Back in October/November I applied to a study program hosted by Kōgakkan University 皇學館大学 called the “Ise” and Japan Study Program 「伊勢」と日本スタディプログラム. The program seems to be geared towards graduate students and Japanese studies researchers from abroad. The purpose of the program is to promote Shintō 神道 understanding, specifically Ise Shintō and it’s influence on Japanese culture and society. There will be approximately 13 or so researchers participating in the program from all over the world.
I was really happy to get accepted to this program. Most programs like this are usually held during western “summer vacation” or semester break, which pretty much rules out any chance of me participating. This one is held during Japan’s semester break (end of one school year and beginning of the next), so it is timed perfectly for me.
The “Ise” and Japan Study Program will be held for 3 weeks this year from 19 February-11 March–all expenses paid! We’ll be staying in Kōgakkan’s dormitories and eating in their cafeteria. Most of the lectures and activities will be held on campus and places nearby.
Kōgakkan University is located right in Ise, Mie Prefecture, which is home to the Ise Grand Shrine 伊勢神宮. The Ise Grand Shrine is the headquarters/ spiritual home of organized Shintō. I feel as though a lot of attention is given towards Japanese Buddhism, so this program is special in that it is dedicated to Shintō.
I recently received the program schedule that lists the lecture topics and daily excursions. Lecture topics include those on the Ise Grand Shrine’s history, Shintō & Bushidō 武士道, the Inner and Outer shrines 内宮・外宮, temple architecture & construction, Shintō myths & legends, and many more.
While I was home in Philadelphia for the holidays, I want to see Martin Scorsese‘s new film “Silence.” The novel “Silence” (Chinmoku 沈黙) by Shūsaku Endō is quite well known to English speaking readers, both the casual reader and the Japanese lit-ophile. I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I had not read the novel until only last year. Countless people had recommended it to me, but I had just never gotten around to it. Then, while I was perusing the shelves of a Sapporo bookstore on a snowy afternoon, the title jumped out at me and I bought it. It made for good reading while I was stuck in the airport on the way back to Akita!
The author, Shūsaku Endō 遠藤 周作 (1923-1996), was in a unique position for writing this novel: not only was he a Japanese author writing a novel about Japanese history, but he was also a Catholic writing about the Catholic experience in Japan. I’m not sure a non-Catholic Japanese author could have written such a wonderful book on the same topic, nor do I think a non-Japanese author could have accomplished such a vivid telling of this dark history. Being in the middle, Endō handled both the topic of this brutal Japanese history and the earnestness of Catholic missionaries with great sensitivity.
I saw the film with my father. He read both “Silence” (before I did!) and another of Endō’s novels, “The Samurai” (Samurai 侍). He is also a devote Catholic, whom I’d characterize not just as a blind sheep following the flock, but as someone who truly understands the deeply rooted philosophy behind his faith. After watching the film in Old City together, we had a nice conversation about the film. Although I’m back in Akita, he’s keeping the dialogue going by sending me this article written by James Martin, S.J.,:
Martin brought up many nice observations that I had not considered, and thus has added to my enjoyment of the film/novel. I’m grateful for that.
I am thrilled to see yet another Hollywood movie based on Japanese literature! I hope this film opens up more cross-culture dialogue and piques people’s interest in Japanese culture.
Oh yes, and the film is a MASTERPIECE.