Sonic Japan: Sounds of religion

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Ema at Yohashira Shrine, Matsumoto
Ema (picture horse) are small wooden plaques that can be found at Shinto shrines. Worshippers can buy an Ema and inscribe a message on its back to the deity (kami) of the Shrine and the priests. The message may request good luck for an exam or marriage (depending on the specific shrine) but is left to hang alongside other Ema and later burn't as part of a ritual to release the wish to the shrine deity. In early Shinto religion, horses were understood to carry messages to deities. The Ema make a rattling sound in the wind as they bump up against each other. (04/19/2019)
Ohara Temple Nightinggale Floor
This temple's hallway utilises pre modern sonic security systems to alert residents to intruders (2019/05/17)
Revisiting the 'Quiet Temple'
In 2013, I made recordings at Ryoanji, a famous Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto famed for its rock garden, designed for quiet reflection. At the time I wanted to check how quiet it actually was, and we were surprised how noisy 'quiet places' were! Here is an update: despite the serene view, Ryoanji is still noisy! (2019/05/16)

Latest posts

Premodern Sonic Security Systems: the Nightingale Floor

Wed Nov 13 2019 by Carolyn Stevens

This a recording of a temple located in Ohara, just outside Kyoto, named Sanzenin. An important site for the Tendai school of Buddhism, this large complex houses many artistic and religious treasures. One of the compound buildings featured a uguisubari (translated as ‘nightingale floor’). This kind of flooring was...>>

Genkoan and the bloody footprints

Tue Jan 31 2017 by Tamara Kohn

This temple, founded in the 14th century, sits high in the hills in northwest Kyoto. Since the late 17th century it has belonged to the Sōtō School of Zen. It is famous for its main hall (hondo) where there are two windows – one perfectly round and another...>>

Embodied Senses in Reflection

Fri Jul 29 2016 by Tamara Kohn

I’ve recently returned to Melbourne from the 2016 Association of Social Anthropologists conference at the University of Durham, UK. It was a nostalgic visit for me. I had lived in Durham and had taught at that University for 14 years, from 1992-2006. This first visit back to the...>>

The Relationship between Sound and Space

Fri Jun 17 2016 by Carolyn Stevens

In this project, we are considering how sound and silence in various places are attended to in specific ways, and the dialogical relationship between sound and space. The mutually constitutive relationship between sound and space means that sounds are made diverse by the distinct characteristics of each place. At the...>>

Sweeping Silence

Fri Apr 01 2016 by Tamara Kohn

Four of us awoke at 5:30am, before dawn, and silently carried brooms from the dojo grounds down the drive and over the road to the Aiki Shrine. Sweeping the large 'dry' gravel garden in front of the shrine or the leaves under the trees is part of any live-in student's...>>

龍安寺の静かさとは How Quiet is 'Quiet'?! The Garden at Ryoan-ji, Kyoto

Wed Jun 18 2014 by Thomas Baudinette
Forming part of the UNESCO world heritage site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)," Ryoan-ji Temple in Western Kyoto is particularly famous for its Zen gardens. Indeed Nitschke (1999: 88-9) argues that the karesansui (dry landscape) rock garden at Ryoan-ji temple, which is pictured above, represents the finest extant example of the Zen rock gardens of the 15th century. >>

清水寺 Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto

Mon Jun 02 2014 by Thomas Baudinette
Kiyomizu Temple, officially known as Otowa-san Kiyomizu Temple, is a Buddhist temple and popular tourist spot in Eastern Kyoto. A practicing Buddhist temple, Kiyomizu Temple forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)".>>

岩間の合氣神社で掻く音 Raking the Aiki Shrine in Iwama

Fri May 23 2014 by Tamara Kohn
The live-in students at Iwama dojo wake at 5am every morning in the dark and very quietly get dressed, grab narrow-pronged bamboo rakes known as kumade (pictured above) and walk in silence from the dojo on the gravel driveway to the small road and the Shrine area on the other side. You hear the sound of our footsteps in the first recording - loud crunching noises that pierce the quiet pre-dawn.>>

永田町のデモ Friday night demonstrations near Nagatacho Station

Tue Apr 01 2014 by Carolyn Stevens
The following sounds were recorded during an evening protest in front of the Government offices in Kasumigaseki and  Nagatacho in central Tokyo. I began my sensory experience at the Anti Nuke Occupy Tent, which was located near exit A12 of the Kasumigaseki Station.>>