Ground-breaking ceremony in Sendai

Published 29 July 2013 in:

Photo: Catarina Axelsson/MFA

I have just returned from IKEA’s ground-breaking ceremony in Sendai, a city that was hit hard by the disasters on March 11, 2011. Right after the catastrophe IKEA opened a mini-store in Sendai, a city of 1,6 million people. It was greatly appreciated and voices were raised, asking IKEA to open a permanent store. After some changes in the company’s strategy planning it was decided that a store, indeed, would open ahead of schedule. The new store will be IKEA’s eighth store in Japan and the construction will take about one year.

The ground-breaking ceremony was performed according to Japanese tradition, in a shintô ceremony. Tents were put up on the ground and a sacred room had been created by hanging red and white striped cloths around the room. In front, where an shintô altar had been constructed, the cloths were purple. In the center of the altar there was a plain mirror.

To me, shintô is not just another religion, it is a way of paying respect to the area where you stand and the people around you. It is also a way of paying respect to yourself. I find it very attractive, since there are no sermons telling you what to do, or not to do in life, just prayer accompanied by bowing and hand-clapping. In a shintô ceremony the local god is called to descend and bless the ceremony. Then he, or she, is sent off.

I don’t believe in local gods, but I do believe in pausing, reflecting and paying respect to what man and nature can do together. If the god arrives or not is not the issue for me. The issue is whether I, and the people around me, feel better after the ceremony or not. And shintô ceremonies make me feel good. It is not a religion that can, or should be exported, since its very nature is local. In a shintô ceremony I become a shintoist. When the ceremony is over I am not a shintoist anymore.