I am a graduate student at UC Berkeley studying the diversity and evolution of whelks. This summer I was sponsored by the NSF (USA) and JSPS (Japan) to work with Dr. Seiji Hayashi at Nagoya University in Japan to collect buccinid gastropod (whelk) tissue samples and examine whelk shell collections at musems throughout Japan. Sugoi! Some of the snails that I study are pictured to the right.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shinto and geology

Though Japan is considered by many Westerners as a mostly secular society, about 86% of Japanese people consider themselves followers of Shinto and Buddhism, so says Lonely Planet. And the "and" in that sentence is not a typo. Most Japanese people are religious pluralists. That is, they observe Shinto, Buddhist, and even Christian holidays as well as take part in rituals of all three. One Japanese woman told me that most Japanese go to a shrine (Shinto) to pray and to celebrate births, a Buddhist temple for funerals, and (often) a Christian chapel for weddings. Neither Buddhism nor Shinto conflicts with evolutionary biology, paleontology or geology, so one nice thing about even deeply religious Japanese people is that they don't try to get evolution out-lawed in their school district. Ah, and all of science in Japan breathes a sigh of relief.

This is a torii tunnel at a Shinto shrine in Nagoya.
Near the entrance to a shrine is a a water trough called a chozuya. With the ladles one rinses both hands and rinses their mouth before getting closer to the shrine itself. This is the chozuya from Ise-Jingu in Mie prefecture, the most venerated shrine in Japan.This is one of the torii of the inner shrine of Ise-Jingu. From here it is about a 10 minute walk to the shrine itself.And a walk on clean gray gravel. Why? My Japanese friend told me, "because Japanese people like the way it sounds when you walk on it."So, by the end of all this pleasant-sounding walking to the heart of the famous shrine, you might expect a big "something" to be there. Not really. At Ise-Jingu the closest you can get to the "inner shrine" is a small (maybe 20ft X 15ft) wooden building with little adornment. The simplicity is beautiful as are the huge camphor trees surrounding it. It is a surprise though, coming with the expectation of something like Notre Dame. Also, no picture taking is allowed at the shrine, so for appeasement, here is a beautiful koi!And to give you an idea about how important Shinto is to many Japanese people; the picture below is of a line of cars (only about one third of it) waiting to enter the parking lots of the Atsuta-Jingu in Nagoya on a Saturday morning. Atsuta is one of the three most sacred shrines in Japan. Ise-Jingu (described above) is the most sacred, then Atsuta and the Imperial Palace shrine in Tokyo.The other reason to visit Mie prefecture with the geobiology students at Nagoya University (which is what I was doing) was to explore the Cretaceous outcrops of the Matsuo Group. Here I am looking for fossils. The rock hammer I am swinging is in my right hand and out of the frame.Here is my first Japanese gastropod fossil!These outcrops bordered the Pacific in an embayment once famous for its pearl divers. The dominant intertidal invertebrates (all molluscs) were chitons, neritid gastropods, and limpets. Below is a chiton. And speaking of geology, today I learned of two very noteworthy geology-related things. One is the collapse of one of the sandstone arches in Arches National Park in Utah- a site that was amazing (and full of German tourists) when I saw it as an undergraduate on a summer fieldtrip. The other is a new book about the history of geology and specifically Italian geology written by Walter Alvarez, professor of geology at UC Berkeley. Sugoi!


Hui said...

I heard about the collapse! Such a sad thing. It was so cool and stinking gravity had to ruin it!

Hui said...

P.S. Any religion that tries to discredit science should be discredited.

Jann said...

Agreed on both counts! As Radiohead puts it (in Fake Plastic Trees), "gravity always wins."
Thanks for commenting!

Hui said...

Jann, check it out: