My interest in Japanese religion piqued nine years ago when I lived and taught English in a small rural town in southern Japan for two years. I was fortunate to participate in Shinto rituals each January when I would attend the local shrine on New Year’s Day with my friend Yuko. I also studied ikebana (flower arrangement) which some argue has a basis in Buddhist ideology. During school breaks I explored Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples when I traveled around Japan. However, I did not truly understand much of what I saw or experienced until I returned to the United States and started to study Japanese religion with Dr. Roemer at Ball State University.
It was nearly seven years to the day after I left when I returned Japan in July 2010 with a new perspective and a keen interest in understanding better Japanese religion and its role in the culture as a whole. Being back in Japan was an exciting experience as I encountered both the familiar and the foreign. On this trip I had the opportunity to meet with Buddhist priests, practice zazenmeditation, watch the festive Gion Festival, speak with Shinto priests, get lost in Fushimi Inari and, my most memorable moment, participate in a festival at Shimogamo Shrine.
I am currently pursuing my master's degree in cultural anthropology at Ball State with an emphasis in how religion is practiced and its role within a culture. This class gave me the opportunity to learn more about Shinto and Buddhism by observing it within Japanese culture. Though my thesis research is focused on diasporic Hinduism in the United States I am also interested in bringing a greater understanding of other cultures to a wider audience, a task the field of anthropology has not always successfully achieved. This class is making significant contributions to education because the integration of an academic understanding of Japanese religion and Second Life creates opportunities for others to learn and experience Japanese religion without the costly expense of a plane ticket to Japan. This immersive learning course allows me to continue working towards my goal of making world cultures more available to the general population, an interest that was fully formed during a similar field study I took part in during the previous summer in Vietnam. The result of that field study was the creation of educational materials and a video which brings Vietnamese culture to Indiana middle schoolers. These two immersive learning courses have given me invaluable experience in the study of religion and anthropology.