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When Pines Are Divine

A six-year Japanese program preserves thousands of Shinto shrines and woodlands.

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 Think of Japan and you might picture futuristic, neon-lit cities, the next generation of high-tech gadgets, and sleek bullet trains. But if you could look into the island nation’s heart, you would find Shinto, Japan’s indigenous religion, in which forests, seas, and streams are honored as homes to countless kami, or gods.Partnering with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a UK-based organization founded by Prince Phillip, Shinto officials have created a six-year sustainability program to preserve Japan’s 81,000 Shinto shrines and their surrounding woodlands. Emphasizing biodiversity, recycling, and community awareness, the program’s culmination coincides with this year’s rebuilding—done every 20 years—of the ancient Grand Shrine at Ise, which is dedicated to sun goddess Amaterasu-Omikami and surrounded by 19 square miles of sacred forest.“Ecologists refer to trees as the earth’s ‘lungs,’ and I think Shinto practitioners have always understood this intuitively,” says Aidan Rankin, author of Shinto: A Celebration of Life. “Their reverence for the forest—and individual trees—has ent …

S. Rufus is the author — under the byline Anneli Rufus — of several books including Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself (Tarcher Penguin 2014) and continues on the path of addressing self-esteem.


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