Category Archives: Nature

A Modern View of Shinto:  Scholar and Shinto Priest Minoru Sonoda


Entrance of Chichibu Jinja. Photo by Commons Wikimedia


Dr. Minoru Sonoda (薗田/稔) is chief priest of Chichibu Jinja (秩父神社) Shinto shrine in Saitama, as well as professor emeritus of Kyoto University and professor at Kogakkan University. His doctorate in religious studies is from Tokyo University.

Dr. Sonoda is chairman of the International Shinto Research Association for the exchange of research with people overseas who are studying Shinto. Although Dr. Sonoda is identified with Shinto, he promotes the idea that Shinto is not a “religion” in the Western sense of the word. Rather, Shinto is a type of community tradition that has naturally developed. Instead of being an individual faith-based activity, Shinto is community, culture, and heritage closely tied to nature. When put this way, doesn’t it seem that Shinto is far from being exclusive to Japan, and instead can be understood and practiced by people around the world?


An interview conducted by Satsuya Tabuchi appeared in SPF Voices Newsletter of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation in 2006. Click here for the full report in English. An article about Dr. Sonoda appears here. Click here for Chichibu Jinja’s home page.

Here are some highlights of the topics discussed with SPF. We presume that Dr. Sonoda, as Shinto priest, used the term kami which was translated into gods. Since the word kami does not accurately translate into the Western word gods, we prefer to keep the term kami. 

Kami, unseen spirits behind the scenes

Kami abide in specific places such as sources of water or other places that are important to life. Kami are unseen to the human eye. What is sacred “lurks in the depths of the forest. It is a psychic center behind the community, not in the middle. Even if Japan’s gods don’t have form, they dwell within pure objects as spirits.”

Culture and agriculture

Shinto is the product of agrarian culture. The word culture comes from the Latin colere meaning to inhabit, cultivate, protect, and honor. People who settled peacefully in a particular place developed culture. People grow crops and receive their life. Receiving life and giving thanks for it is how Shinto views life. This world view developed naturally in the agrarian society.

Nature and life

Human beings, imbued with life by nature, live together with nature. Shinto honors the preciousness of life.

What is life?

“Life isn’t something that lasts just one generation. Life is life precisely because it’s passed on from parents to children. This is the most valid way for human beings to view life.”


Dr. Sonoda is proactive in the chinju no mori sacred forest movement. What is chinju no mori? Mori means forest. Chinju is written 鎮守. The first character 鎮 is read as shizumeru, to calm the spirit; the second character 守 is mamoru which means to protect. Thus, we may say chinju no mori is a forest whose tranquility is protected. In other words, let’s protect the peace and serenity provided us by forests.

Related to this is the shinrin yoku trend, often translated as “forest bathing.” Shinrin is the compound word, forest-grove, and yoku simply means to bathe. People are going to forested areas for personal peace and tranquility as well as for proven health benefits.




Lahaina Noon, 2017

The Bishop Museum of Honolulu has published the dates of Lahaina Noon for 2017. Lahaina Noon is the popular name for kau ka lā i ka lolo, when the sun is directly overhead. The two dates for selected cities are as follows.

Līhue:   May 31 12:35 p.m.July 12 12:42 p.m.

Kāne‘ohe:   May 27 12:28 p.m.July 15 12:37 p.m.

Honolulu:   May 26 12:28 p.m.July 16 12:37 p.m.

Kaunakakai:   May 25 12:25 p.m.July 16 12:34 p.m.

Lāna‘i City:   May 23 12:24 p.m.July 18 12:34 p.m.

Lahaina:   May 24 12:23 p.m.July 18 12:33 p.m.

Kahului:   May 2412:22 p.m.July 18 12:32 p.m.

Hana:   May 23 12:20 p.m.July 18 12:30 p.m.

Hilo:   May 18 12:16 p.m.July 24 12:27 p.m.

Kailua-Kona:   May 18 12:20 p.m.July 24 12:30 p.m.

South Point Island of Hawai‘i:   May 14 12:19 p.m.July 27 12:28 p.m.



Lao Tsu Lines

HHN blue sky

The following one-liners were inspired by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Tao Te Ching, 1972c. The book is beautifully calligraphed and illustrated with English’s black-and-white nature photographs. The numbers in parentheses are the chapter numbers from the Tao Te Ching.


The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.   (1)

The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled.   (4)

2015-05-110The highest good is like water.   (8)

Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.   (16)

The way of nature is unchanging.   (16)

Yield and overcome; bend and be straight; empty and be full.   (22)     DSCN2581

The Tao is forever undefined.   (32)

To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.   (33)

It does not show greatness, and is therefore truly great.   (34)

Tao abides in non-action, yet nothing is left undone.   (37)

Being is born of non-being.   (40)

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Lahaina Noon at Honolulu

2016-05-25 12.27 stopsign

Honolulu, May 25, 2016.

Today, it is one day before the technical date of Lahaina Noon in Honolulu. See our previous post:, which gives the date of May 26 at 12:28 HST for this event.

The above photo was taken at 12:27 pm HST clock time. It shows that the stop sign shows no shadow.

We have been wanting to take a photo such as this for a long time. So, please enjoy it with us.


Lahaina Noon, Kau ka la i ka lolo: When the sun passes overhead

Summer Solstice         june-solstice-illustration

For the northern hemisphere, summer solstice is the day when the sun in the sky is at its northernmost position. In 2016, summer solstice occurs in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Monday, June 20, 2016 at 12:34 pm.

Tropic Zones

The tropic zones arWorld_map_indicating_tropics_and_subtropicse bordered by latitudes 23.44° N for the Tropic of Cancer and 23.44° S for the Tropic of Capricorn. These are places on the earth’s surface that lie directly below the sun’s path in the sky. They are indicated by the pink band in the figure. 

Hawaii in the Tropic of Cancer2003-3d-hawaiian-islands-usgs-i2809

Hawaii is the only one of the United States that lies within the tropic zone, 16° 55′ N to about 23° N. The latitude-longitude of Honolulu is 21º 18′ N, 157º 51′ W.

“Lahaina Noon”maxresdefault

For places on earth lying within the tropic zones, the sun will be at zenith (directly overhead) at local noon on one or two days in the year. Right on the Tropic of Cancer, there is only one day, the June solstice. At all other places in the Tropic of Cancer, the sun passes through the zenith on two days. In Hawaii, the popular name for these two events is called Lahaina Noon, named after Lahaina, Maui. The exact dates and times vary slightly from year to year, and definitely by latitude. At the time of Lahaina Noon, the sun casts no shadow of an object that is perfectly vertical, such as a telephone pole or a flagpole.

Path of the Sun in the Skydeclination

From the winter solstice when the sun rises from its southernmost extreme, the sun’s path in the sky moves northward, culminating at its most northern extent on the summer solstice. Thus, Lahaina noon occurs first for the southernmost Hawaiian island and moves slowly up the archipelago. As we see from the chart below, this occurs between May 18 and May 30 for the  cities of Hilo, Hawaii north to Lihue, Kauai. The sun “stands still” at the solstice on June 20, and then makes its southward way. It passes directy over Honolulu on July 15 and Hilo on July 24.

Dates for Lahaina noon, 2016

  • 19.7° N Hilo May 18  12:16 pm;      July 24  12:27 pm.
  • 20.9° N Lahaina May 24 12:23 pm;     July 18  12:33 pm.
  • 21.3° N Honolulu May 26  12:28 pm;     July 15  12:37 pm.
  • 22.0° N Lihue May 30 12:35 pm;     July 11 12:42 pm.
  • 23.4° N Tropic of Cancer June 20  12:34 pm (summer solstice)

Papahānaumokuākea and Mokumanamana


The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is a U.S. National Monument encompassing 140,000 square miles of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Mokumanamana is a small island in the chain; it is located at 23°35′N 164°42′W, currently 8 miles north of the Tropic of Cancer. Mokumanamana appears in the center of this chart. Moku means island in Hawaiian, and mana means spiritual energy. We can well understand that this is an Island of Great Mana, a sacred place to ancient Hawaiian people. Although it now lies just north of the Tropic of Cancer, it was once exactly on the tropic line. At that time, Mokumanamana’s Lahaina Noon date was exactly on summer solstice day, making Mokumanamana a very special place, indeed.

Addition of 2017.04.02:

Lahaina Noon Update:  Kau ka la i ka lolo


This post is about Kau ka la ia ka lolo, the traditional term for the passage kau of the sun at the zenith over one’s head.

At the Windward Community College in Kaneohe, Hawaii, is a Polynesian voyaging display on permanent view. It is highly recommended for those interested in how the Polynesian people journeyed over vast distances with great navigational skill. You can view a scale model of the  Hōkūleʻa voyaging canoe and an introduction to Hawaiian astronomy. We thank Professor Joseph Ciotti for preparation of the exhibit and explaining it to us. Dr. Ciotti remarked that it was the eminent Hawaiian historian, Rubellite Kawena Johnson who provided him with the proper term for this celestial event. 

Above is a photo we took of the Kau ka la ia ka lolo exhibit. The text reads as follows:

‘Twice a year the noontime sun passes directly overhead. Kau ka la ia ka lolo was believed to be a time of great mana. At this moment a person’s shadow (aka) disappeared and was thought to enter his sacred head. The two dates for these solar zenith passages are marked on the map for different places on O’ahu.

Note: We have only recently found the correct Hawaiian name for this event. It is Kau ka la i ka lolo. We are grateful to Rubellite Kawena Johnson and Professor Joseph Ciotti for this valuable information.


“No volcanoes, no agriculture”


Paramagnetism: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Force of Growth, 1995

“No volcanoes, no agriculture — for volcanic ash and rock are the guts of good soil.”

Recently, I came across ‘paramagnetism’ in two ways. I was searching for “Satsuki Narasaki’, author of Three Electrostatic Laws, when I came across a Russian article in which the writer used charcoal in growing plants as is traditional in Japan. He referred to the work of Japanese physicist Narasaki as well as books by Philip S. Callahan on paramagnetism.

The following day, an e-mail newsletter about feng shui arrived. It was entitled, “Paramagnetism: war and peace.” Not only is paramagnetism a positive factor in growing healthy crops, it seems to be inversely correlated with war zones!

And so I ordered a copy of Callahan’s book, Paramagnetism: Rediscovering Nature’s Secret Force of Growth, 1995. With a doctorate in entymology, Callahan is a first-rate all-around scientist, in the mold of the natural historians of old. Knowledgeable about physics as easily as birds and insects, eager to improve agricultural yields, he presents a wealth of easy-to-read information on all these seemingly-unrelated fields related to paramagnetism.

The following excerpts may be of interest to Okunomichi’s readers.

p29 We may understand then that there are three ways to generate this valuable magnetic force called paramagnetism into the soil:

1.  By adding volcanic rock into the soil.

2.  By fiberization so that paramagnetic oxygen reaches the roots in soggy soil.

3.  By using weeds, which are green containers of paramagnetic minerals, in our compost or manure.

p36 In Japan one gets a feeling of restfulness in the wooden and thatch-roofed Shinto shrine of the sacred groves. I began to feel that if the vital force of rocky places made one feel energetic and the wooden shrines and trees of sacred groves made one feel relaxed, that there seemed to be two forces at work. One force was calming and restful, the other energizing and fatigue defeating. Perhaps in Eastern terms, the yin of the female and the yang of the male?

It was through reading the brilliant writings of the Irish genius John Tyndall that I finally realized that these vital forces were not magnetic … but the paramagnetic and diamagnetic properties of rocks and plants.

p37 Diamagnetism is a negative movement, or movement away from a magnetic field. Paramagnetism is a strong positive attraction to a magnet. Most organic molecules are diamagnetic and most volcanic rock and ash are paramagnetic.

p33 Forms which Westerners would consider inanimate have become fused with vitality through Shinto. Whereas we in the West would mould or break natural form to our design, the Japanese, recognizing vitality inherent in the form, shape, and design to release the vitality.   The Ocean in the Sand by Mark Holborn

p46 Most organic compounds, including all plants, are diamagnetic. If plants are diamagnetic and good growing soil paramagnetic, then we must be dealing with the yin and yang of Chinese and Japanese geomancy.

p47 By positioning such rocks in relationship to the sun and to each other, one can control plant growth. Apparently the ancients knew about this yin and yang, diamagnetic/paramagnetic phenomenon and utilized it in their Zen gardens.

Paramagnetism is associated with:

  • Volcanic rocks , granite, basalt 
  • Oxygen 
  • Yang 
  • Sacred sites


“Dying Gods” of the Japanese Worldview

Okunomichi:  We have just come across an essay by  Yamaori Tetsuo, a distingished scholar of religious studies. Written originally in Japanese, its clear English translation evokes in the Western reader a better understanding of what it is to be Japanese. We offer a few paragraphs and suggest that the full essay be read at

Keywords: Environment, worldview, religion, mythology, Shinto, kami, society.

The Japanese World View: Three Keys to Understanding

by Yamaori Tetsuo

“Along with a sense of transience, the natural environment also fostered a comforting awareness of the cycle of the seasons and the rebirth that invariably follows death. Flowers bloomed in the spring, leaves turned color and fell in the autumn, freezing winds swept the trees bare in the winter. But invariably the old year gave way to the new, and spring arrived once again. The knowledge that sunny days inevitably followed cloudy ones gave people the strength to live from day to day. Armed with this awareness, they learned to face life with grace and patience, flexibility and fortitude, and to face impending death with quiet acceptance, returning to the earth to become one with nature again.”

“Shintō is translated “the way of the kami,” and the kami of Japan are very different in character from the divinities with which most Westerners are familiar. From prehistoric times countless kami were believed to dwell deep within nature, in the mountains, forests, and waters of the archipelago. These were not anthropomorphic beings with distinct personalities and physical attributes. The vast majority were nameless but potent spirits of the sort believed to inhabit places and objects of all kinds. For that reason, there was a tendency to refer to them collectively, as kami-gami, rather than in the singular.”

“In ancient Japan, however, the relationship between mythological and historical events was viewed quite differently. In the Japanese cosmology, human society was subject to the same laws and rhythms as the deities who helped found it. For this reason, the Japanese viewed the origins of their country in a very different light from the kind of historical view common in the West. …The perception that the kami died just as human beings enabled the Japanese to view myth and history as seamlessly linked and nurtured a distinctive view of the cosmos, of life and death, and of the human condition.”

“What is the relationship between dying gods and a political system predicated on pluralism? Both reflect a view of the cosmos, human life, and human society shaped by a keen awareness of the impermanent, ever-changing nature of the world in which we live.”


1 PacificGoogleEarth 3 NHINM 4 hawaii_ref_2001





I am always amazed by the size of the Pacific Ocean. And I am impressed by Papahanaumokuakea.

Papahanaumokuakea (Papa-hanau-moku-akea, Earth Mother-birth-islands-Sky Father) is the name of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument. Extending the archipelago of Hawaii to the northwest, these islands make the state of Hawaii one of the longest in the nation. Hawaii extends from about 155 to180 degrees of west longitude, i.e., to the International Date Line, thus covering five hours of time zones.

Please note the location of Necker Island which bears the magnificent Hawaiian name, Mokumanamana (Moku-mana-mana, island of strong mana energy). Mokumanamana lies right on the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees North latitude. This island is so sacred that no Hawaiians ever lived there, yet they built 33 shrines on the rocky small island.

Lying on the Tropic of Cancer means that this island has the sun at zenith on one day of the year, the summer solstice. The sun does not venture further north than this. For this reason, this latitude marked a solemn boundary between Po and ‘Ao, Darkness and Light, Other World and This World.



I’ao Valley

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The name I’ao is very sacred. The first part, I, means cosmic spirit. The second part, ao, means primordial light. According to Leinani Melville (Children of the Rainbow, 1969, p. 20, 116), I’ao is the name for the Eternal Creator, the Primordial Lord of the Sun, the Primary Cosmic Force, the Supreme Being. It means Infinite World, Infinite Light, the Supreme Light of the World. I’ao Valley was named after this supreme deity.

The people of Maui paid respects to the Creator at the peak in the valley which we call the I’ao Valley. This valley lies in the watershed area of West Maui, Mauna Kahalawai.

The Hawaiian name for the West Maui Mountains is ‘Kahalawai’ meaning House of Water. They are also known as “Hale Mahina” meaning House of the Moon, after Hina, a lunar goddess. West Maui is home to many important historical and sacred sites in Hawaiian culture.

The morning we went to I’ao it was bright and sunny in Wailuku, and it grew progressively darker and more solemn as we drove deeper into the valley. It was sprinkling by the time we parked and started walking the paved trail through the park. Warned to stay on the trail, we cros2014-07-15 08.45.52sed over rapid streams as we wound our way up to the little pavilion. From there we had a clear view of the Needle, at least as clearas the weather permitted. We sat for a long while in the pavilion as visitors came and went. It was a powerful spot for meditation.2014-07-15 08.42.522014-07-15 08.46.37                                                      2014-07-15 08.53.25

We started downhill and walked slowly through the shower. The path took us along another stream, and as we sheltered under the trees we watched the eddies over and around the rocks. So fascinating that time stood still.

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Haleakala and the ‘Ahinahina

Haleakala is the sacred mountain of Maui. Rising to 10,000 feet above the clouds, it is aptly named the House of the Sun.

The people of Ha6 Habitat zoneswaii held mountains in high respect, and they did not live on mountains. See this sketch. Summits belonged to the mountain spirits. There was an altitude lower down from the summit which was suitable for shrines, but still not for people to dwell. People lived down on the plains, close to the sea.

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The ‘ahinahina silversword is unique to the summit of Haleakala. Although this name is translated as very gray, do I not see Hina the goddess of the moon? Wikipedia gives us the following information.

The Haleakalā silversword, Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum, has numerous sword-like succulent leaves covered with silver hairs. Silversword plants in general grow on volcanic cinder, a dry, rocky substrate that is subject to freezing temperatures and high winds. The skin and hairs are strong enough to resist the wind and freezing temperature of this altitude and protect the plant from dehydration and the sun.

The plant’s base of leaves, arranged in a spherical formation at ground level o2014-07-17 09.54.07f the plant, dominates for the majority of the plant’s life—which may be greater than 50 years. The leaves are arranged so that they and the hairs of the leaves can raise the temperature of the shoot-tip leaves up to 20 °C (36 °F), thereby having adapted to the extreme high-altitude temperatures by focusing the sunlight to converge at this point and warm the plant.

Here are some photos of ‘ahinahina that I took at the National Park Visitor’s Center. The sun had just emerged after a rain shower, and the ‘ahinahina were sparkling with raindrops.

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We drove through layers of clouds and rain and finally reached the Haleakala Visitor’s Center at the summit. Here are some of the ever-changing views of the crater.

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Truly, Haleakala is sacred, and so is the ‘ahinahina. Let us give them our malama, our protection. It is our kuleana, our responsibility.