Thursday, October 14, 2010

Indian essence in Japanese culture

I have a Japanese friend here who happens to be my husband's colleague. Most often it is through her that I get to learn a lot about Japan and its culture. Most often she introduces me to newer aspects of Japan and it is because of her that I have discovered so much about Japan in such a short while.

As an Indian in Japan, at times the similarities in a few traditions, beliefs and mannerisms surprise me. My friend is also often amazed to hear about the similarities. Japanese culture has a lot in common with Chinese and Korean cultures and traditions and the main reason for this is the impact of Buddhism in these three cultures. Buddhism by itself has its roots in Hinduism and a lot of customs and beliefs are common between both religions. It would not be wrong to say that Hinduism has made an indirect but important contribution to Japanese culture.

More than any other thing, it is the religious beliefs, practices, rituals and deities in which the similarities are more evident. To begin with while praying, both palms are joined together while bowing down to the deity or at the shrines. Footwear is prohibited inside the shrines and temples like in Hindu temples. Ringing the bell while entering the temple and lighting incense sticks are other similarities. Like the hundreds and thousands of shrines and temples found in India, you can see shrines and temples just about everywhere in Japan. The similarity does not end here. Infact I was surprised to learn that even quiet a few Hindu gods have their Japanese counterparts.

The first god which I learnt about was Benten sama or Benzaitensama - the goddess of speech who is the Japanese counterpart of Saraswati, the goddess of learning in Hinduism. There are innumerable shrines and temples dedicated to Benten-sama , most being near the sea coasts and lakes.The next god I learnt about was Daikoku, the god of darkness and who is considered to be the equivalent of Lord Shiva. Japan also has Bishamon( Kubera- the lord of wealth), Shod-en (Lord Ganesha's), Sui-ten ( Varuna), Bishukatsuma ( Vishwakarma, the celestial carpenter) and Taishaku ( Indra, the god of thunder and the king of gods) among others. Infact the  God of death, En-ma, is the Japanese counterpart of Lord Yama, Hindu god of death.

Like Hindus, the Shinto and Buddhist rituals in Japan include offering fruits and food to gods on special occasions and visits to shrines. Some festivals are similar in their nature too. One such instance is the O-bon, the festival for the dead. It is believed that the ancestors spirits visit their earthly home during this festival . Very similar to the beliefs around Hinduism's Mahalaya !

Some other similarities which can be seen in everyday life are taking off the footwear when you enter a home, traditionally sleeping on mattresses on the floor (not common in both countries in current age), etc. Moreover Yoga is very commonly practiced in Japan . Infact after curry, the Japanese know India as the land of the origin of Yoga.

No comments:

Post a Comment