There are times when nature unleashes its power in the form of natural disasters, causing great harm and evoking our fearful awe, but nature also supports our livelihoods and daily lives. The Japanese language provides over a thousand ways to express the concept of “rain,” and as many for “wind”; the fact that these words are scattered as a matter of course throughout Japan’s ancient texts is evidence of the inseparable link that the Japanese people sense between nature and religious belief. Language, faith, and prayer, in other words, are for us intimately connected to natural phenomena, climate, geology, and topography.
The reason I feel both piety and spiritual calm when I see a torii rising from the water is, I believe, because this is an elemental landscape for the Japanese, a symbol of stopping in the midst of our busy lives, and looking and offering up a prayer to nature. It is the real landscape that is the foundation for the imagined landscapes we see in our mind’s eye. I believe this is perhaps the prehistoric source of the Japanese concept of spirituality that we call the Eight Million Gods—the belief, appearing even now in modern films such as those by Studio Ghibli, that divinity can be found even in a mote of dust.