The Floating Bridge of Heaven

Beginnings: Myths and stories from world religions
A curriculum for upper elementary grades by Dan Harper
Copyright (c) 2014 Dan Harper.

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THE FLOATING BRIDGE OF HEAVEN: A SHINTO STORY FROM JAPAN

The people of Japan have lived for centuries on eight large islands and many smaller islands that lie off the coast of China. For many years, they kept themselves separate from the rest of the world, living on their island, and avoiding contact with foreigners.

The Japanese people have religious practices that go back to the days before the Japanese began writing down their history. These religious practices still continue today, and are known by the name Shinto.

If you have ever watched the sun rise or set over the ocean you will know why the Shinto religion feels so much reverence for the sun. If you were to imagine the best dwelling place for the greatest and most beautiful of the gods and goddesses, you could think of none more glorious than in the brightly-colored skies of sunrise or sunset.

Two of the oldest of Japanese books are the Kojiki and the Nihongi. The Kojiki was written in the year 712 C.E., and the Nihongi was written in the year 720 C.E. Both books contain old myths and legends from various parts of Japan. While both these two books are held in great honor by those who follow the Shinto religion, most people would not be able to recite any passage from them, nor would most people even read them.

The first chapter in the Nihongi tells of the creation of the world, and it tells about the powerful sun goddess Amaterasu (Ah-mah-ter-ah’-soo).

Izanagi and Izanami

Above: Izanagi and Izanami. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

 

The Floating Bridge of Heaven

The Web version of the story is currently under development. A version of this story is available in Beginnings: Earth, Sky, Life, Death by Sophia Fahs.

Amaterasu emerging from the cave

Above: Amaterasu emerging from the cave. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

 

UNIT ONE: FIVE MYTHS FROM FOUR PEOPLES

Session Two: A Shinto story from Japan

0/ Attend the first 10 minutes of the main services with the rest of the congregation.

I/ Opening

Take attendance.

Light chalice with these words and the associated hand motions: “We light this chalice to celebrate Unitarian Universalism: the church of the open mind, the helping hands, and the loving heart.”

Check-in: Go around circle. Each child and adult says his or her name, and then may say one good thing and one bad thing that has happened in the past week (anyone may pass).

Review last week: If you took photos of last week’s skit, show them to the children, and have them help you post them on the class bulletin board (remember to leave lots of room on the class bulletin board for pictures from future classes).

II/ Read the story “From the Floating Bridge of Heaven.”

III/ Act out “From the Floating Bridge of Heaven.”

This is a more complicated story than last week, and we will build the skills of the children in remembering the story, and acting out as accurately as possible.

Ask: “Who are the characters in this story?”

Ask: “What happened first in the story? Then what happened? then what happened?” — and so on, until (with your help and prompting as needed) the children have remembered what happened in the story.

Determine where the stage area will be. Children who are not actors may sit facing the stage area.

The lead teacher reads the story, prompting actors as needed to act out their parts. Actors do not have to repeat dialogue, although some of them will want to do so. The lead teacher may wish to simplify the story on the fly, to make it easier to act out. You will notice that this story is in two parts: the creation of the world by Izanagi and Izanami; and the Amaterasu story.

Once again, take photos with a digital camera, and print them out to be posted on the class bulletin board.

IV/ Conversation about the story

Sit back down in a group.

Ask some general questions: “What was the best part of the story? Who was your favorite character? Who was your least favorite character?” — or questions you come up with on your own.

Ask some questions specific to the story: “In this story, the sun goddess is a woman do you think of the sun as being male, or female, or neither? Why did Amaterasu get angry with her brother? Why did she hide in her cave? How would you have tempted her out of the cave?” — or questions you come up with on your own.

One of the most important aspects of this story is the beauty that is created into the world. If there are older children in the group, you might want to address the beauty. Perhaps you could ask something like this: “In the first part of this story, Izanagi and Izanami created the world using a jeweled spear; and the world they create is very beautiful. What seems most beautiful to you about the world they create?”

You can continue the conversation in any way you wish.

V/ Free play

Ideas for free play: “Duck, Duck, Goose”; Legos or other building toys; walk to front play area; etc.

VI/ Closing circle

Before leaving, have the children hold hands in a circle. Show them how to hold hands: Hold your hands out in front of you with your palms down; now turn your left hand so that your left palm is up; now both your thumbs are pointing right; now hold hands with the person on each side, with your right hand on top of another person’s left hand, and your left hand under another person’s right hand.

When the children are in a circle, ask them what they did today, and prompt them with questions and answers, e.g.: “What did we do today? We heard a story, right? Anyone remember what the story was about? It was about the Moon and the Hare, etc.” You’re not trying to put any one child on the spot, but rather drawing on the wisdom of the group as a whole. If any parents have come to pick up their children, invite them to join the circle (so they can know what it is their children learned about this week).

When you’ve reviewed what the children learned for a couple of minutes, say together the unison benediction (which is posted in your classroom). Tell the children how you enjoyed seeing them (if that’s true), and that you look forward to seeing them again next week.

Shinto shrine at Ise

Above: The Shinto shrine at Ise, dedicated to Amaterasu. 1910 photograph (Public domain image.)

Curricula for UUs