The Gods of Japan: An Infinite World of Spirits *RERUN
In various different situations, Japanese people often pray to the gods. Their prayers may range from requests for help with major, life-changing events or they may be simple prayers for peace and security in daily life. Religious rituals also vary widely depending on the region. We travel across Japan, visiting shrines and other sacred sites to introduce the sometimes mysterious world of traditional religious observance in Japan.


Miyako Island, Okinawa Prefecture, is 2,000 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. This tropical island, which enjoys warm weather throughout the year, is visited by some rather unusual spirits. These three figures are known as paantu. They are said to appear from a sacred well on the island. They are smeared from head to toe in the smelly mud from the well bottom. It is believed that whoever and whatever is smeared with this mud will be free of illness and disaster. The paantu do whatever they please. Even if it's a newly built house or a new car, they don't hesitate to cover them all with mud.

The Abare-matsuri, or Rampage Festival

Noto in Ishikawa Prefecture is around 300 kilometers northwest of Tokyo. Here is an unusual local festival, in which the people treat the gods wildly and roughly. The Abare-matsuri, or Rampage Festival is held every summer. At most Japanese festivals, the portable shrines that house the deities are treated with great respect. However, things are rather different at this festival. After throwing the portable shrine into the river, the men shower it with sparks from a giant torch, then roll it around in the river. While making a wish, they repeatedly slam the portable shrine into the pillars of the stone bridge. They pray for the health of their families and the security of their hometowns. At the Abare-matsuri, rough handling of the portable shrine is the best way to please the gods in a tradition that stretches back more than 300 years.

The Shrine Sits on the Roof of the Building

This is Ginza, Tokyo, known for the highest land prices in all of Japan. A shrine nestles in a tight space next to one of the district's buildings. However, at ground level, it is simply an altar for worship. To find the enshrined deity, you need to enter the building and take the elevator up to the eighth floor. The shrine sits on the roof of the building. In 1984, the building was constructed where a small shrine originally stood. That is when the shrine was divided into the altar at ground level and the sanctum on the roof. Do the prayers from the street really reach the god on the rooftop? To ensure the prayers reach their destination, the two parts of the shrine are linked by this pipe. The pipe is filled with air to ensure that the prayers can reach the god above. Ginza has long enjoyed great prosperity as a center of commerce and entertainment. As a result of this history, there are many small shrines around the district to pray for success in business.