Beyond being a captivating story, Yoshi, the Lantern Maker illustrates several key traits of Japanese society.
• Social hierarchy and the belief (based on the influence of Confucianism which came from China in the 6th century) that social harmony can be achieved when each person accepts his or her social role.
• The importance of Shinto (the way of the gods) and its focus on spirits and nature.
• The high value placed on the “quiet arts” in Japan – sado (tea ceremony), ikebana (flower arranging), ukiyoe (woodblock prints), bonsai (miniature trees), origami (paper folding) and ishi toro (stone lanterns).
Shinto is the ancient religion of Japan. It is still practiced today by about three million people around the world, most of them on that island nation. Although Shinto has a scripture, the Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Matters,” members of the Shinto faith do not believe it is sacred. The most important part of the Shinto faith is its belief in “kami.” Kami are spirits that can be found anywhere and they can take many different forms – as a spirit found in natural objects such as trees, mountains, streams and rocks; or as a spirit of an ancestor; or as a divine being. Shinto shrines are where the spirits are worshipped. Shrines are found in many different places – in homes, woods and even lakes. Worshippers often leave small pieces of folded paper with wishes written on them at special places (sometimes twigs or a board) near a shrine, hoping that a Kami will grant their wishes. Shinto has no specific code of conduct, such as the Ten Commandments, but loyalty, family, nature and cleanliness are very important beliefs. Shinto festivals are called Matsuri. These celebrations are held throughout the year to honor various kami. The most important Shinto festivals are held at harvest time and at New Year.
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