I have wanted to write about Rev. Koichi Barrish for some time. He is the first American to receive "the license as the Jinja Shinto Kannush...[and the] first non Japanese person." And, he is also an Aikido Sensei. The questions and Barrish Sensei’s most informative answers will be divided into three articles. Here is the first. It is fascinating reading.
Q: Can you introduce yourself?
A: “Hello, my name is Lawrence Koichi Barrish and I am the Negi/ Senior Shinto Priest of Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America www.tsubakishrine.org the Bun-shya/ branch shrine of Tsubaki Okami Yashiro, one of Japan's most prestigious shrines with an unbroken history of over 2000 years.”
Q: Would you please tell us about the religion of Shinto?
A: “As for the Jinja Shinto....the basic thing is that Daishizen/ Great Nature is the basis of our lives....
“In ancient times people intuitively felt the Soul of Nature....the name for the Soul of Nature is Kami.....
“Shinto is not Religion per se, but a manifestation of the profound realization that our Human Lives are part of Daishizen-no-meguri/ the endless flow of Divine Nature. Divine Nature is imbued with the dynamic power of renewal.
“Kannushi/ Shinto Priests conduct rituals following and seeking harmony with the movement of Great Nature through the four Seasons.
“Shinto is the teaching of Nature, in contrast to revealed Religion which can be said to be the teaching of Man. Shinto originating in Japan's deep prehistory and existing in the present is a subconscious amalgam of attitudes, ideas and ways of living and relating to all aspects of life.
“Shinto means to touch the divine Earth, to receive the life giving power of the Sun and to ‘catch the whisper’ of Nature.”
Q: When did you first hear about Aikido and O Sensei? And where?
A: “In the late 1960's I was living in Southern California and becoming quite involved in Martial Study. It was in that period that I learned of Aikido and O'Sensei.”
Q: Did this encounter precede or come after your discovery of Shinto?
A: “At that time my driving interest was in consciousness-- I was very passionately pursuing what I now understand to be grounded, centered and connected KI.”
Q: Did you study in Japan to become a Shinto Priest? If so, what was your training like? What experiences, what part of this training and study stood out for you the most?
A: “My history with Shinto is that as I was doing my best as a young person to deeply understand and harmonize with KI I began to practice the " KI breathing " exercises of Koichi Tohei Sensei...I was really serious and would practice for a minimum of 1 hour each day.....I also learned of the existence of the Misogi gyo and began to practice as best I could----in those days I was also somewhat involved in Shukyo Shinto/ modern Shinto.
“Around 1986 I traveled to Tsubaki Okami Yashiro/ Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Mie Japan.....I had the "life experience" and was very deeply moved....I had visited many Jinja/ Shinto Shrines before that---but when I first visited Tsubaki Okami Yashiro I immediately felt more at home then at any time in my life...it was quite something..... Yamamoto Yukitaka Sendai Guuji (96th Generation High Priest---the same man who enshrined SARUTAHIKO OKAMI/ the Aiki Oyagami/ ancestor-guardian Kami in the Aiki Jinja for O'Sensei and the late father of the current High Priest Yamamoto Yukiyasu Guuji) was extraordinarily kind to me as were the other Kannushi/ shrine priests. I was so very interested in the Jinja Shinto.
“I had asked Reverend Iwasaki if it was at all possible for me to become the Kannushi/ Shinto Priest----- he informed that it was impossible and in the thousands of years of the Jinja Shinto there had been no non-Japanese Shinto Priests----- he knew that I was deeply interested in Shinto and had built a Shrine and hoped to build a more complete shrine to enshrine O'Sensei as Kami and pursue my own training in Gyo-----he told me that although I could not receive the license I could learn about the Jinja Shinto to better care for my shrine.
“This was the beginning of a very magical period for me-----I began traveling to Tsubaki Grand Shrine 3 or 4 times each year to study Shinto, practice Gyo (esoteric Shinto purification and meditation) and soak up the sacred shrine atmosphere...I was like a pet to the various Shrine Priests ---many of whom would take me to visit various Jinja or teach me their specialties during slow times or on their 1 day off each week....it was wonderful.....I was kind of a Jinja Shinto Otaku/ nerd ...I look back on those days with a little nostalgia as although I was quite busy with Aiki training and conducting Aiki Seminars around the US my responsibilities were relatively light...in any case I could continue in that fashion for some years...
“Then Yamamoto Guji decided I should receive the license of the professional Kannushi/ Shinto Priest and decided to make it happen--- I still remember the phone call when I learned it was a possibility ......at that time I studied Saho/ manner of conducting ceremonies intensely for a few months and then received the low level license..over the years I was lucky to be promoted and now serve as Senior Shinto Priest.”
Parts II & III will follow shortly.
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