- Category: Reviews
Dancing with Spirits: Festivals and Folklore of Japan
Denny Sargent, Megalithica, 2010
My love affair with Japan started out probably the way most Gen X-er’s did – with animé. But as I got older, I found there was much more to Japanese culture than Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets. So when religious wanderlust started pulling me away from my birth religion, I found that I was just as fascinated with the gods and mythology of old Japan as I had been by their pop culture.
Trying to wrap your head around the Japanese concept of religion can be rather tricky. They practice an interesting blend of Shinto, an indigenous naturalistic religion of Japan, and Buddhism, a religion characterized by no dogma and no holy books. Both Shinto and Buddhism are more concerned with practice and beliefs, and that’s exactly what author Denny Sargent has concentrated on in his book Dancing With Spirits: Festivals and Folklore of Japan. It’s a collection of short essays he wrote based on his observations of eleven popular Japanese festivals and some assorted bits about deities and folklore.
Since it’s an anthology, the book feels a little redundant at times, especially if you read it straight through like I did. But it was enjoyable enough and its brevity (just over 100 pages) makes it very non-intimidating. Readers who know little or nothing about Japanese mythology, Shinto or Buddhism won’t be intimidated; there’s nothing really off-putting to frighten newbies or the merely-curious away. For Japanophiles like me who have read a few books on Shinto already or have read the Nihongi (a collection of Japanese mythology) Sargent’s descriptions of the details of Japanese practice, living and breathing in modern times, is fascinating.
If you are really serious about understanding Japanese religion, Dancing with Spirits should not be the only book on your list. But it’s a great introduction if you are looking for a place to start, and there’s enough here for those who already know and love Japanese mythology to make it worth picking up.
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