When I came to Tome and visited some temples for the first time, when I watched the unique festival Mizukaburi or when I had some conversations with local people, a weird feeling was always haunting me. I could not guess the reason for this feeling for a considerable time.
I have realized finally that this weirdness comes from the religious mixture, which remains abundant in this region. It is well known that Japanese people don’t take about religious matters very seriously and it is even said that they are born by Shintoism, marry by Christianity, and are buried by Buddhism. But this weirdness has nothing to do with this raillery from foreigners.
Arrival of Buddhism
When Buddhism was brought into Japan in the 6th century, Buddha was accepted just as one of kami which had established positions in Japanese daily lives. It might be hard to understand this generosity or nonchalance, for those who believe in monotheistic religion or for those who lived in Christian culture. But ancient Japanese had lived with this nonchalance till 1968, when Meiji Government got into power and gave an order to separate Shintoism and Buddhism.
Separation of Shintoism and Buddhism.
So the two “religions” are now officially two separate religions and have different practices.
In Tohoku, Sincretism remains in the life
But here in Tohoku, especially in rural areas, the separation does not seem to have occurred. We often find a torii (symbol of Shintoism) at the entrance of a Buddhist temple site and shimenawa (symbol of Shintoism) at the entrance of the building; both are the signs for the border between human and sacred areas. It is common to find small jinja (Shinto Shrines) on the site of a temple.
Even some kagura (Shinto theatrical dance dedicated to kami) have Buddhist features and are even played for the dead ancestors on occasions of Bon festivals. These syncretic practices are interesting even to the eyes of Japanese people. We understand very well the confusion that annoys our visitors from abroad.
More about syncretism on wikipedia.