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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.

Monday, April 02, 2012


Origin of The Stamp Rally and Japanese Pilgrimage

Origin of The Stamp Rally and Japanese Pilgrimage by timtak
Origin of The Stamp Rally and Japanese Pilgrimage, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Photo copyright jingukaikan

The stamp rally has more of a history than the goshuinbou (read stamp collection books) required by the Tokugawa government of those that took part in the pilgrimage of the 88 temples in Shikoku. Yes, pilgrims were required to get scrolls stamped at each temple, and yes this may be the direct ancestor of the stamp rally but, the history is considerably older.
The "God Body" (goshintai) or vector of the spirit of the deity received from Shinto shrines is a Shinpu, Ofuda or Spirit containing card as shown at the point of its creation by a shrine priest in the picture above. The most representative example are those of Ise Shrine, seen here in the above photo being created by stamping a pure white piece of Japanese paper with the holy seal (spirit seal) of the shrine.

The piece of paper stamped with a seal, being shown being created above, is a Jingu-Taima, the Shinto holy-of-hollies, representing or containing the spirit of the imperial ancestor; Amaterasu the Goddess of the Sun. When these pieces of paper were rumoured to have rained from the sky (as recently as the late nineteenth century) the Japanese took to mass pilgrimage, in their hundreds of thousands, dancing, and chanting, "there's nowt to complain about!" ("ee ja nai ka").

Prior to the great bureaucratisation of Japan in the ancient Ritsuryou legal system of 701, and for many centuries afterwards, Japanese would receive the spirit of their local diety vectored by the branches and leaves of sacred trees, or stones from around a sacred rock, as do other geographical totemist (Spencer and Gillan, Durkheim, Freud). The Japanese in their bureaucratic massive efficiency, updated this bricolage (Levi-Strauss) to allow shrines to print totem badges using seals. Totemism met and merged with the inkan, seal or stamp. And Japanese go and get these stamped sacred pieces of Japanese paper and card from Shrines to this day. To receive a piece of paper stamped with the name of the deity was the final purpose or proof of pilgrimage*. These totem badges were also, Yanagita argues, constituitive of self.

Japanese Tourists to this day go to famous places, special places with a name (Meisho). There the Japanese tourists receive symbols. The Japanese do not travel to see so much as to receive an indication (kuni no hikari wo shimesu), and in this way collect symbols. If, as Urry and McCannel say, Western travellers go to gaze upon sights and be seminologists, interpret sights, and provide the symbols pronouncing them "Japaneasy," the Japanese go to places where they may be no sight to provide the image go with the symbols.

This  difference is due to a difference in the media of self. Westerners identify with the phonic linguistic media. Travel for Westerners is like Husserl's transcendental meditation, removing themselves from the sight as radically other, they return to their cogitus logocentricus, contemplate what they see and pronounce it such and such. The Japanese are on the other hand, a primordial space (Nishida, Watsuji), a mirror (Kurozumi). The Japanese go to places with a name, and provide the images either in their imagination, or their person taking their own picture thus superimposing themselves as image, on the named spot.

"It was just how I imagined it" said one 19th century Japanese pilgrim as she visited historic sites with little to see (Nenzi). Matsuo Basho wept at the rock commemorating the site of an ancient castle and was overjoyed to imagine the scene in times gone by while, borrowing Shelley, all around the lone and level grass stretched far away (Hudson).

Perhaps these Japanese seals are a little like the body of Christ as received at mass? Catholics ingest a little of the body in Church, or in front of a mirror? I am very confused.

*English pilgrims too, before they were stamped out by Protestantism would receive totem or pilgrim badges thought to have magical ( e.g. healing) power.

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