Trampled Torii: Abused by the West


money_and_god

Capitalism is King, if not god, in the West

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What would his flesh be, Hardees??

What if we used Christian religious symbols in a rather haphazard and nonchalant way?  Worse, what if it was used for purely commercial purposes.  Would you, maybe some of your friends, or perhaps a family or two become offended or even outraged?  I bet some would.  But then again, let he who is without doing the same among us be the first to cast blasphemies….

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I’m not sure the Pakistanis appreciate “The Man” on Their Spiritual Moon

If these graphics have got your dander up, it’s for very good reason.  After doing a recent blog on how the Germans in the 1930s hijacked the Far Eastern swastika for rather dubious purposes (read about it here), it immediately struck me just how oddly inappropriate the West’s use of Japanese “torii” are, especially throughout the American military.  In other words, this blasphemed blade can (and does) slice both ways.

An authentic tori marks the division between the profane and the prolific merchandising of the new base exchange in Okinawa

An authentic torii marks the division between the profane and the prolific (if not sacred) merchandising of the new base exchange in Okinawa

stereoview Kyoto Torii shrineTorii (鳥居, literally “where the birds reside” or “bird abode”) are traditional Japanese gateways at the entrance of Shinto shrines.  In Japan, birds have long mythical connection with the dead, as is true is most shamanistic-based religions or cultures.  The first appearance of torii in Japan can be reliably pinpointed to at least the 10th century (CE); the oldest existing stone torii was built in the 12th century, while the oldest wooden torii dates to 1535.

Huge steel torii marking a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Huge steel torii marking a Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan

Visiting the Fushimi-Inari-Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Visiting the Fushimi-Inari-Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Torii are typically made of wood, stone (or concrete in more modern times), and very rarely sometimes metal (steel or cooper).  Wooden torii are usually painted a bright red vermilion, complete with a black upper lintel and contrasting bases, while stone or concrete gates are left in their natural state.  Some of the most profound examples of torii can be round at Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha, where thousands are lined up in close spacing, forming torii tunnels that run for thousands of meters up and down the shrine’s hillside.  Inari shrines typically have many torii because those who have been successful in business often donate in gratitude a torii (of course inscribed with their name) to Inari, the kami or deities of industry and business.  In an ironic twist, the same shrine has as its anthropomorphic mascot a fox, ideally suited for shrewd and cunning business dealings.

A properly fantastic - and spiritual display of torii!

A properly fantastic – and spiritual display of torii!

While sacred as the USMC invasion beach in WWII, this is a fantastically poor use and portrayal of a torii.

While sacred as the USMC invasion beach in WWII, this is a fantastically poor use and portrayal of a torii.

Not all torii are at shrines or temples; the torii in general marks the entrance to a sacred space, and thereby separates the hallowed ground from our more tangible and profane world.  Rarely is it used as a free-standing non-religious symbol placed in non-consecrated plots.  Roads or paths leading to a Shinto shrine are almost always straddled by one or more torii.  If multiple torii are present, they are used to represent increasing levels of holiness as one nears the inner sanctuary core of the shrine, the honden.

At least this religion makes your ass look better, instead of making you look like an ass....

At least this religion makes your ass look better, instead of making you look like an ass….

glossarytoriigateWalking through a torii gateway helps to cleanse a person, along with water purification rituals that are practiced before formal entrance to the shrine’s honden.  Together, both help one make ready to properly pray to the kami enshrined in and around such sacred ground.  While usually seen at Shinto shrines in Japan, torii can also be found at Buddhist temples throughout the Far East.  On maps, iconic torii usually indicate the site of a Shinto shrines.  Interestingly, in a nod to the past when the Emperors of Japan were considered deities themselves, coupled with the enduring relationship between Shinto and the Japanese Imperial family, a torii stands in front of the tombs of each Emperor.

Former Emperor Hirohito's Tomb

Former Emperor Hirohito’s Tomb

The Religion of the Devil Dog

The Religion of the Devil Dog

The torii functions as an explicitly religious symbol when it marks the entry into a sacred arena.  When such an association is absent, such a structure cannot be properly referred to as a torii.  While torii used outside of a religious context are not religious symbols themselves, they still remain approximate copies of religious symbols, an organic facet of the torii that is simply inescapable.

The only sacraments beyond these gates at Torii Station is the Scuba Locker found there....

The only sacraments beyond these gates at Torii Station is the Scuba Locker found there….

Pilots are not the only priests in aviation.  The divine trinity more appropriately consists of:  Pilots, Navigators, and Aircrew.

Pilots are not the only priests of aviation. The divine trinity more appropriately consists of: Pilots, Navigators, and Aircrew.

However, the torii is widely used by the West well outside of all and any religious contexts.  In fact, it is most often used by the US military in directly antithetical ways to those of the Far East.  For example, it is not just the symbolic entrance of “Torii Station,” an Army base on Okinawa, it is the very name of the base.  Similarly, it is used by Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa (CFAO), and can be found framing rather pedestrian street signs, building names, and lessor commands and organizations throughout the American footprint in the Far East.

This is where the liberty rule blasphemy is, in part, produced.

This is where a sailor’s liberty is blasphemed

RAKKASAN_DECAL

Mr. Don's 80th Birthday Party

Mr. Don’s 80th Birthday Party

In a personally interesting tangent, one of the most well-known army units, the “Rakkasan,” uses a Torii in its coat of arms.  Rakkasan derives from the Japanese word for umbrella, and in the context of this airborne unit, can be loosely translated to, “man falling under umbrella.”  The Rakkasan are the only military unit whose nickname that is still in use was designated by an enemy, and is the only unit in the military whose guidon does not bear a finial but a torii.  I know very well a veteran of this unit, a man named Mr. Don Cripps, who has TWO combat jumps with the Rakkasan during the Korea War.  I have had the honor of skydiving with him almost weekly since I learned to jump in 2006; Mr. Don, as we all refer to him, is now 83 and continues to skydive just about every weekend.  Read more about him here.

Me and Mr. Don skydiving back in Elberta, Alabama.  Not his airborne patch.

Me and Mr. Don skydiving back in Elberta, Alabama. Not his airborne patch.

No doubt religion sells, but I doubt the veracity of their shirts' claims.

No doubt religion sells, but I doubt the veracity of their shirts’ claims.

Hell, it's even on our money!!

Hell, it’s even on our money!!

I wonder if we Westerners have ever stopped to think about how the Japanese – and those throughout the Far East – view our rather insensitive (at best) and probably offensive (in general) use of such religious icons.  While Capitalism may be King in America, and for some, it substitutes as their religion of choice, it still provides no right for hijacking such meaningful symbology, rich in myth in legend.  Particularly when these symbols of peace and the divinity are used to represent violence and death, things which both defile and soil the notion of purity in Shintoism.

If only our wedding chapels were this nice.

If only our wedding chapels were this nice.

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Modern Missions of the Far East

Modern Missions of the Far East

But, as I always like to say, the truth is always somewhere in the middle.  Western weddings are all the rage in Japan, and with Okinawa providing the fabulous backdrops of blue skies, sand beaches, lush greenery, and turquoise waters, Western-style “wedding chapels” can be found at all the resort hotels.  Yes, while they are completely modeled on a Christian theme, these wedding venues have little to do with religion.  It is, like for Christmas in Japan (see my blog on this concept here), it is the very notion of the Western Wedding that appeals so to the Japanese, not any aspect of the religiosity of the nuptials.

The Occult of the Mouse, Far Eastern Flavored

The Occult of the Mouse, Far Eastern Flavored

I guess much like the beauty and lines of the torii appeal to those of us lucky enough to flirt with the Far East.  Touché Japan, on this one; I find no grounds for blasphemy or negligent disrespect by either culture.  Still, we all should strive to be more mindfully aware of our surroundings, and what our actions convey and deeds mean to others.  After all, the whole idea of religion is to coexist.  That, my friends, should be the same, East or West, Torah or torii.

What the gods really think of all our stress over religion!

What the gods really think of all our stress over religion!

5 thoughts on “Trampled Torii: Abused by the West

    • Thank you very much, for the comment and the Far Eastern Fly-by. I’ll be sure to swing by your blog as well. The idea of literal translation versus translating for comprehension is a very interesting one going back and forth between Asiatic and Western languages.

  1. Pingback: What Does the Fox Say: Kyoto’s Fushimi-Inari Shrine | Far East Fling

  2. Pingback: Floating Torii of Miyajima | Far East Fling

  3. Pingback: Yasukuni Shrine:  Enshrining Japan’s War Dead | Far East Fling

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