Cover of the novel 'The Essence of Shinto: Japan's Spiritual Heart.'

I picked this book up during last week’s Shinto kick.

Oddly enough, the most fascinating thing about it is that it was written by an actual Shinto priest who lives, breathes, and believes the tenants of Shinto. This is remarkable, because–and he stops to mention this too many times–most Japanese are areligious. So this was the first time that I’ve read a non-academic description of how Shinto views the world, life, and death.

That said, it wasn’t an easy read. It reads like it was translated faithfully from the original, and literal Japanese translations tend to use a lot of passive voice.

But more than that, he rambles. He interrupts himself constantly. He introduces a new idea, and… Did you know people are too materialistic these days? He introduces a new concept and… Seriously, people crave spirituality, yet they don’t realize it or something. Interruptions. Everywhere.

On top of that, it leans on a huge amount of Japanese terminology and it sometimes forgets to define them in-context. It uses a lot of synonyms and near-synonyms and defines them poorly. It has a dictionary in the appendix, thankfully (though I read the e-book version, so I didn’t notice that until I finished the book), but it’s still disorienting. And you know what? When you combine obscure Japanese terminology with dense, passive writing and a complicated topic, things get confusing fast.

But honestly, I’m glad I read it. I’ve been looking for ages for something that talked about the functional beliefs of Shinto. And–wrongly–I thought I’d have to look at studies of pre-Meiji Japan to find that. So as rambling as this was, it was my first glimpse of a real believer’s approach to Shinto. And that’s fascinating.

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