A Natural World of Shrines and Spirits: Hayao Miyazaki on Japan and the Sacred

A Natural World of Shrines and Spirits: Hayao Miyazaki on Japan and the Sacred

[credit: Studio Ghibli, 1988]

“Westerners tend to think of dark and light in opposition: light is good and dark evil. I dislike this dichotomy….For Japanese who don’t think that way, the gods are in the darkness. They may come out into the light at times, but they are usually deep in the forest or mountains. When a holy spot is created, the gods drop down onto it. That is why, in the shrines that are closest to their original form that still exist in Okinawa, though there are altars in the shrines, the image of the god is just a tree or a stone. And such a shrine isn’t in a bright, shining place, it’s in an overgrown dark area where the silence is deep–a butterfly might flit about, but it’s a bit eerie. When I went there with my children, they felt the eeriness and said it was scary. It felt as if something were there. This sense of dark awe is the sort of veneration that Japanese have toward certain forests and natural objects–in short, it’s an animistic primitive religion. Many places have a ‘forest that shouldn’t be entered.’ Even people who are used to working in the mountains feel there is something there. They are suddenly overcome with fear and it becomes the custom to avoid certain places. These places exist. I don’t know what it is there, but I think they are real. I’m not a believer in the occult, but the world is more than we can fathom with our five senses.”

(Source: Hayao Miyazaki, Starting Point: 1979-1996, page 359)

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