Japan – Sato, Rinzai, Satori

This article is a brief introduction to Awareness from the perspective of The East, and the symbolism and doctrines of Japan. Sadly access to knowledge prior to the last 3,000 years is again buried and hard to come by but we can look at some of the main principles which have survived to this day.


Geographically located East of the Asian mainland, Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun. And whilst the Japanese Flag seems to represents that image on the surface, it more likely represents something else. Made up of three elements, the circle, its crimson colour, and the white background, it was changed from its original design.

The Rising Sun and The Sun Source

The Japanese Flag of The Rising Sun, with the 16 Crimson Rays on a White background was in use prior to the 1600’s. Back then the Circle was also still in the middle of the Flag and formed a specific math ratio. Over the next two hundred years and having already been used by Warlords, it was adopted by the Japanese Government and represented the Imperial Army, but with a difference. The Circle had been moved from its centre, to an A-symmetrical position and with a different mathematical sum total of angles.

It is said that the Rays on the Japanese Flag of ‘The Rising Sun’ represent both the Rays of the Physical Sun and also the Spiritual representation of the paths on the way to Illumination and Awakening, or Enlightenment.

The Japanese Flag that is now a Crimson Circle on a White Background is called Hinomaru, which can be translated to ‘The Sun Disc’ or ‘Sun Source’.

We do know that it is the Sun and its spiritual representation of illumination that forms the basis of Japanese spiritual ideology.

Japanese Kami – Emperors, Sons of The Sun

In the Japanese Doctrine of Shinto, the core belief is that everything is Kami – meaning ‘Divine’, or ‘of Spirits’, and that Kami exists in all things from a planet to a pebble. Japanese legend says that Amaterasan was a Shinto Kami, a Spiritual Goddess of the Sun. That all True Emperors are said to have descended from her, they are the Sons of The Sun.

Japanese Zen – Soto and Rinzai

Monks are instilled with spiritual practises from a very early age. Two of the oldest Japanese Zen Spirituality Illumination methods taught are Soto and Rinzai.

What’s the Difference Between Soto and Rinzai?

Rinzai teaches as you sit facing the room, Soto teaches as you sit facing the wall!

It seems that the two teaching methods of Japanese Zen came from the East around Yokohama, with Soto, and the West around Kamakura, with Rinzai. There are a number of differences in the teaching approaches to Soto and Rinzai including how a student must sit and remained focused and why.

Japanese Koans – An Intuitive Knowledge Method

In Japan, a Koan is a written Poem, or Statement, a Spiritual based lesson. They either illustrate the existence of Intuitive Knowledge, or its absence. Whilst they can be understood on an intellectual level, their true meanings can only be known through the experience and emotions that enable the knowing and which precedes the subsequent explanation of it.

Mumon’s Poem

Because it is so very clear,
It takes longer to come to the realization.
If you know at once candlelight is fire,
The meal has long been cooked.
— The Gateless Gate

A Cup Of Substance

Nan-In, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-In served tea. He filled his visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the spillage until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-In said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Japanese Buddhism – Kensho

Japanese Buddhism became common Spiritual practice in Japan. And along with Sato and Rinzai, came Kensho. It was a redefined concept that any and all people could practice and achieve Spiritual Awakening as opposed to those of a particular lineage. Kensho, also known as Satori, is represented by Three Spiritual Circles.

Three Spiritual Circles – Satori

Although there are Three Circles, the concept of Kensho or Satori, is of one journey with an ultimate outcome but represented in three stages by the Three Circles.. 


Staring with the first stage is our existence, represented by the large circle as the Universe and the small dot, Us, an individual.


The Circle with the dot erased represents a state of Unknowing, No Resistance, Like a cleaning. The concepts and identities associated with being as an individual are cleaned away.


The last stage is of full Enlightenment. The dot is cleaned and now clear for the Universe to channel though and express itself. There is no sense of separation or identity with Self, only as part of the Universe and not separate to it.

Japanese culture is entrenched in Spirituality and the concept of both the Mortal and Immortal worlds. feature heavily in daily life and culture. The beliefs of the after world or other world, are still so strong today that many elderly and displaced people without a family are even pulling up roots and moving to the cities to live near people they haven’t physically met before but who they will ultimately be buried near to when their time comes.

Japanese Symbolism


In Japanese Symbolism, Salt represents purification. It is used in Sumo wrestling ceremonies to cleanse the arena, and also in restaurants as protection from evil spirits.

This has foundations in chemistry as Salt is a mineral with a particular set of positive cations and negative anions which essentially makes it a mineral with an extremely low or neutral electric charge. Salt neutralizes energy.


Called Okome, Rice is grown annually at the command of the emperor and is a deeply spiritual practice relating to intent, creation, growth, and harvest.


Majestic Torii structures can be found at the gateway to all Shinto Shrines and places of meditation. This Japanese Symbolism marks the boundaries of where a Kami resides. Passing through a Torii represents a form of Spiritual cleansing and is taken very seriously in Shinto practices.

Folding Fan

In Japan, the Fan itself is said to represent the Sun and birth. The Blades represent the Sun’s Rays and possible life paths. The Folding Fan also forms a border for people seated in Japanese Tea Ceremonies. Samurai often depicted a picture of the Sun on their Fans.


Taking pride of place on the cover of Japanese Passports, and characterized by 16 petals, the Chrysanthemum is a symbol of endurance and rejuvenation. It is also the insignia of the Royal Emperors True Bloodline.


The Butterfly is heavily associated with transformation and metamorphosis. Used often in Japanese Symbolism in family crests, it’s also linked with transcendence..


The Dragon represents the Guardians of Water, Great Strength and Power. It relates to energetic consciousness lineages. A Japanese Dragon is depicted with three toes and a Chinese Dragon, five and four relating to spiritual hierarchy.


Known as ‘Kaeru’ in Japan, Frogs symbolise a Return State, after a physical journey to a metaphysical state of being,

Pair of Dog Statues

Known as Komainu in Japanese, Pairs of Dogs symbolise loyal protection and are found guarding Japanese Shrines. Additionally, an open mouth represents beginning and a closed mouth represents ending.


Deer are the messengers of the Gods and the hunting of them is prohibited in Japan and many other countries because of this association.


Representing persistence and specifically forward movement, Dragonflies are also dependent on the sun’s light to generate that movement – enlightenment for progression. Many Samurai would use the Dragonfly Image on their Helmets.


Used in Shrines, and by Sumo wrestlers, and in other Japanese Ceremonies, the zig-zag paper represents the Lightning Wand – Lightening.

When You Know, You Just Know

The belief in the mortal world and the immortal world is endemic in Japanese culture. It is a given, a known. Their spiritual practices reflect this deep innate knowing and commitment to this knowledge, which has been prevalent on our planet since humanity began and is present in all of us.

It is a knowing in the absence of physical evidence, because it is a knowing that comes from another source. For those who think they have not had any experience of innate knowledge, it is a difficult concept to accept or expand on, yet every soul has had experience of it. It’s an instinctual based knowledge. And we can all think of a time where we did, or did not, follow our instinct, and the subsequent consequences. Recognising it and believing it and knowing it, is the difference. Those who won’t or can’t, will have to do the work to figure out why that is. There are no exceptions.

Nichiren Buddhism

Tachibana – Mandarin Orange Flower
The official logo of Nichiren Shu,

Nichiren Buddhism is named after the Japanese Buddhist Priest Nichiren. It is a branch of the Mahayan Tree of Buddhism and was founded in the 13th Century by Nichiren. Whilst all Buddhist teachings refer to the Lotus Sutra Sacred Text, Nichiren’s beliefs were founded on the expressions Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

It’s to do with the sounds and tones of this combination of letters and words. That they in themselves convey every aspect of Dharma. This mantra when recited along with some other chants, it’s referred to as Daimoku.

What Is The Difference between Zen and Nichiren Buddhism?

Zen focuses on the transience of life, and on detachment from significance. Those are the main points of the primary sutras that many Zen sects use, the Diamond Sutra, and the Heart Sutra. Nichiren Buddhism focuses on the totality of life, and how to optimize it by integrating the five-word description of life.

As we expand on the understanding of innate knowledge, and spiritual practices, in the next article we take a look at Ancient China and the teachings of Buddhism and Taoism, Lao-Tzu and later philosophies from Confucius.

Sources and Thanks: 

religionfacts.com/buddhism/sects/nicheren.com;Thoughts.com; AshidaKim.com; onmarkproductions.com; mai-ko.com; modernzen.org; learnreligions.com; mai-ko.com/travel; AshidaKim.com; Thoughts.com; Organism.earth.com; taosurfers.com; biographyonline.net/spiritual/buddhism/theravada-mahayana.htm; dragonplanet.com; mountaincloud.org; sanpai-japan.com; theconversation.com; wikipedia.com; adishakti.org; faculty.washington.edu; 2.kenyon.ed; quora.com; nichirenlibrary.org/en/wnd-1/Content/14;