J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Totem badges Old and New

Totem badges Old and New by timtak
Totem badges Old and New, a photo by timtak on Flickr.

Top row: Shinto shrine amulets (omamori)
Bottom row: Kamen Rider OOO medals, Kamen Rider W Gaia Memories
Please see also an even longer history of totem badges from Australian bull roarers, through shrine amulets, seals (mitokoumon's inro) to the seal of the Shinkenja- Super sentai.

My son plays with various totem badges that are said to transmit the spirit of a supernatural entity to a person allowing them to transform into a superman of sorts. These "totem badges" seem to have much in common with the good luck amulets (omamori) available at shrines.

The seem to contain some information (written - omamori, in an RFID chip - OOO's medals, in a USB memory - gaiai memory), connected with a super-human spirit (in the case of the omamori a shinto spirit or kami, in the case of OOO's medals and gaiai memory a super animal or 'ancestral' kamen rider). This information acts as a vector between the super-being and the holder, endowing the latter with power to conquer foes, such as exams diseases and enraged aliens. They often make a noise. Rattles are popular totem badges in North America (Levi-Strauss has a page of rattles in one of his books on totemism). Bull-roarers or Churinga roar when waved around ones head. Omamori are often fitted with bells. OOO's medals, and various transformatory cards make a noise when read with a special purpose reader. Gaiai memory (and engine souls) make a noise when a button is pushed or when inserted into a sort of reader.

Do amulets change (henshin!) people? Surely not?

They all contain a message, information, or symbols, representing a supernatural entity as noted above. They are also the double of their owners. Masked Rider OOO is the double of Hino Seiji. Shoutaro Hidari uses two Gaiai memory to transform into Kamen Rider "W" (double), his double, in more ways than one. Omamori are said to work as a self-replacement (migawari), taking on the bad luck that might otherwise befall their owner.

Shintoists believed that getting a totem badge from their shrine, the sacred space of their religion, gave them a life or self or spirit. The spirit was themselves and also it was the spirit of the shrine. About 70 years after they die, the spirit merged with the spirit of the shrine, or now Buddhist temple since the cycle of spirit has been broken.

Christians have "Christian names." My name is "Timothy", which is a name from the Bible. It is primarily a phoneme. I get it from the sacred space of my ancestor's religion, and I apply it to myself, thereby perhaps taking on board bit of the God, maybe. Does having a name change me? Does it give me anything, such as a self or life (no way, surely?).

The symbols, in all cases, come from the supernatural to give something special to their recipients.

One of the first Japanese superheroes that appeared on TV, was Mirror Man (Mira-man, 1971). Appearing at the same time as the original Ultraman, he shared many of the typical characteristics of Japanese superheroes, and with Shinto. He used a Transormatory item (henshin aitem) to transformed (henshin). Mirror man use a Shinto shrine amulet (omamori). He could only transform when in front of a reflective surface, usually a mirror. He was possessed, as it were, not by a giant from outer space, but his super-human father who lives in the world of two dimensions. (Thank you James)

Image top row far left: 貝で作られたお守り :) by kozika and far right: ハローキティのお守り :) by kozika

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.