By Lucia Jervis

Semester at Sea students crossed the world and arrived to their second destination in Japan. The majority of Semester at Sea participants are citizens of the United States and practice religions and have spiritualties that are very different to what is practiced in Japan. 

Most Japanese people practice Shintoism and Buddhism, whereas, most Americans practice Christianism or Judaism. Given the amount of cultural and religious differences that Japan and the United States have, Semester at Sea students, faculty and staff had to prepare themselves for the culture shock, but they were also educated on how to be respectful and follow the norms in an environment that is so different from their own. 

In several tours, Semester at Sea participants visited Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and spiritual places where they could discover their fortune. 

Even though some students follow other religions, in Japan they had the opportunity to not only learn about Buddhism or Shintoism, but also to practice it. 

“I consider myself to be Catholic, so there is one God and one Bible that we in theory follow. I would say that I have a modern interpretation of what that may be and I try to go about it in an open-minded way,“ North Carolina Chapel Hill senior, Jacqueline Swan said. “I think that the most powerful thing for me in visiting all the shrines that we went to, was that there was an aura of gratitude when you went there, it didn’t matter what your religion was or if you had a religion, but it was just an opportunity to take a moment of pause and think about the things in your life that you have to be grateful for”. 

People visit Shinto shrines and pray to the Kami- spirits that can change your fortune and quality of life. For some students, the spirituality and peace that they felt while visiting these places was liberating and it helped them understand the Japanese form of thought and life. 

“I think that Japan was a very interesting experience in terms of Shintoism.  I really liked how they believe in doing actions in order to affect their surroundings, affect their lives, or affect the way that their life is going to turn out,” María Alejandra Vega, a student at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterey campo Santa Fé, said.

After only spending a couple of days learning about the beliefs and values of Shintoism, the perspectives of some students changed.


“I don’t practice my spirituality every day and I don’t incorporate it into my daily life, so Shintoism was very interesting for me and that is something that I definitely have to apply to my life,” Vega said. . 

According to Professor Dr. David Hackett, who teaches Religions of the East in Semester at Sea and teaches at the University of Florida, Shintoism is an incredibly important component of Japanese culture. He states that if a person is Japanese, then they are Shinto. Hackett believes Shintoism is enfolded up in identity and nationalism. 

“Spirituality really doesn’t have flavors. Spirituality is an experience, as I understand it, of a transformation of consciousness in which you have expansion of time, diminishing of ego boundary and connection with everyone else in the surroundings,” Hackett said. “That can be arrived at in many ways. It can happen in a Shinto shrine, it can happen in a Catholic Church, it can happen brushing your teeth; it’s a matter of a change of consciousness.”