Sunday, April 3, 2011

An Animist's Response to Fukushima

Yesterday, over brunch at the house of an Elder from the Powderhorn Cultural Wellness Center, the discussion turned to what an animist might make of the radioactivity leak at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Animism refers to the belief that non-human entities are spiritual beings, or at least embody some kind of life-principle. There's a spirit for each rock, a house, a spirit for the Mississippi river, and even a spirit of our pancakes. In Shintoist Japan, such 'kami' or spirits are traditionally associated with places, but can also be affiliated with craftsmen's products like swords, or even humanoid robots. (Another story entirely!)

I had to question while nom-ing my pancakes, "Well, what about that Fukushima reactor? Was that 'vengeful kami' at work? How the heck would you pacify the spirit of a nuclear power-plant gone rogue?" The idea conjured images of a radioactive Godzilla stomping whole prefectures flat.

It appears that, yes, indeed, Shintoists might attribute such natural disasters to vengeful kami. Kami are basically benevolent if their places are honored with shrines, festivals and cleansing. Kami are also considered to be the spirits of the unquiet dead, and natural calamities are often considered to be the vengeful spirits of political victims.

Knowing Japan's history of oppression in mainland China in WWII, the idea brings up all sorts of possibilities.

It could be that the Fukushima plant would lie under the auspices of the Kami of Earth, Sarutahiko Ōkami. Archetypally, the 'spirit of earth' really has been offended by lack of proper attention ("ceremony") paid by Japan's nuclear regulatory agencies. Quoting Bloomberg News: “One of the reactors in the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant may have been relying on flawed steel to hold the radiation in its core, according to an engineer who helped build its containment vessel four decades ago. Mitsuhiko Tanaka says he helped conceal a manufacturing defect in the $250 million steel vessel installed at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 4 reactor while working for a unit of Hitachi Ltd. in 1974. " To a kami, this might speak of inattention to "cleansing" and purity.

OK, then. There's a pissed off, radioactive kami running loose in Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures!

"So," I asked, "how does one placate the evil spirit of a power plant?"

Apparently there are placation rituals, developed over a thousand years of earthquakes, tsunami, and natural disaster. Some involve recitation of the Lotus Sutra, dedication of a shrine, or performance art.

The animists at brunch assured me that Shinto priests were, no doubt, already engaged in such placation rituals, not to worry.

Still - it wouldn't hurt to chant the Lotus Sutra, in the direction of the Land of the Rising Sun. myōhō renge kyō

1 comment:

  1. The response I suspect will be varied from what you describe to shrines for the various spirits involved.

    Don't forget the Fukushima 200, their sacrifice cannot be discounted and it will rate one shrine at least.