December 12, 2018

Food for Thought

This small shrine was installed high up on the wall of this Chinese restaurant. I’m not sure what kind of god he is but he is red-faced and looks angry. The food and water (in the cups, I assume) are offered to appease him. It reminds me of the small shrine my family had at home. Before dinner, I would serve a small amount of rice, hit the metal bowl with a small stick, and pray. My family is not religious at all; we did it because that’s what we are supposed to do. I think the shrine was also representing the spirits of our ancestors (our grandparents), not just god. According to Chinese folk religion, cooked food is served for ancestors and uncooked food (like clementines in this photo) for gods. I remember placing clementines too.

The Japanese conception of god is more like the Western conception of the devil. Japanese god (or gods to be more precise) is not about love but about anger. He causes troubles for you unless you appease him with food—a type of god I would like to be (but I would demand more than white rice). In other words, Japanese gods are angry by default. You pray in order to minimize the problems they cause. So, as you could probably imagine, our hearts were not in it when we were praying in front of the family shrine. It was more like a chore; we had to do it because, otherwise, some misfortunes could befall us.

These two opposing conceptions of god underscore the fact that love and hate are one and the same thing. It doesn’t matter whether god represents love or hate; he can still serve the same purpose for us mortals.

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