsunami, Shinto shrines in Tohoku area provided their facilities as shelters, and Jinja Honcho and shrines in other areas conducted support activities such as sending people and supplies to the suffering area. However, this is not only the case with religious organizations. Any companies, organizations and individuals think and work in order to help more people as much as they can. To support someone or to help someone is the thought that lies deep inside the heart of each Japanese person.
It is very sad to know that some people said “There is no god or Buddha” or “God did not help us”. But looking the tsunami swallowing a whole town, knowing the grief of losing loving ones, I cannot blame people for saying so. Then, what can Shinto shrines do for these people?
As you may know, there are various ways to worship in Shinto, and ‘matsuri’ is a unique form of worshipping. It is often translated as ceremony or festival. This matsuri has two different natures. One is solemn ritual and the other is a nature of entertaining event which people and gods enjoy together. Generally, Japanese people imagine the latter entertaining event when they hear the word ‘matsuri’. Right after the earthquake, many events at Shinto shrines were cancelled or shrunk in scale. Probably this is because of maturi’s entertaining nature which people thought unsuitable to the circumstances after the quake. However, as time went on, people start to say that they should conduct matsuri properly.
Matsuri at Shinto shrine is not only an entertainment. People gather at a shrine which functions as a center of a town and enjoy together with deity. This means to re-recognize and strengthen the bond between people. The bond between people is very important especially under devastatingly difficult condition. People are energized by taking part in matsuri at a shrine, and by recognizing the bond people can face the difficulties. Since the earthquake until now, there was neither riot nor major plunder in Japan. This is probably because each person knows that he or she is a part of a society and that it is necessary to help each other. This is in other words the spirit of matsuri.
Japan has experienced numerous disasters and has overcome them. It may take a long time, but I believe our country and our people will again overcome the difficulty with the spirit of matsuri.