We are a mobile marketing startup in China. One of our principals conducts
research on the cultural trends in network technology in China. Recently
some of that work has brushed up against Japanese culture and its
relationship with ubicomp and lbs, and the result was this memo. We would
love to hear the Keitai-L's communities feedback, for we are no where close
to experts on Japanese culture. Thank you, see below.
Shintoism's concept of place and things and implications to applications of
ubicomp and location-based mobile technology.
Shinto involves the worship of kami ($B?_at_(B), or gods. According to Wikipedia,
"Some kami are local and can be regarded as the spirit or genius of a
particular place, but other ones represent major natural objects and
processes". This is a cultural and religious contribution to the
conversation on the relationship between the virtual world and the real.
Kami can be defined as virtual objects because they cannot be perceived
through the naked senses, but are nonetheless we perceive them mentally and
they have specific qualities in our imaginations. A kami is a body of
virtual qualities ascribed to a physical object or place.
Locational and object-based characteristics of Shintoism originated in
shamanic beliefs brought from the Continent (China) and the Korean
peninsula. At first this was worship of kami who inhabited things.
Ceremonies were held outside before iwakuras, a small space or alter made
of stones. After the arrival of Buddhism, the idea of building "houses"
for kami arose and shrines were built.
The development of Shintoism has been intertwined with Chinese Buddhism as
well as other Chinese philosophies, and is generally part of the
Chinese-born idea of a monist nature of existence ($BE7?M9g0l(B, man and nature are
one) that has influenced many belief systems in East Asia (though it should
be point out that this way of thinking has largely been lost in present day
The most interestingly theme in Shintoism is reverence for nature and
natural beauty. Thus kami are ascribed to objects and places that are
striking in their natural beauty. More interestingly, Wikipedia quotes, "As
time went by, the original nature-worshipping roots of the religion, while
never lost entirely, became attenuated and the kami took on more reified and
anthropomorphic forms, with a formidable corpus of myth attached to them."
I feel this implies that kami could easily be perceived in urban settings,
especially with high-tech themes. Moreover, the reification,
anthropomorphism, and myth have direct implications to digital installation,
and story-based events such as urban gaming.
Modern day Shinto is better viewed as a cultural mindset than as a
religion. In other words, it is an implicit factor affecting behavior,
rather than an explicit set of goals (such as do something so you can get to
Heaven and avoid Hell). This is highlighted in the fact that expressed
belief in Shinto as a dogmatic religion has declined since the War while use
of Shinto artifacts, participation in ceremonies, and other Shinto practices
have remained popular.
The implication here is a unique cultural openness of the Japanese to
growing Ubicomp applications. The kami represent a cultural precedent for
ascribing virtual qualities to real objects. The fact that Shintoism is a
way of thinking rather than a dogmatic religion has the potential for
innovating on Shinto concepts in the design of Ubicomp and location-based
applications without fear of treading on the sacred (although sensitivity
and respect are still required).
Robert Osazuwa Ness
Podcast: China Businesscast www.danwei.org/danwei_fm
Skype in: +1.717.798.8559
Mail: Hopkings Nanjing Center,
Nanjing University, 126 Shanghai Road, Nanjing, Jiangsu, PRC, 210093
Received on Sat Mar 24 09:53:49 2007