Dalai Lama Avoids Politics During Spiritual Visit to Japan

While the eyes of the world were on Vatican City for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, another world-renowned religious leader quietly began a visit to Japan.

Arriving at Tokyo's Narita airport Friday, the Dalai Lama began his visit to Japan by urging the world to continue the late pope's legacy of peace.

In Japan's capital, the Tibetan leader's first stop was Meiji Jingu, the most-visited Shinto shrine in the country, where he spoke with VOA News.


Dalai Lama visits famous Shinto shrine to pray and greet well-wishers
"I'm not a follower of Shintoism. I'm Buddhist," he said. "But out of my respect to the native religion or native tradition of Japanese, it is my sort of responsibility from that viewpoint."

Despite protests from China, Japan's government has allowed the Dalai Lama to enter the country, on the condition that he refrain from political activities.

Japanese government leaders will not be meeting the Nobel Peace Prize recipient during his 11 days in Japan, a snub Tibetan activists regard as disappointing.

No Japanese prime minister has met with the Tibetan monk since 1980, despite a number of trips he has made to Japan during that time.

Tibet's spiritual leader obediently stuck to religious messages, and avoided politics in his remarks on his first day in Japan.

Buddhist monk Sonam Gyaltsen said he and other expatriate Tibetan well-wishers came to the Shinto shrine to see the man they regard as more than just the head of their religion.

"He's my guru, yes, but he's also our political leader," he said.

At the Meiji shrine, the Dalai Lama was greeted by the banging of drums. He then briefly prayed in the inner sanctum, before attending a Shinto dance recital.

Shinto priest Takayuki Matsui explained that the dance, Yamato-mai, is an ancient one that asks the spirits for happiness.

Mr. Matsui says, the dance is the signature performance at the shrine, because it was the favorite of Emperor Meiji.

The shrine is dedicated to the Meiji emperor who, in the 19th Century, opened Japan up after centuries of isolation.

Tibetan officials say, during his visit to Japan, the Dalai Lama will deliver five lectures, as well as visit Buddhist temples and other Shinto shrines.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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