Interesting Comparisons5 min read

In the book, Rediscovering Japan, Reintroducing Christiandom; Two Thousand Years of Christian History in Japan, Samuel Lee makes some interesting comparisons.

I’ll summarize a few below.

Shinto Shrines and the Hebrew Tabernacle

The layout of the Shinto shrines and the Hebrew tabernacle are almost identical. The Shinto shrine contains a large courtyeard surrounded by buildings for ministry, a building toward the back with another room inside it. Commoners could only enter the courtyard, but not into the building or additional room. Similarly the Hebrew tabernacle and temple had a courtyard, a building with a back room (Holy of Holies). Only the Priests were allowed to enter the building just like only the Shinto priests can enter their shrine.

Both buildings were made (or covered) with wood. The Shinto shrine used Cypress trees while the Hebrew temple used Cedar.

Just as the tabernacle was required to be mobile in the desert, so too is the Shikinensengu of Ise which, in ancient times, was made to be torn down and rebuilt every 20 years.

The Shinto shrines have an entrance gate (torii) similarly to the tabernacle. One interesting note is that often times the toriis are painted red which similarly resemble the painting of lamb’s blood on the doors of the Israelites in Egypt.

The Yamabushi Priests

In Japan, the Yamabushi priests are a religious group of monks that consider mountains sacred, wear a small box bound to their foreheads called a tokin, and blow a seashell as a horn in certain times. Hebrews similarly considered a specific mountain as sacred (Sinai), bound tefillin to their foreheads, and blew a shofar.

The Mountain

In Japan there is legend of a Tengu (Shinto god) that has a long nose and lives on top a mountain. There is a story of a ninja who went up the mountain to visit Tengu and receive special powers. The Tengu gave him Tora No Maki which literally means “Scroll of the Tiger.” This scroll had many secrets, and taught powerful fighting techniques. Does this sound familiar? In the Bible, Moses goes up a mountain to visit YHVH and receives the Torah which contains powerful words for the Hebrew people to conquer their enemies and live peacefully in a promised land.

The Japanese Omikoshi and the Hebrew Ark of the Covenant

The Omikoshi is the portable shrine of the spirit which is carried during parades and festivals. It is carried by two poles on the shoulders of the matsuri. The roof of the Omikoshi will often times adorn a phoenix with wings. The people believed that carrying the Omikoshi through the streets would ensure the god to protect them.

Similarly, the ark of the covenant was carried by two poles on the shoulders of priests. The ark’s roof was adorned with two Cherubim with wings outstretched. It was also carried into battle with the faith that YHVH would protect Israel.

Tassels & White Robes

Both the Shinto priests and Hebrews wear tassels on their clothing. It is a commandment given by YHVH in Numbers 15:38-39. The Shinto religion regards white as the holiest color and often wear white robes during religious celebrations. The Buddhists however, wear colorful robes regularly. The Hebrew priests also wear colorful robes most of the time except for special times when they wear white linen. Solomon also indicated that white should always be worn (Ecclesiastes 9:8).

Festivals and Holy Days

The Shinto religion has three main holidays in which they appear in white before their god. These three holidays used to be observed according to the lunar calendar, but not any more. The God of the Hebrews also required that all Israelite men should appear before YHVH three times a year (Deuteronomy 16:16). YHVH’s holy days are also in accordance to the lunar calendar.

New Year’s Celebration and Passover

In history, the Shinto people celebrated the New Year on January 15th and had a tradition to eat rice cakes (mochi) for seven days. Doesn’t this sound a lot like Passover? On the 15th day of the first month of the new year is Passover, and God’s people are not allowed to eat leaven during a period of seven days. The Shinto also eat bitter herbs with porridge during this time as do the Hebrews who are required to eat bitter herbs as well.

Ontosai Festival and Abraham and Isaac

The story of Abraham bringing Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice to God was also reenacted during the Japanese Ontosai festival. The suwa people would tie a young boy to a wooden pillar. As a priest approached with a knife, another priest would step in and free the boy. There were many deer sacrifices that followed as offerings to their god. Sacrifice is not a Shinto tradition, and many people thought this strange and called the festival, the festival for Misakuchi-god. The word Misakuchi might be from mi-isaku-chi. Mi means great, isaku can be Isaac, and chi is just a word ending. Today this tradition is no longer practiced.

Conclusion

The list of comparisons continues with many other holidays, and cultural similarities. There are references to the Star of David, the Flower of David, etc. that can be related to Israel as well.

We know there were 10 lost tribes of Israel that were scattered throughout the world. Their stories and traditions can be found if we look hard enough. I’ve only shared these comparisons as interesting topics for study and discussions. But ultimately, God’s influence through His people, Israel, is broad and far-reaching.

 

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