Our Kamidana or in English ‘Gods Shelf’

Kamidana daito ryu

Our Kamdana

We share the space for our Dojo with Pilates, Yoga, Dance and the like.  Setting up our Dojo each session has become part of our ritual for getting ready for class.  When I trained in Japan and my teachers Dojo there was the front of the Dojo with a special shrine and I got told off several times for turning my back on said shrine until it was drilled into me to not ever do that.  Sort of like not turning your back to your opponent but an entirely different reason.

In fact my ignorance of Shinto and basic Dojo etiquette was absolutely zero when I  entered Kondo Sensei’s Shimbukan Dojo for 10 days training in 2007.

I remember being scolded in Japanese very frequently.  As at that time I understood zero Japanese I wasn’t always sure of what my transgressions were.  A cultural chasm that still has me floundering in its complexity as I carefully navigate the intricacies and nuances of Japanese hierarchy, cultural conditioning and of course ‘Rei’ (Respect) and ‘Budo Manner’.

I first got yelled at for tuning my back to Kamidana (Shrine at front of Dojo) on my first day and I didn’t know what I had done wrong. (Yes, as I said I knew nothing of this etiquette).  My logic mind said ‘ oh I must have stepped with the wrong leg forward, it must have to be the right leg’  made perfect sense in my western brain.  So I continued stepping with the right leg and turning.  it all went well.   Next day I had changed location in Dojo and remembering my right leg I stepped forward and turned with my right leg forward.  On mass every Japanese person in Dojo yelled at me.  Oh dear I was in trouble again and now I was really confused.  Yesterday it was right leg, today it’s left leg?

My childhood maths/algebra classes came flooding back to me, my utter non understanding meant I was completely  flumuxed and perhaps we multiply because its Weds but on Thursdays we divide by the subject. (Thats how bad I was at math!)   To save you from suffering to the degree I did in the early days.  Suffice to say, I had made the sin to several times turn my back to Kamidana and on the third day a kindly Japanese gentleman explained it to me in English after class. Thank God!  That was one less scolding and it was a pretty simple thing to understand.  Once someone explained it in English that was.

As the years went by I gradually gained a little more understanding as to what the various shrine paraphernalia was at Sensei’s Dojo. He allowed me to help get the rice and salt ready and the leaves. I also very slowly built up our own shrine item by item, year by year.

At first it was hard to have the Gods shelf ‘up’ because of the shared space and we would put it on a box on the floor.  Very Rude and not good etiquette.

Our first items were two rather nice ornamental containers and a vase Kondo Sensei signed and gave me.  Not for this purpose, but in my ignorant and naive mind, I thought they looked nice and I had seen Sensei’s shrine had salt, rice, water and a plant so I thought they were a good start.

As you will see from the photo we have moved along a bit and now have our shrine ‘up’.  Much more appropriate and some more ‘proper’ items which Oran one of our Daitokanian’s has outlined for you below.

Interestingly we had opportunity to have a more permanent church hall come up recently.  We wouldn’t have to share with anyone else.  Great I thought, we can build a permanent Kamidana.   But then the Church organisation wouldn’t allow an organisation that ‘bowed’ to a ‘shrine’ that was not Christian. Fair enough.

i thought about it. Could we have our class without our Kamidana…?  Would be a better space, could keep the mats down…  Hmmm.  As with certain values, we are not aware of where we stand until a choice needs to be made.

As ‘light’ as I thought I was around our shrine that we gradually built up over time, I realised its integral to what we do.  The very act of getting it ready every class.  Finding green leaves, putting up the shelf, fitting the mirror, placing everything.  All the students helping.  it all sets the tone for our safe training.  it is perfect as it is.

Below is a lovely piece by Oran Redmond of Daitokan on his weekly ritual.  Thank you Oran and Thank you for all your dedication to our Dojo.

i would describe myself as humanist. i am concerned about my place in the universe and in affecting that universe in as positive a way as possible. i am happy enough with the small role that i play and have not yet found any questions to which i have needed to seek mystical answers.
Now, however, i find myself bowing earnestly to a Shinto shrine several times a week. Shinto is not so much a religion as a collection of rituals, on the surface, though there is no supreme deity, it shares many of the trappings of an organised religion. Shinto does not split the universe into a natural physical world and a supernatural transcendent world. it regards everything as part of a single unified creation.
Shinto also does not make the Western division between body and spirit – even spirit beings exist in the same world as human beings.
At the Daitokan dojo, in Sydney Australia, we study mainline Daito Ryu Aiki Jujitsu, under the supervision of Rachel Crompton a direct student of the Daito Ryu headmaster Kondo Katsayuki.
Our modest Shinto shrine has evolved over the years. Even in its simplest form, preparing the shrine and placing the offerings has always been a fundamental part of our pre-training ritual.
The primary role of a shrine is to house and protect its shintai and the kami, which inhabits it.

Kami – Shinto is based on belief in, and worship of, kami. Kami provide a mechanism through which the Japanese are able to regard the whole natural world as being both sacred and material.
The best English translation of kami is ‘spirits’, but this is an over-simplification of a complex concept – kami can be elements of the landscape or forces of nature. Kami include gods and spirit beings, but also include many other things that are revered for the powers that they possess. Oceans and mountains are kami, so are storms and earthquakes.
Kami are close to human beings and respond to human prayers. They can influence the course of natural forces, and human events.
Kami can refer to beings or to a quality which beings possess. But while everything contains kami, only those things which show their kami-nature in a particularly striking way are referred to as kami.
Kami have a specific life-giving, harmonising power, called musubi, and a truthful will, called makoto (also translated as sincerity).
Kamidana – means “kami shelf”, in our dojo the kamidana is suspended from the ceiling. The kamidana is set high on the wall, and the base of the shelf is supposed to be slightly above eye level.

Miyagata – this is our miniature Shinto Shrine. Miyagata represent the Shinto shrine and the main purpose of the miyagata is to house the Ofuda.

Ofuda are a type of amulet or talisman, issued by a Shinto shrine, hung in the house for protection. it is made by inscribing the name of a kami and the name of the Shinto shrine or of a representative of the kami on a strip of paper, wood, cloth, or metal. Our shrine contains several ofuda, their purpose to help us to train sincerely and safely. Because the kami are supposed to be present in the ofuda they are one of the most important parts of the kamidana as without them you have no kami on your kami shelf.

Shintai – “Body of the Kami” – Shintai are not themselves part of the kami but are a physical representation of the kami.
The most common shintai are man-made objects like mirrors, swords, jewels and sculptures of kami called shinz?, but they can be also natural objects such as stones, mountains, trees and waterfalls. Before the forcible separation of kami and Buddhas of 1868 (shinbutsu bunri) a shintai could even be the statue of a Buddhist deity.

Myoujin Torii gate – Torii literally means Bird Perch. Shrines always have gates called torii (often red if made of wood) to demarcate the sacred area inside the shrine. All torii can be classified under two major categories: those with straight members, shinmei torii and those, such as our own, with curved members, myoujin tori.

Shimenawa – Sacred places are typically marked with a shimenawa (special plaited rope) and shime or shide (strips of white paper). Placed at the entrances of holy places to ward off evil spirits, or placed around trees/objects to indicate presence of kami. Made of rice straw or hemp, the rope is called nawa. The pieces of white paper that are cut into strips and hung from these ropes (often hung from ropes on Torii gates as well) are called shime or gohei; they symbolize purity in the Shinto faith.
Shimenawa mark the boundary between the sacred and the profane. They keep impurities out and purify the space within. Shimenawa was first used to prevent the sun goddess Amaterasu from re-entering a cave to save the world from eternal night. it can be seen therefore that they prevent the passage of gods. The Shide are attached to the Shimenawa but loosening the plaiting and inserting them into the rope

Shinsen – Shinsen are the offerings that are placed for the kami on the kamidana. The most traditional five offerings are rice, rice wine (sake), water, salt and evergreen branches. They are offered in small, symbolic quantities, presented in white pottery containers as shown above.

Ozen (wooden plinth or sanbo, for a making offerings on the kamidana in front of the miyagata). 

Okome (rice) Rice is a long-standing staple of the Japanese diet, and it is not surprising that rice is offered in prayer and praise to Shinto deities throughout Japan. According to some, each grain of rice symbolizes a Tamashii  (human soul).
Sake – Sake plays an important role in many Shinto rituals, it is commonly used with salt and water for purification rituals. Drinking sake is an act of purification, and it is used to bring people and gods together,
Mizutama – the pointed lidded jar (Mizutama) in the front left contains water.
Oshio – (salt) – in Shinto ceremonies, salt is often sprinkled to remove impurities.
Sakaki Tate – The tall vases are called “Sakaki Tate” and are for the evergreen plant, in Japan Sakaki is commonly used, in Australia we use locally available evergreen leaves.