Biblical vs Japanese Culture

This inspiration for this article happened almost by accident. On a TheologyWeb discussion thread I wanted to illustrate to a debate partner how honor was valued in the ancient Biblical world. Knowing that honor was likewise valued in modern Japanese culture the same way (in contrast to how it is viewed in modern American culture) I searched for and found an invaluable article apparently by one Phil VanAuken at Baylor University. (It is no longer available online, but used to be.)

In looking over VanAuken's work I realized that some of the explanations he gave of Japanese custom and culture match very closely the sort we have given here in explaining Biblical passages. Since certain Skeptics seem inclined to imply that we just make up all of this stuff, and that social studies scholars of the Bible (the Context Group) are just doing the same, VanAuken's article looked to be something I could use profitably to draw some parallels quench those denials.

You'll also find a lot of it which we don't use fascinating. As a fan of the Iron Chef television program, and of Japanese animated programs, I found much that corresponded with my observations. I also found a lot of stuff that is interesting and trivial, such as that in Japan it's all right to bring KFC or McDonald's into a movie theater. We need to get more Japanese in that respect, I think.

Of course the two cultures are far from exact on every point and in every practice, so we will only be commenting on the similiarities on key points that have been at issue here. Hereafter VanAuken's words will be in normal type, and my comments shall be in bold and italics hereafter.

VanAuken starts with an overview of Japanese culture. Here are some elements that correspond with what we have said about Biblical culture.

1. Japanese culture is structured around black and white norms for acceptable (harmony-producing) group behavior.  People who don't function by these norms are viewed as outsiders who lack legitimate status. Black and white expectations of behavior produce equally clear cut conformity, resulting in high harmony and certainty of outcomeTrust is earned through continuous conformity.

This is a match for elements of Biblical behavior we have noted: the placement of group expectations over individual behavior. It also is similar to a concept we have noted of "black and white" attitudes in such passages as Luke 14:26. Extremity of language and extremity of action.

2. Harmony is the number one priority in Japanese interpersonal and social behavior taking priority over frankness and honesty.

The same may be said in the Biblical world. The demands of honor -- more on this below -- mean that harmony of this sort is a priority, even to the point of sometimes committing an "honorable lie" to preserve order.

4. Behavioral skills in the workplace are more important to success than analytical skills. Correct etiquette (processes) is more important than personal performance.  The Japanese react far more than they proact, like pinballs bouncing off the bumpers. Adaptation is of supreme importance to success. Etiquette is the principle of behavior rather than philosophy or religion. Accountability is to the group, not the individual.  The big picture is the only picture. Conformity produces harmony, the supreme value.

A reader pointed out that this matches with the Hebraic notion of knowledge as entailing action, and accountability to a group for church discipline. "The big picture is the only picture," including the Biblical emphasis on the corporate body of Christ. "Conformity produces harmony"; ditto with the admonishments to live peacefully with all.

5. The Japanese strive to meet the expectations of others, especially those in power. Doing something in the right (role model) way is more important than achieving a favorable outcome.  A glorious defeat is better than victory achieved with the wrong (nonconforming) attitude.  Behavioral models save the Japanese worker from embarrassment.  Unstructured social situations are therefore to be avoided at all costs. Trust is essential in Japanese relationships, but the trust is based on predictability of behavior rather than emotional rapport or intimate friendship.

This is a match for the emphasis in the Biblical world on pistis and the value of proper behavior and honor over achieving a result. VanAuken goes on to note how this process is enacted in Japan, via modern mentor-employee relationships.

6.  If all the Japanese in Japan were lined up and asked to describe Americans and other Westerners in one word, the majority would probably come up with “selfish.”  The reason for this is simple enough.  The Japanese were conditioned for centuries to look upon independent, individualistic behavior—the hallmark of Americans and many other Westerners—as selfish, confrontational and disruptive.  Outsiders are perceived as barbarians because they don't conform to cultural mandates and because no loyalty is owed to them.  Independence is a social stigma; interdependence brings identity, acceptance, security, and a sense of purpose.

Think of how many times we have seen Skeptics violate this one with their demands that the Biblical text conform to THEIR perceptions. For veteran readers: Think how "selfish, confrontational and disruptive" could describe certain "fundamentalist atheists" we know.

7. All behaviors must focus on concern for the other person’s mental harmony and face (wah).  Behaviors lacking wah are relationship damaging: Criticizing in public; blame-placing; singling out others for praise; dominating conversations or interrupting others; pointing out mistakes or errors.  Employee motivation is a balance of internal and external forces, coming from strong role expectations and the strong desire to maintain personal identity through meeting these expectations. Cultural behavioral expectations + peer pressure = strong pressure to conform and perform. Just like in the Biblical world. Match "wah" with personal honor, and match "concern for the other person" with agape. Note how identity is met via meeting external expectations, just like in the Biblical world.

8. Cultural behavior is based on mutual interdependencies that create both power and weakness. This is a key source of stress in Japanese society, because there is no closure of interpersonal and social obligations.  Independence is never attained. The Japanese kaisha ("guy-shah") is held together by networks of hierarchical relationships from which individual employees receive their identity and status.  To lose ones standing and legitimacy in the kaisha is to lose one’s identity.  Permanent employment is therefore the expectation and tradition.  Japan’s news media often report that well over half of all Japanese are so seriously afflicted by stress that it is a problem of epidemic proportions.  Part of this affliction results from the intense pressure on people to work harder and produce more than other people.  Stress also results from crowded living conditions, and from worry about financial security during old age.  Much of the stress experienced by the Japanese derives from conforming to the demands of their traditional social system—part of which is a tendency to be compulsive about things.

Overall, the same is absolutely true of the Biblical world. The relationships between clients and patrons match exactly with the description of hierarchical relationships. The lack of closure of personal obligations matches with the never-ending circle dance of grace.

A big difference lies in the econimic reality. In the ancient world you were never "unemployed" because you always found it necessary to look for sustenance. Worry about old age and security could be had, but the ancients were less able to do something about it. Note nevertheless in this respect Jesus' admonition not to worry about such things.

15. Traditional Japanese have tried to maintain and balance two worlds.  One consisted of reality or hone (hone-nay)—their true thoughts and intentions—and the other of a facade or tatemae (“tah-tay-my)—a screen created to maintain the appearance of harmony and serve as a ploy until the other party revealed their own position. The Japanese reaction to new relations was that they could not be established because no relations existed.  There had to be some kind of recognized outside connection bringing the two parties together—a go-between or some other third party. Most traditional Japanese go to great lengths to avoid confrontations with others. They are quick to apologize and accept personal responsibility in case something might be wrong or possibly go wrong. Superiors may often accept personal blame for the failures of subordinates in a project or for their breach of etiquette or failure to live up to expectations. There is a perfectly good word for “no” in the Japanese language, but it is seldom used.  “Yes,” on the other hand, is heard all the time.  This does not mean, however, that the Japanese do not say “no.”  They say it often, even if what they have said sounds like “yes” to the uninitiated.  For many generations the Japanese were conditioned to avoid blunt responses, confrontations or friction of any kind.  Since “no” is often confrontational and can cause disappointment and ill will of one kind or another, the Japanese do not like to come right out and say it. As a result, “yes” gradually came to by synonymous with “Yes, I heard you,” or “Yes, I am listening.”  It ceased to mean “Yes, I agree” or “Yes, I will.”  The main reason for this development was the overriding need to maintain harmony, and the importance of self-preservation.

There is no direct parallel here, but there is an indirect one I want to bring to attention: All the talk we hear from a certain quarter about the Bible "not meaning what it clearly says" is clearly a product of a modern and Western bias. High context societies often mean more than they say; as Rihbany noted in The Syrian Christ, Westerners will be frustrated by the Easterner's tendency to not "say what he means". He says what he means -- we're just too low-context to get it. Take the lesson to heart the next time some Skeptic argues about how the Bible "clearly" saying something. A reader noted that this also matches the ANE practice of equivocation (noted above) and the Messianic secret motif.

17. Many Westerners, particularly Americans, have been conditioned to view time as something like a train speeding down a straight track.  The train never slows down or stops, and they have a compulsive, deep-seated need to be on it, moving toward specific goals.  Japanese, on the other hand, have traditionally viewed the time track as a circle, with the train moving slowly and repeatedly passing the same place over a period of time. One of the most common and important time factors in Japanese negotiations or discussions about serious matters was—and still is—the use of time gaps or breaks.  The people involved simply stop talking.  They may just sit and remain silent (often with their eyes closed), get up and leave the room for short periods, or hold low-voiced side conversations with their colleagues.  Japanese negotiators and others develop varying degrees of skill in using these time gaps to their own advantage.

I'll draw another indirect parallel here to something I have noted in a couple of places: Our thinking is linear, but thinking and reasoning in the Biblical world was often more like a circle. Never make the mistake, as many critics do, of assuming that you can read the Bible with a linear mindset. I noted that the rhetoric of 1 John is in this pattern, and that the agruments in Job are constructed along the pattern of one unrolling a garden hose. A reader added that this fits in with the Biblical notion of history as a spiral and the use of typology in the New Testament which sees God as repeating significant patterns in history.

In his next section VanAuken discusses specific terms and concepts from Japanese culture.

3.      Aota Gai (“Ah-oh-tah Guy”) Plucking the school virgins:  Most Japanese companies are still not comfortable with non-virgin Japanese employees.  “Pure” company employees resent outsiders coming in and taking up managerial or executive slots the old-timers feel belong to them.  Newcomers entering a larger, long-established firm find it difficult or impossible to win full acceptance by company groups.  Many say that even after twenty or more years they still feel like interlopers.

I find a loose parallel here to the Biblical concept of ritual purity, but it is much closer to the Biblical world's idea of ingroup-outgroup relations. Here is another example:

5.      Ato Aji (“Ah-toe Ah-jee”) Leaving an aftertaste:  Foreign things have a different “taste” that Japanese may or may not find palatable.  Among those things that are acceptable are apparel, accessories, foods and other consumer tangibles, as well as movies, athletic studios, and music.  Those that will leave an undesirable ato aji or “aftertaste” include people from any other race or ethnic group, and their unstructured, unpredictable behavior.  The country is no longer in a position to close its borders, leaving the Japanese with no choice but to develop a tolerance and appreciation for other people who “taste” different.

You can see a parallel to the idea of clean and unclean foods and objects. "Ato aji" may as well be "ritual purity" though there are undoubtedly differences in purpose and scope.

7. Batsu ("Baht-sue") Keeping the team together (literally “political factions”):  In ancient Japan, people possessed no legal rights--only obligations to political rulers.  Thus, joining groups brought security and acceptance in the absence of legal rights, but also peer pressure to conform.  Group members take care of their own, providing a measure of protection from the outside world, as well as social standing and power. 

A more or less precise match for the Biblical idea of a collective, and of loyalty to the group, and of collective responsibility. People in the Biblical world had no legal rights -- only obligations to their rulers.

9. Chochin wo Tsukeru (“Choe-cheen oh T’sue-kay-rue) Following the leader: Centuries of conformity, even though now recognized as a roadblock to economic progress, still causes most Japanese employees to be unwilling to exercise individual entrepreneurial initiative within Japanese companies.  Instead Japanese employees have a strong tendency to imitate the behavior of successful people, including their boss.

In this attitude I would suggest a parallel to responses that when it comes to answers that object to the death of "innocents" in the Conquest, for example, it is clear that in a world like this, there are no "innocents" among the adult population.

11. Chugen (“Chu-gane”) Giving until it hurts:  Gift-giving in present-day Japan has grown into one of the largest and most important commercial segments of the economy.  There are two great gift-giving periods in today’s Japan:  the first is Chugen and the second is Seibo (Say-e-bow).  Chugen, which literally means central origin or central source, refers to Japan’s famous mid-summer Obon (Oh-bone) religious festival commemorating the dead, but gift-giving during this period (mid-July) is now totally secularized.  Seibo refers to the end of the year, and the gift-giving period runs from around December 21 to December 28.  On both of these occasions, the primary purpose of giving gifts follows the historical pattern of repaying favors and acknowledging obligations; it serves as insurance to help guarantee continued goodwill or patronage and as a way to build up obligation for when favors might be needed in the future.

This is an exact match for the client-patron relationship in the Biblical world, and again, the circle-dance of gift-giving. It is what made Christianity's "free gift" of salvation so suspicious.

12. Dami Oshi ("Dah-may  Oh-she") Making doubly sure:  Mistakes, especially in business, bring personal shame, so the Japanese seek out large volumes of information to reduce the odds of error.  They also ask the same or similar questions multiple times to different people in different business settings to “make doubly sure.”

No direct parallel here, but consider the lengths the Japanese go to in order to avoid personal shame. That translates into the Biblical world as well.

14. Enryo ("Inn-rio") Holding back or being reserved: This negotiating practice of “holding back” is used as a way to get a bargaining advantage over others by revealing a limited  amount of information about your position, or about your feelings in the matter.  It is akin to the mind set of playing poker.

See in this a parallel to the Biblical world's idea that only your "ingroup" was entitled to complete information. Those who object to Jesus apparently lying (see above) should instead see an example of Biblical Enryo.

16. Gaijin ("Guy-jeen") Hairy barbarians:  In 1543, a group of Portuguese traders were the first Westerners to make a visible impact on Japan.  These sailors were large, bearded, uncultured, and reeked of poor hygiene, so the Japanese naturally referred to them as hairy barbarians.  These Westerners were thought to be the embodiment of the ancient Japanese myth of Tengu ("tane-guu"), a creature like bigfoot.  Gaijin is an insulting term for non-Asian outsiders.  A slightly more polite form is gaikoku no kata ("guy-koe-kuu no kah-tah").

See in this a parallel to the Biblical world's tendency to stereotype -- as Epiminides does, as Paul quotes him in Titus. A reader in Japan adds: "That really is just western political correctness being imposed on the Japanese language. I have friends who call me 'gaijin', and it doesn't bother me a bit."

17. Giri ("Ghee-ree") Living with unending obligations:  The strict, elaborate behavior etiquette system was traditionally enforced through shaming violators.  This was made even tougher by transferring the shame to include the violator’s parents and family.  Today giri largely concerns the etiquette of minor social responsibilities such as gift-giving and respectful attendance of weddings and funerals. ...Giri can be accumulated and built up through doing unsolicited favors in your network of mutual obligations.  You incur giri by accepting favors that you don’t immediately return.

This is once again much like the client-patron relationship -- substitute "grace" for "giri" -- and note as well the extension of the shame to the parents and family. Think of this in terms of Achan's sin and the extermination of his family and possessions with him. We'd say it isn't fair, but they would expect it.

19. Gomasuri (“Goh-mah-suu-ree”) Flattery makes the world go around: Arrogant samurai warriors of the past gave rise to a tradition of demanding exaggerated respect from Japanese commoners.   In later Japanese history, this evolved into a social custom designed to influence powerful people through ritualized flattery, such as calling a lay person “professor” to imply how intelligent they are, or danna (master).

No direct parallel here; simply consider how formalized etiquette came into place to manage custom. We see an example in the Bible with Jesus' words to Pilate, "You have said so" -- a "yes" that modern Skeptics take as equivocation or falsehood because they read it with a Western lens.

20. Haji ("Hah-jee") Anything but shame: Haji (shame) is incurred if someone is openly criticized in public.  In feudal Japan, if someone was shamed in public, the only way to shed the shame was to seek revenge against the one who shamed you.

Note again an emphasis on shame. Note as well that VanAuken has yet to speak of guilt.

23. Ippai Kutta (“ Eep-pie Kuut-tah”) Softening up the other party: The Japanese are masters at using hospitality as part of their negotiating process.  This creates a sense of debt in the guest that might be repaid in future bargaining concessions.  Ippai kutta literally means “I’ve eaten my full” (of Japanese hospitality), which puts the foreign guest in passive position when it comes to talking business.

Partial parallel here to the elaborate rituals of hospitality we see in the Bible, as when the man in Judges asks his guest several times to stay. Pointless to us, important to them.

28. Kao (“Kah-oh“) Maintaining personal face (literally “keeping your face intact”):  Over years of tradition, the Japanese came to regard any error on their part or any “immoral” behavior toward them by someone else as a blemish on their kao (kah-oh), or “face.”  In addition to exercising extreme caution in their behavior that is, conforming as precisely as possible to the demands of their detailed rules of etiquette, it also became characteristic for them to avoid risking error by not taking the lead in things by remaining noncommittal, by speaking in vague terms, and so on

Once again a parallel for honor and shame in the Biblical world.

33. Keikom (Ike bana): (“kee-come  Ekay-bahna“) Flower arranging art: Ikebana is the exquisite art of Japanese flower arranging, a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is a living sculpture in which nature and humanity are brought together.  In contrast to the purely decorative form of flower arranging popular in Western countries, the art of ike bana, or Japanese flower arrangement, seeks to create a harmony of linear construction, rhythm, and color. While Westerners tend to emphasize the quantity and colors of the flowers, devoting their attention mainly to the beauty of the blossoms, the Japanese emphasize the linear aspects of the arrangement and have developed the art to include the vase, stems, leaves, and branches, as well as the flowers. The entire structure of a Japanese flower arrangement is based on three main lines that symbolize heaven, earth, and humankind.

Consider this again as a parallel to notions of ritual purity, of things being in the right place and in the right way. It's a more trivial version but it is much the same in concept.

35. Kokoro Zukai (“Koe-koe-roe Zoo-kie”) The Ideal human being:  If all the Japanese in Japan were lined up and asked to describe Americans and other Westerners in one word, the majority would probably come up with “selfish.”  The reason for this is simple enough.  The Japanese were conditioned for centuries to look upon independent, individualistic behavior—the hallmark of Americans and many other Westerners—as selfish, confrontational and disruptive.  The ethos of traditional Japan was that the individual should sacrifice his or her own interests—and often his or her life as well--for the benefit of the group.  And Japanese history and folklore is filled with accounts of men and women who were inspiring examples of this ideal.  Most Japanese born after 1970 have learned to equate personal freedom and individuality with selfishness, and their greatest ambition is to fulfill their own personal aspirations, not sacrifice their lives for others.  This would seem to portend the death knell of the kokoro zukai concept in Japan.

Note the parallel in the earlier behavior to the Biblical ethos of giving up your life for your friends.

45. Ojigi ("Oh-jee-ghee") From kowtowing to bowing:  The obligation to kowtow (a prostrate bow with forehead touching the ground) was traditionally used as a sign of profound deference to a political leader, such as a shogun.  Even though the shogunate system ended in 1868, the ojigi was sometimes practiced as late as 1945.  It is sometimes still used in conjunction with Shintai ukagai (sheen-tie uu-kah-guy), when a government or corporate official takes personal blame for the failure or disgrace of his organization.  In most Japanese social situations, three levels of standing bows are used:  light (small bow for informal occasions); medium (for most formal occasions); deep bows are occasionally used for unusual displays of respect, sincerity, gratitude, or sorrow.

Note the parallel of "personal blame" with that of corporate responsibility in the Hebrew Bible. The leader assumes resposibility for the mistakes of those made under him -- and in the Bible, those under the leader suffer consequences of the leader's decisions.

49. Seki Ji (“Say-kee Jee”) Sitting in the right place (literally “seating order”):  In Japanese meeting there is invariably someone who is responsible for seeing that the attendees are properly seated.  Regular attendees who know everyone else’s rank sort themselves out and take appropriate seats.  Newcomers or guests are guided to seats chosen for them.  Foreign guests, regardless of their rank, are often honored by being seated at or near the head table or head of the room. 

VanAuken goes on to describe the elaborate etiquette involved, but it's enough to see a parallel to the Biblical practices of seating referred to by Jesus in his parables.

53. Shibui (“She-bu-ee“) Refined beauty: One of the most conspicuous and positive aspects of Japanese culture is the extraordinary role of aesthetics.  Shibui refers to a restrained, highly refined beauty that epitomizes classic simplicity.  Foreigners immediately recognize the special quality of beauty that makes traditional Japanese products outstanding.

Once again, think a modern form of ritual purity.

54. Shikata (“Shee-kata”) is the right way (form/process) for doing things: entertaining, making decisions, greeting others, gift-wrapping/presentation, eating, reading, dressing, etc.  Correct form and etiquette are essential and imperative for interpersonal situations.  The correct behavior of the employee (kohai, "ko-hee") comes from following the well-defined model of a senior mentor (sempai, "sim-pie") in the workplace.


55. Shimatsu Sho ("She-maht-suu Show") I’m sorry, sorry, sorry:  This refers to the overwhelming sense of duty and loyalty the Japanese have traditionally maintained towards those in authority whom they serve.  For example, the samurai ritual of suicide (seppuku, "sape-puu-kuu") was a custom used among the ancient samurai class to maintain the image of blind loyalty to the mission and to superiors. The warrior would indicate penitence for failure by ritualistically making cuts in his abdominal wall until death ensued--the more cuts made before death, the greater the penitence offered. This form of self-inflicted pain and punishment demonstrated courage in the face of defeat, the will to succeed no matter what, and was also used as a warning to others of the fate that awaited them if they broke with etiquette and traditions.  In regular Japanese life, shimatsu sho has evolved into ritual forms of apology such as profuse letters of apology for any breach of social etiquette, including violations of bureaucratic rules, traffic violations, improperly executed commercial paper work, etc.  The violator takes full responsibility in the letter for the infraction, which normally cancels out any official penalty.  It is in turn a serious breach of etiquette to reject a letter of apology.  When a serious breach of etiquette of duty is made, even unintentionally, that would dishonor a department or even the entire company, the “I’m sorry” process used is shintai ukago ("sheen-tie Uu-Kah-guy"), which means, “pleading guilty (or resigning) in advance."  This enables the organization unit or company to avoid responsibility for the mistake and the resulting sense of shame. Most traditional Japanese go to great lengths to avoid confrontations with others. They are quick to apologize and accept personal responsibility in case something might be wrong or possibly go wrong. Superiors may often accept personal blame for the failures of subordinates in a project or for their breach of etiquette or failure to live up to expectations.

This extended entry speaks for itself. It tells us that Biblical peoples were not alone in not making life their foremost value. (You can hear the "argument by outrage" over the ritual suicide practices now.) It tells us that our "no big deal" approach to sin isn't universal and is a product of our individualistic culture.

58. Tatemae/Honne (“Tah-tay-my/Hone-nay”) Facade vs. reality:  Traditional Japanese have tried to maintain and balance two worlds.  One consisted of reality or hone (hone-nay)—their true thoughts and intentions—and the other of a facade or tatemae (“tah-tay-my)—a screen created to maintain the appearance of harmony and serve as a ploy until the other party revealed their own position.  The tatemae/honne system often becomes a crucial factor in encounters between Japanese businessmen and politicians and their Western counterparts because there is a natural tendency for Westerners to immediately lay all of their cards on the table not only as a goodwill gesture but also because they believe it is the best way to reach a fair, speedy agreement.  Westerners should not regard the tatemae/honne factor as a minor cultural quirk that the Japanese can easily dispense with when they are given the incentive to do so, or as something that can be easily overcome by the force of logic and persuasive powers.  Generally speaking, logic and forceful persuasion are not effective in Japan because they are regarded as cold, calculating and self-serving.  Since the Western side cannot expect their Japanese counterparts to completely change their cultural stripes on notice for the Westerner’s benefit, the best that Westerners can do is to adapt their own strategy and tactics to contend with the reality of the situation and proceed point by point, going from tatemae to honne in each case.

We have already noted the relevance of this to honor and shame above, but note as well about logic and persuasion. Modern Skeptics who object to the lack of "logic" in Biblical texts and teachings need to be aware of this.

61.  Wa ("Wah") Holy harmony:  Harmony is the number one priority in Japanese interpersonal and social behavior—taking priority   over frankness and honesty.  Examples of wah-oriented behaviors include:  copious exchange of information to avoid unpleasant surprises; frequent face-to-face meetings to build a sense of common commitment and behavior; doing personal favors for key members of your network; conspicuous presence of cultural ceremony; careful attention to work choice, tone of voice, and facial expressions.  The Japanese wince at the frequent bluntness of Western language: “I guarantee you”; “Take my word for it”; “You must understand”; “I’m absolutely sure that…”

Parallel once again to the way we often find Biblical language so difficult to swallow, and criticisms of the Bible not being "clear" or "not meaning what it clearly says".

VanAuken next offers a section advising how to "do business with the Japanese". Interested readers may wish to note all the precautions VanAuken gives. Skeptics might wish to consider how our behavior would also have to be different, "doing business with the people of the Bible." Here are some relevant highlights on behavior, religion, and other topics:

8. They are a high context culture that emphasizes personal loyalty as much as possible rather than scientific and technological impersonal management.

High and low context have applications.

3. Shinto has become completely assimilated into day-to-day Japanese custom and tradition.  Its rituals are nearly indistinguishable from everyday life.  A new construction project, for instance, is unlikely to begin without a formal offering and ritual prayer ceremony overseen by a Shinto official at the site.

Skeptics call it superstition. We call it ritual observance.

2. When a visitor enters a Shinto shrine, he or she is regarded as having left the world of finite things and entered the realm of the infinite and immeasurable, where the powerful kami (divine spirits) may be invoked for the purpose of the ceremony at hand.

The idea of boudaries, paralleled as well in ritual purity.

        C. The affirmation of physical cleanliness.  Shinto requires not merely symbolic or ritual cleanliness, but the real thing. One must be absolutely clean when one encounters the spirits, and so must one’s surroundings!


This concludes our parallels from VanAuken's look at Japanese culture. I think in summation it may be said that any critic who thinks the world of the Bible was like ours, or implicitly assumes that it was like ours when they argue, needs serious lessons in cultural diversity.