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Shintoism: unlucky years

In order to understand Shinto better, I have been translating a pamphlet I picked up at a Shinto Shrine.

It is all about “Unlucky Years.” These years occur throughout a person’s life and need special attention from people of various ages. The worst unlucky years are said to occur for men when they reach 42 and women at 33.

The pamphlet encourages readers of this age to have a special cleansing or exorcism-type ceremony at their local shrine.

It also says “Unlucky years occur at the same time as bodily changes or at points of change in our social environment, and the body can be easily affected. So, it is perhaps important to put the good luck charm (given when cleansing took place at a Shrine) on the family Shinto god shelf, to keep protection charms near you, and to pay increased attention to your health.”

I am struck by a number of things:

  1. The importance of ceremonies. Generally speaking, ceremonies make things official and real for Japanese people. If you have a ceremony done, then you have done the right thing at the right time and all will be okay.
  2. The belief in the protection given by charms. We had a Japanese friend who was going through an “unlucky year”. As the pamphlet suggests, she kept a charm in her purse. If we had asked her if she believed in its power to protect, she might well have given a common answer—“I half believe and I half doubt.” The logic often runs: if the charm does not cost much and just might help, why not have it.
  3. The difference between the God of the Bible and the gods of Shinto. The Christian can say to the Lord: “My times are in your hands” (Ps. 31:15 NIV) and also fully trust God who “will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Ps. 121:8 NIV).

Shinto unlucky years really are in stark contrast to the Lord’s mercies that are new every morning.

By Peter, an OMF missionary

Will you pray for Japan?

  • That Japanese people will come to know the God who we can fully trust with our times.
  • For wisdom for missionaries in Japan in interacting with those for whom having a ceremony is important.
  • For Japanese Christians will know God’s peace during years that their countrymen believe are unlucky.

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