AP PHOTOS: Shrine in Japan offers solace to those at home

TOKYO (AP) — Shinto shrines, a go-to place for many Japanese to pray for good health and safety, have largely shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic. But one Tokyo shrine went online for those seeking solace.

Onoterusaki Shrine in downtown Tokyo was livestreaming prayers on Twitter during a May 1-10 holiday, allowing those stuck at home to join rituals.

The shrine also accepted worshippers’ messages, which were printed on a virtual wooden tablet and offered to Shinto gods to keep away evil spirits and the epidemic.

“I thought about how people can pray and have a peace of mind at a time everyone is feeling uneasy about all the news and going through major changes in their life but still cannot go out to pray,” head priest Ryoki Ono said. “The idea is to provide a chance for people to pray from home.”

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For Machi Zama, a freelance writer, that’s just what she needed. Zama prayed for her friend who recently had surgery, and everyone else experiencing difficult times, as well as for an early end to the global pandemic.

Watching the priests perform the purification rites, she felt as if she was at the shrine, Zama said. When one of the priests faced the screen and waved a religious paper streamer, she would bow. It was like her prayers were answered, she said.

“Wherever you are, I think it’s your feelings and thoughts, the wish to pray, that’s what’s important,” Zama said. “Whether online or offline, I don’t think it matters.”

For Ono, praying in the sacred shrine is still better. He said he hoped people will visit the shrine for a real experience when it reopens. The shrine ended the online prayers last Sunday to prepare for its upcoming annual festival.

Shinto is Japan’s indigenous religion that dates back centuries and it literary means “the way of kami,” which refers to Shinto gods or spirits. It’s a form of animism that believes in sacred spirits residing in living things and nature, including wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility.

Purification is key to Shinto rituals to keep away evil spirits. Worshipers can also make a wish for traffic safety, good health, success in business or exams, safe childbirth and many other things.

There are about 80,000 shrines in Japan. Revered as the most sacred is Ise Shrine in central Japan that venerates the sun goddess Amaterasu, the mythological ancestor of the emperor.

Not everyone in the conservative religion agrees with the departure from the traditional in-person prayers.

Naomi Shiba tweeted six prayers at the online shrine, in the hopes of an early end to the pandemic, for her two sons to be able to resume their work and studies, and for herself to lose some weight.

“Perhaps this is the way to do it in the current age,” she said.

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