Not everything is at is seems. The latest post by Simon Cozens makes an interesting observation while explaining the use of a religious symbol on walls. This is a good illustration of the importance of truly understanding a culture when doing missionary work.
Occasionally in Kyoto you will see, stuck into the walls of a house, little Shinto torii gates, like this:
Torii act as the gateway between the sacred and the secular worlds. They symbolise “there is a god enshrined here”. I have a mental image of missionaries wandering around Kyoto doing prayer ministry and casting out the evil spirits from these gates in the walls. I am absolutely sure this has happened.
But again this is nothing to do with religion. It’s once again to do with peeing. Drunk people pee against walls. But even drunk people have reservations about peeing on something that appears to be sacred, even if actually it isn’t.
Culture is a really complicated thing. For those of us who don’t completely comprehend a culture, we can jump to some fantastic conclusions, especially where religion appears to be involved and we get all touchy about stuff. I bet we probably teach new Christians to avoid stuff that’s completely innocuous, because some missionary fifty years ago got the wrong end of the stick and nobody ever checked it out. So whenever a missionary tells me something about a peculiar Japanese religious practice, I’m not going to trust them. I’m going to go and actually ask a Japanese about it. Odds are good it’s actually something to do with peeing.