Matt’s blog

12/10/10

So…without making too many excuses up, I’ll be flat out honest, I put the blogging off for too long.  “Oh I’ll work on it next week” became “Oops it’s the last week of the semester and I’m very, very behind in this.”  Regardless, I figured I’d put one last blog up before the end of the semester with the intent on reflecting on my contribution to the classwork.

For my group work, I worked on the Second Life virtual shrine and temple.  Specifically, I worked on creating the Buddhist Temple for our virtual campus.  Now, I came into this project with no background what-so-ever with Second Life, so I had to learn how to use the program in order to build the temple, as well as, make sure the temple looked as authentic as possible.

Originally, I had came into this project wanting to help with the work that had been completed already.  I wanted to help create things that could be “purchased” (though at a temple, it’s technically a donation) such as different types of omamorii (amulets and trinkets that are said to gain the attention for the Kami for good luck and protection) as well as butsudans (alters used for ancestor veneration in Japan).  Both of these items I wanted to be able to be seen as both a souvenir from visiting our virtual temple that could be used as decoration within someone’s virtual home on Second Life, as well as, a way for people to learn about the significance that these items have in Japanese religious and cultural life.  After a few weeks, however, it was decided that I would instead work on creating a new temple from the (virtual) ground up.

Working on the temple proved to be a decent challenge within itself.  I went from trying to create very small items for interior decorations to creating a building.  The Temple needed to look authentic and having never seen a Japanese Buddhist Temple first hand, I had to work from Second Hand sources such as photos, written descriptions and my peers’ first hand knowledge.  Luckily for me, my best friend happened to have knowledge of Second Life and the building processes within the program, and he was able to help me as I was learning how to build.

I did not model the temple after a specific temple, instead the approach I used was to design a simplistic, yet a Japanese style temple.  I looked at many different photographs of different temples in order to determine what I wanted the exterior of the temple to look like.  A lot of the temples I saw in photographs, had the same shaped base that I chose to go with, but much larger in scale than I felt would fit with the project.  I went with making a smaller sized temple in order to better compliment the shrine that the temple was going to be attached to.  I also felt by constraining the size of the temple, the project would be more practical and approachable for my skill level in Second Life.

The most difficult part of the whole temple was getting the roof to look right.  My friend and I both started constructing prospective roofs that could be used with the overall project.  Mine did not come out so well.  Not only was the roof paper thin and awkward in shape, my roof was also very heavy on prims (which are the basic building blocks in Second Life).  My friend on the other hand, was able to use megaprims that he had in his inventory which significantly reduced prim count and allowed for texturing to be applied more evenly on the roof instead of having problems with textures overlapping.  Ultimately, I chose to go with his roof; the only regret I had to the roof was that the corners are not curved and I never received or was able to find a tile texture that I felt looked good with the temple, so I kept the texture to be wood.

The interior part had its challenges as well.  Finding a Japanese Buddha statue, that had all of the permissions unlocked, was extremely difficult.  I finally found an Amida Buddha hologram (multiple flat prims that construct a box, each with a different picture/segment of the statue on it which gives the impression of a hologram). The hologram was not only free, but I could eventually have it transferred over to another person without running across any problems.  Only problem was, the statue could not be modified.  So, I had to adjust the dimensions of the temple, including touching up the outside of the temple so that it did not look awkward in shape.

The rest of the interior of the temple is built around the Buddha statue.  Jade transferred a lot of her old temple’s previous decorations and I made and purchased a few to add as well.  Inside as well as outside, there are two signs that have pictures of both the outside and inside of a temple.  These pictures are to show what an actual temple looks like that is not limited by my knowledge of the Second Life program.  Both signs direct people to our class website in order to both help educate people about Japanese Buddhism (with explanations that would be far superior than anything I would be able to give) as well as to “encourage” (read: funnel) traffic to our website.

Overall, the experience in the class has been educational.  I have learned a lot about Japanese religion and culture.  I am walking away from this class with a much clearer understanding of what it means to be religious in Japan and the practices and traditions that are associated with this.  The Second Life project was fun and frustrating at times.  I honestly wish more people in class would have chose to work on the Temple and Shrine, but their projects came out exceptionally well and they should be proud of the work they have done this semester.  The Second Life project came out well too and I hope that it can be used by many in order to educate people about Japanese religion and culture.

This came out pretty long (much longer than expected) but I wanted to share my experience with the project with everyone.  I hope everyone has a good break and congratulations to those of you who are graduating this year.

Matt

9/19/10

Well, I’m a little late to the party, but better late than never, I suppose.

Anyway, my name is Matt, I am a super duper senior at Ball State majoring in Religious Studies.  I am probably far too old to still be an undergraduate and I think I have enough Religious Studies credits to have two degrees at this point, but I have managed to not accumulate enough credits to get my diploma.  Mini-rants aside now, I should probably move on to something more relevant to class.

I consider myself pretty terrible with Eastern religion, which would include what we are studying in Dr. Roemer’s class.  Now, I’m not just trying to be really down on myself when I say something like that about my comprehension of Eastern religions.  Growing up in the Midwestern United States, I haven’t really been exposed to these practices much.  Philosophical and religious thought of people who live on the other side of our planet just happens to fly right over my head at times.  I have been getting better over the past couple years, when courses over eastern religions were starting to be offered at BSU, but this is my weakest area.

So, what’s the part of Eastern Religions that has been giving me the most problems?  Well, within the first couple weeks of class, we talked about an issue in Japanese religions that really sticks out with me.  Religion in Japan, is not really the same thing as religion in the West.  In Japan, religion is more about tradition instead of about salvation of one’s soul that a good portion of western religion emphasizes.  From our class discussions and our reading, people in Japan do not consider themselves “religious” even though they might go to a Buddhist temple once a week or a Shinto shrine and honor their ancestors.  By some western standards, we would consider this to be very religious! But to the average Japanese citizen, this is just part of their normal, everyday life.  These religious traditions have become a part of their culture instead of something only the most devout do.

What we, as westerners, think of as Japanese religions is more blended than what the west is accustomed to.  We don’t typically have Jewish synagogues inside Christian churches, where in Japan you might find a Shinto shrine inside of a Buddhist temple.  Some beliefs blend into each other in Buddhism and Shinto in Japan.  For example, you can buy an amulet that attracts a kami at a Buddhist temple, whereas,  typically in the West, you can’t purchase something like a crucifix at a mosque.   This blended atmosphere that religion has in Japan is something extremely new for me as a westerner and something that I find to be interesting and refreshing to look at in the study of religion.

Ultimately, the point I’m trying to put across in this blog is that, as a Westerner, Japanese religions is a difficult field to wrap my mind around.  I have never gone to honor my ancestors at a Shinto shrine, nor have I have meditated at a Buddhist temple (though to be fair I have also never practiced a western religion either, but those are more readily available to study and participate in here)  I am also at a disadvantage because I have never had the chance to go to Japan and observe and study Japanese religions first hand, meaning I have to rely on more writings and documentation than personal experiences.

So, hopefully this mess of a blog can be a starting point for me as I make my way through this course.  Comments are always welcome and encouraged, but try not to make me go “=(”

Matt

One Response to Matt’s blog

  1. Doc Roemer says:

    Welcome! Hopefully, you’ll find that our website can give you a sense of what it’s like to actually be in Japan, seeing some of these things.

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