Tradition, Form, Process & System: Ise Shrine

This is the Ise Shrine, probably the most important Shinto monument. It is commonly referred to simply as Jingu, or the Shrine. It enshrines the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. It dates to the late 7th century.

Jingu is simple and functional. It is patterned after Japan's traditional domestic dwellings, and it is built of unpainted wood, without decoration or adornment. It rests serenely in a grove of 800 year old cedars.

How is it possible that this wooden structure stands so pristine after all this time?

The answer lies in the preservation of tradition - in the preservation of process. The secret is that Jingu is rebuilt every twenty years.

Every twenty years, whether it is in need of repair or not, Jingu is razed and rebuilt. The old shrine is dismantled, and a new one is built next to it. Twenty years later, the process is repeated, and the shrine is rebuilt on the spot where it was previously situated. Jingu itself is constantly replaced, and the original process is faithfully passed down through history. And it is by this method that the original Jingu will be passed on through eternity.

Consider this when you regard those imposing monuments built by other civilizations intended to endure the ages. Jingu will outlast every one of them. For at Jingu, it is not the monument that is primarily preserved, but the form and process - the system.

- The Fool
- This posting first appeared @ "Shouting in the Dark" 2007