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Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Takao Tsue

Takao Tsue, 80, is the Honorary Chief Priest of Osaka City's Imamiya-Ebisu Shrine, famous for the Toka Ebisu festival held every January, which attracts over 1 million people over three days. According to legend, the shrine was established in AD 600 by Shotoku Taishi, and written records show that Tsue's ancestors have been priests here for the past 800 years. Recently his son, Akihiro, became the 19th-generation master of the shrine, which is dedicated to the worship of the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami, and Ebisu-sama, the sea bream-carrying god of business, and three other deities.

Takao Tsue
Takao Tsue

Shinto respects nature and accepts its immense power. Japan has the most earthquakes in the world, and we also have many typhoons, so we know we can never conquer nature. And more importantly, we do not want to.

It is perfectly fine to keep asking the gods and goddesses for things. That's why they exist. Mountains, animals, trees, weeds . . . everything has divine spirits inside them, who are kind and are here to help and protect us.

Japan is the most open-minded country. We accept all kinds of values and we are respectful and tolerant of all religions and ways of thoughts. For example, when a baby is born, most parents bring the infant to a Shinto shrine for a blessing. Many people get married in a Christian church. And funeral services are most often handled by Buddhist temples.

Religion should not be taken literally. In Shinto, we say "yaoyorozu," which means there are 8 million gods and goddesses but that is just an expression. There might be many more.

Festivals are opportunities to show our gratitude to nature, to the community and to our ancestors. No matter how busy you are, participation in as many festivals as possible is crucial.

Businesses should never be connected to politics. Historically, Osaka was the center of Japanese commerce, and even 500 years ago, goods from all parts of Japan were shipped here and stored in giant warehouses that belonged to each prefecture. Osaka was wealthy, but the moment merchants got involved in politics, their businesses were negatively affected.

Just because they are shorter, there is no need to talk down to kids. Now teachers emphasize having fun at school, but what that really means is adults acting like clowns and children falling behind. It is tragic.

Do not buy more things unless you have a place to put them. Osaka City used taxpayers' money and bought an enormous number of artworks, but didn't have a museum to house them in, so the masterpieces are gathering dust in a warehouse.

The goal of any business activity is to help people. As long as you have an honest desire to contribute to others, you will make it because you will have the strength to work hard and you will also be supported by many people.

There is no perfect match. You might as well accept that fact, cultivate yourself to be better and get married based on mutual trust. My wife and I have been happily married for 58 years and we are blessed with three children and six grandchildren.

Cities were destroyed, yet I survived, three times. At the end of Word War II, I was in Tokyo when the United States firebombed the city at night. Everything was swallowed up in a giant firestorm, but somehow I came out unharmed. I headed for Osaka, and as I passed through Nagoya, it was firebombed. Again, I kept on going and as I arrived in Osaka, they firebombed it. These attacks caused much more damage than the nuclear bombs. The cities vanished and people were burned to ash. I knew then that Japan had lost the war.

Japanese forgot how to raise leaders. Before the war, we had special schools to train the elite, who worked for their country and not for money, but once the war was over, the schools were shut down because in this so-called egalitarian society it is considered disgraceful to have an elite.

To fix Japan, we must educate the educators. We must raise teachers who have good morals and pride in their profession.

One small mistake takes a long time to fix. The Japanese Constitution was written in 1945 by 25 U.S. military officers at GHQ in about one week, but for 50 years it was taboo to even mention this fact publicly. Imagine how much more time we need to actually take action and change the constitution? I guess, another 50 or 100 years.

Shinto does not focus on the individual, but on the group. With festivals we celebrate life and nature and we share our hopes for a good harvest and a prosperous year but nobody expects advice on personal problems from the deities or me.

All this emphasis on cuteness got us some pretty ugly results. Today even adult Japanese are preoccupied with the idea of cuteness, but for our spirit we need great art and intelligent dialogue about art, too.

Shinto is an equal opportunity employer. Of course women can be Shinto priestesses, just like we have many goddesses, too.

Japanese consider everything from many angles. A gardener takes a long time to find the most suitable spot for a tree because he envisions its beauty from many viewpoints and weighs its relation to other things in the area.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology" www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/japanology_e.html

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