Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher

The Real Deal: Discovering Shinto with Masatsugu Okutani

Interview JUSTIN ROSS
Photography BERT SPANGEMACHER

Masatsugu Okutani, the only Shinto officiant outside of Japan, explains the ancient practice, its origins, and modern incarnation. In a world filled with distractions, Shinto has something to teach us about getting back to our roots and discovering what are the essential qualities that matter the most. Not confined to the culture where it originated, Shinto philosophies form the basis of a whole swath of practices that are gaining ground worldwide, from the minimalist approach to design, changing consumer behaviors, and even Marie Kondo’s new hit show on Netflix promoting cleanliness and order, Shinto presents an opportunity not just to cut out the clutter in our lives but to understand the world in a whole new way. Masatsugu Okutani is at the forefront of bringing this type of thinking to the western world, advising prominent companies like LVMH, as well as governmental organizations and creative agencies on how Shinto practices can make their businesses more meaningful and successful. 4SEE asked Masastugu Okutani to share with his insights gleaned from his decades of experience as a Shinto officiant and as an advisor and educator of Shinto all over the world.

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

An ancient practice, time-honored traditions that span centuries and generations, a spiritual incubator that spawned a way of thinking so unique it is still difficult to put it into words—Shinto is somewhere between a philosophy and a religion. It is a collection of worldviews that link humanity with nature. It is, put simply, a way of life. And for Japanese people, it is so inextricably linked with their language and culture that it is at the heart of their way of thinking when it comes to everything from the design to food and from architecture to everyday life.

In fact, the ancient Japanese practice has an uninterrupted history that far predates written record: the unbroken chain of rites and rituals has been passed down, from generation to generation, by families devoted to continuing the Shinto practice. And now, for the first time, Masatsugu Okutani, a Shinto officiant from the mountainous region of Nagano Prefecture is bringing these practices to the Western world—first in Paris, and now in Germany.

Who better to learn about the ancient and often mysterious practice of Shinto than Masatsugu Okutani. As the only Shinto officiant living and carrying out Shinto practices outside of Japan, he is uniquely qualified to offer a glimpse into what makes Shinto so compelling and how its essential characteristics can apply in a western context and in our technological world.

Masatsugu Okutani comes from a long line of Shinto officiants. He is the 25thchief officiant (or leader) of the Yabuhara Sanctuary, which traces its history all the way back to 680 AD. After studying Japanese classics, history, and Shinto ceremonies at the Kokugakuin University in Shibuya, Tokyo, Masatsugu Okutani or Masa-san joined the association of Japanese shrines before embarking on an unusual educational path for a Shinto officiant by traveling to the UK for an MBA. But it was probably exactly this experience that made his skills so unique and invaluable to the organization.

Upon returning to Tokyo, he joined one of Japan’s largest and most famous shrines, the Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo. Due to its location and fame, he came into regular contact with the throngs of tourists curious about the site, using this as an opportunity to begin to explain to them about Shinto. He quickly realized this was no simple task and so he decided to develop his methods further at the Meiji Jingu Research Institute—where he studied how foreigners, and Europeans especially, viewed and could relate to the core principles of Japanese culture.

Eventually, Masa-san felt like it was an important step to put his research into practice by bringing the Shinto principles to all new audiences in a completely different context abroad when he moved to Paris in 2011. Now living in Hamburg with his wife and newborn son, I had a conversation with Masa-san to try to understand the fundamentals of the deeply complex system of beliefs that is Shinto and discover what makes it relevant outside of Japan and in our world today.

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

Did you always know that you were going to be a Shinto officiant?

My family job is to be an officiant of Shinto. It has been handed down for more than 800 years, it is quite a long history. We have a family tree and portraits of the ancestors and descendants. We hand down from generation to generation all the stories and history.

My father told me you can do whatever you want to do with your life but my parent’s home is just next to the sanctuary (jinjain Japanese) and so I saw my entire life what my father was doing. Growing up in a small village all the people saw me as a future officiant of Shinto. So, for me it was quite natural to become an officiant of Shinto and I wanted to ever since childhood.

Is it very common for Shinto to be practiced outside of Japan?

There is only one officiant outside of Japan: I’m the only one.

There are some fundamental characteristics of Shinto—there is no founder, there is no sacred scripture like a bible or text, no doctrine and teaching, no theology and philosophy, no concept of belief or non-belief, therefore also believers or non-believers and no provision of good or bad. We don’t have a missionary approach to convert believers.

So, what drives you to raise awareness about Shinto in Europe?

If we can reach the core values of Shinto, the cultural context or traditions don’t matter. If you see people who work at the jinjaor shrines, of course people think it is Japan. People see only the surface, but deeper down it doesn’t matter what it looks like, in fact.

In Shinto there is a concept called musuhi. Musuhi is the vital force including the meaning of birth, propagation, and interconnection, the formation of an organization and the creation of networks. It is the force guiding constructive and sustainable evolution and development and creating harmony at the end. This is the meaning of musuhi—a central value of Shinto; vital force of the human being as a part of nature.

Shinto jinjasare a space or place to maximize the vital force. It is like when you use an iPhone or a gadget you have to charge the battery, otherwise it doesn’t work. It is just like that. To charge the vital force, it is the role of the jinja.

In Shinto, we do lots of Harae, orceremonies of purification in English, to purify the human or a place. This is because things that can weaken the vital force are called Kegare. Ke is like the spirit in Japanese, and kare/gareis like when you don’t give water to flowers and the flower gets weaker and weaker until it dies. This is kegare. We try to remove this kegare as much as possible. The biggest kegareis death—the opposite of the concept of musuhi. Kegareis death, arrested growth and development, and illness or abnormality in the life force—anything which diminishes beauty: objects that are neither sufficiently beautiful or useful (like in Paris, (laughs!)).

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

Speaking of Paris, how is it that you ended up working with some major retailers to integrate Shinto philosophies with their brands?

In France, I did ceremonies in boutiques, for example, and they would bring their dogs or small babies. In Japan, we shouldn’t bring animals to sanctuaries but I couldn’t say no to them. But interesting things happen when I start the ceremony. A baby may be crying, or a dog barking, but just after I start the ceremony they become really quiet and calm. This is because the baby and the animals have no rationality, only sensitivity, so they can feel the space and place change suddenly with the ceremony.

From my experience working with French companies and Shinto, working with major retail brands and fashion labels, they have boutiques but they are worried that this won’t work in the future because people simply come with their money and exchange it for products. So, these companies want to create some kind of place that is more experimental or experiential, which is quite similar with the idea of a jinja. If I can do something to create a space for the consumers, not only to exchange money but a bit more than this. It is going to be more interesting if I can produce something that when people come, they can feel the origin or activate their sensitivity in the space.

What could you teach them about Shinto that is important for us all to know?

In one word, I can say it is all about back to the roots. There is a concept called honmono, which is translated into English as ‘genuine’ but my understanding is a bit different. Honcomes from ki or tree. Honmono consists of two Chinese characters as well as ideographs, honand mono. The derivation of the word hon is the mark on the thickest roots of the tree, therefore honmeans origin or source. Monomeans all energy of all material visible and invisible. People translate it as things, but in Japanese things is shina. Actually, you could write a series of books on the meaning of mono, there are very diverse meanings. From these meanings of the two words, the definition of honmonois an entity which contains and or shows the source. The opposite of honmonois nisemonoor fake. It is a combination of two Chinese characters of human and nasu, which means to do something intentionally. This means using rational thought.

When people say nisemono, it is something people do intentionally. The opposite of rationality is sensitivity. The original meaning of this word honmonomeans natural providence. Nature is honmonobecause it is created with no artificial elements at all. It also means there is no pretense in nature. In other words, fake doesn’t exist in nature. Artificial elements are a function or action of rationality.

Humans have both rationality and sensitivity, but nature doesn’t have rationality. And sensitivity is directly connected to the vital force. In this sense, I worked as an officiant of Shinto from Japan, but these kind of things—sensitivity and rationality—they don’t relate to culture or background so I can communicate them anywhere.

Masatsugu Okutani shinto raw studios Bert Spangemacher
Masatsugu Okutani

How is it that Japan and Japanese culture continues to be incredibly influential and yet still mysterious at the same time?

One of the reasons that Japanese culture attracts western people is because geographically Japan is the end of the Silk Road. Many things arrived in Japan and we ‘japanized’ these things. Especially during the Edo Period, we closed the country. This period was kind of a period of fermentation for Japan—to accept something new, modify it to fit Japanese people, and then innovate something different.

Does this have anything to do with the reason why Japan is considered the absolute top place in the world for manufacturing eyewear?

Japan is a small island and in between Japan and continental China there is a sea, but the sea is quite an aggressive one. In a way, Japan is a bit like Galapagos. That is why subjectivity rather than objectivity is more important.

For instance, Japanese swords, in the world of antiques, only Japanese swords have value for cutting. Other swords from western countries or China, the value is always in the saya, which is the case, because they put jewelry to adorn it. The logic [in Japan] is different. Japanese are more inductive and Europeans are more deductive.
People with a deductive way of thinking, they are very good at strategy and they are curious about theory. But people with an inductive way of thinking, they are really bad at strategy but they are really good at techniques, so they can go to the details a lot.

Is this one of the reasons that you chose to live abroad and bring your knowledge of Japanese culture to a foreign context?

When people say diversity, for example in companies, and they speak about countries or backgrounds, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me to generate dynamism is collaboration between inductive and deductive ways of thinking. They have opposite approaches but when it works it creates dynamism.

Friedrich Liechtenstein IC! BERLIN singer actor artist BERT SPANGEMACHER

Original Thinking

Interview JUSTIN ROSS
Photography BERT SPANGEMACHER

In our age of information inspiration is at our fingertips. But where does true originality come from? We selected some of the most forward-thinking, creative, and authentic innovators in art, design, fashion, and culture to tell us about their perspective on the defining qualities of originality. Innovative, essential, exciting, or eccentric, these are people who are relying on their roots and paving their own way in a world full of strong competition.

FRIEDRICH LIECHTENSTEIN, ENTERTAINER
Eccentric Sensation Starpower | Going Viral with An Original Star of Stage and Screen

“Stand up and dance.”

Friedrich Liechtenstein IC! BERLIN singer actor artist BERT SPANGEMACHER
Eyewear by IC! BERLIN

Describe your self in three words.
And Now Me!

What is Friedrich Liechtenstein all about?
I am a myth maniac. I love stories. Stories are like laws and they shape our lives. You have to tell them long and intense. Once they are the expression of laws that govern, and sometimes the imaginary stories become real. I tell stories in my songs and small films, recently in a 10-episod TV series about gas stations for ARTE (Tankstellen des Glücks). I also made a long movie called “Boccia Boccia” Slow TV for TELE 5.

What does it mean to be original?
The most important things must be hidden.

What have you learned from what you do?
Do more. Own less.

Friedrich Liechtenstein IC! BERLIN singer actor artist BERT SPANGEMACHER
Eyewear by IC! BERLIN

What were the most difficult challenges along the way?
To keep the stories alive on my songs, the Delphinmann and the Elevator-Man.

What are you currently working on?
Music, a graphic novel, and a movie. Currently I’m in Los Angeles, finalizing a movie,The Majestic Sombreo Galaxy – Elevator-Man.

Where do you look for inspiration?
In my ideas from the past.

Do you think of original being “essential” or “innovative”?
That’s not my issue. I’m an artist.

Friedrich Liechtenstein IC! BERLIN singer actor artist BERT SPANGEMACHER
Eyewear by IC! BERLIN

What advice do you have for people to stand out from the crowd?
Stand up and dance.

In ten years where do you want to be?
I want to be dancing with Lana Del Ray.

Tell us about your favorite eyewear and why?
I like the early ic! berlin. This eyewear saved my life as a pop star. Without them I would not be so beautiful. ic! berlin was unique, you see! You see?

Friedrich Liechtenstein IC! BERLIN singer actor artist BERT SPANGEMACHER
Eyewear by IC! BERLIN

Eyewear by ic! berlin
Info @friedrich.liechtenstein.official

Director Spike Lee 4SEE Magazine Interview MARC BAPTISTE

SPIKE LEE – Unafraid and Unfiltered

Text NADJA SAYEJ
Photography MARC BAPTISTE

Most of us know Spike Lee as the Brooklyn film director with iconic glasses, but there is so much to uncover from his distinguished career as a filmmaker and advocate for social change.

Over three decades as an auteur provocateur, the African American director doesn’t shy away from controversy. While we’ve known him as the quintessential black filmmaker, who has directed over 20 feature films, among them, Inside Man, a bank robbery action film, and Malcolm X, which follows the life of the iconic black activist. The success of Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, which won the Cannes Grand Prix last year, has been astounding. Part of this success is due to its cultural relevance, considering it was released a year after the far right rally in Charlottesville, and is based on a memoir by Ron Stallworth, which follows the first black detective inside the Ku Klux Klan.

Director Spike Lee 4SEE Magazine Interview MARC BAPTISTE

The film’s renonwed director, Spike Lee, was born in Atlanta, though the 61-year-old director has lived in Brooklyn since he was a child, growing up in Cobble Hill, then studying film at New York University, where today he is the director of the graduate film program. Alongside continuing to make films, he runs his own production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. Having worked with top African American actors, like Samuel L. Jackson and Denzel Washington, Lee has been called a black genius by The New York Times for his sheer ability to get through to people. “I think it is very important that films make people look at what they’ve forgotten,” he famously said.

His recent Netflix series She’s Gotta Have It, is based on his own 1980s film, which follows a non-monogamous feminist woman in search for love—while keeping her independence. Unconventional themes, too, are peppered throughout his musical, School Daze, a film about discrimination, and the critically-acclaimed feature Do the Right Thing, which explores racial tensions against African Americans in New York City.

Director Spike Lee 4SEE Magazine Interview MARC BAPTISTE

Of course, we can’t ignore his iconic style. Lee is known for wearing baseball caps—mostly his beloved New York Yankees—sportswear, and Gucci blazers. And who can forget his chunky spectacles? Lee’s eyewear is always bold and heavy, but his iconic eyewear ranges from orange-rimmed specs by French designer Jacques Durand, to tortoiseshell glasses by Cazal eyewear from Germany.

In our screen-based culture, he tells tales about human rights and civil rights activists to an audience who might not see them presented in such an illustrious way. Lee is a trailblazer of doing things his own way and getting recognized because of it; true to his roots, he is experimental, inspirational, and creative. As the legend himself once said: “As a writer I want everybody to get a chance to voice their opinions. If each character thinks that they’re telling the truth, then it’s valid. Then, at the end of the film, I leave it up to the audience to decide who did the right thing.”

Director Spike Lee 4SEE Magazine Interview MARC BAPTISTE

Ready for Liftoff

For the speed issue we take a look at forward-thinking disruptors and innovators from the startup capitals of the world. These are the people behind the big ideas that are changing the future, coming up with new ways to look at old problems, and in the process inspiring us by their entrepreneurial spirit and their ambition to execute change.

Photography CHARLOTTE KRAUSS
Interview JUSTIN ROSS

G BEAUDIN, ALEXANDER RENNIE & RICA(RDO) AMARAL, Craft Initiative Agency / bei CRAFT
Inclusion Community Empowerment | Connecting Brands with People and Creating Communities

Company: Craft Initiative Agency / bei CRAFT bar and space
Positions: Founders, CEO, COO, and CBO (Chief Brand Officer)
Ages: 32–49
Location: Berlin
Founded: 2017
Website: www.craftinitiative.agency / www.beicraft.berlin

“Focus, focus, focus on your core concept and don’t get distracted or take on too many tasks; and learn to live with the consequences of your decisions.” – G

What are Craft Initiative Agency and bei Craft?
Craft Initiative Agency is a specialist sponsorship agency, connecting brands and audiences that are the perfect match for each other. Bei Craft is a space to showcase our great relationships with these brands and bring them to the local community who will love them.

What is your mission?
G: Create a level playing field for local and commercial brands by providing a marketplace giving brands access to niche communities and those communities support from brands.
Rica: The bar serves a need to have a location that translates what we do for the agency, where we integrate communities and give access to a platform where comfort zones are respected.

What makes your company different? 

G: Where most agencies that work with brands focus on one or two brands in a specific sector, we work with multiple brands and sectors non-exclusively so we can have greater leveraging power.

What have you learned from starting a company?
G: It is not my first time starting a company, however what I have learned this time around is that it is different when you have an idea that is unique and not been done before, it is 20 times more intense and you must operate on all cylinders at full speed all the time.
Alexander: Focus on your strengths without getting too sidetracked by other opportunities.
Rica: Choose well the people you start a project with. Also to be always true to what you believe and your values.

What were the most difficult challenges along the way?
G: Launching a company in Germany as an expat, you will make mistakes every day and you must learn quickly and adapt immediately and know you will never get it completely right.
Rica: The most difficult challenge is to surpass the status quo, it’s really hard to change the mindset of people.

Where do you look for inspiration as an entrepreneur?
G: I would say that it would be my mother. With sixth-grade education, she ended up with a chain of retail furniture stores, restaurants, and shops. I draw inspiration from success stories.

What does it mean to be a startup?
Rica: Trying out an idea, a new vision, a new way of doing something. You are a startup because you are starting something, it’s the beginning of something new.

Is it important to be first or fastest? 

G: Both! It is like the monkeys with the stone. If on one island a monkey makes a tool out of stone, be assured that at the same time on another island there is another simian with the same idea. Who becomes the great ape is the one who is the first to market the fastest.
Alexander: Being first is great, but if you don’t have the speed to execute the idea, then your potential for larger market rival increases every day.
Rica: For me it’s more important to be relevant—relevant not only for your target but for the communities around it and to the world we live in.

Eyewear
G SALT. MAX
Alexander COBLENS DREHZAHLMESSER
Rica RAY-BAN 3547N

Christian Hartung Eyewear by PRADA SPS55T seated

Ready for Liftoff

For the speed issue we take a look at forward-thinking disruptors and innovators from the startup capitals of the world. These are the people behind the big ideas that are changing the future, coming up with new ways to look at old problems, and in the process inspiring us by their entrepreneurial spirit and their ambition to execute change.

Interview JUSTIN ROSS
Photography CHARLOTTE KRAUSS

CHRISTIAN HARTUNG, VOJD
Fashion Technology Innovation | 3D-printed Luxury Goods, Designed and Produced in Berlin

Company: VOJD
Position: Co-founder and CEO
Age: 30
Location: Berlin
Founded: 2013
Website: Vojd

Christian Hartung, Eyewear by PRADA SPS55T
Christian Hartung, Eyewear by PRADA SPS55T

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Christian Hartung
Christian Hartung

What is VOJD Studios?
VOJD Studios is a Berlin-based design studio offering 3D printing solutions for high-end clients in luxury and fashion markets. With exacting clients like Alexander McQueen and Carolina Herrera, we offer start-to-finish services to conceptualize, design, and implement 3D printing using the most up-to-date hardware and materials of today and tomorrow.

What is your mission?
Capturing the technology of 3D-printing with a vision to build a synergy between luxury and progress, VOJD combines the latest technological innovations with traditional quality craftsmanship to redefine the way we think about design and to introduce a new aesthetic to the luxury fashion industry.

What makes your company different?
Currently, we are the only high-end 3D-printing company for luxury fashion.

What have you learned from starting a company?
One of the key things we have learned through starting a company in the advanced manufacturing space is that physical goods markets are substantially more regulated than digital goods markets and, therefore, the adoption periods for manufacturing technologies are longer than for ICT.

What were the most difficult challenges along the way?
One of the challenges we see is related to the different quality requirements of current 3D-printing technology users. The endurance of an item depends on various parameters related to the material, object geometry, object orientation while processing, processing itself, as well as post-processing. For our clients, durability is crucial, which is why it is an essential part of VOJD’s operations. Our goal is to always assure our pieces match or outperform the quality and stability of non-3D-printed products.

Where do you look for inspiration as an entrepreneur?
Some of the people we met during our time as founders and who have a story that inspires us are Natalie Massenet (Net-a-Porter), José Neves (Farfetch), David Fischer (Highsnobiety), Albert Kriemler (AKRIS), and Virgil Abloh (Off-White).

What does it mean to be a startup?
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Is it important to be first or fastest?
Ideally both.

What advice do you have for people with a great idea who want to start their own business?
Even though everything that can go wrong will go wrong, it helps to write a business plan and as part of this process talk to experts to validate your idea before launching.

In ten years where do you want to be?
We are continuing to research and develop new materials and designs as well as configurations to process and post-process them. All activities are focused on the highest quality standards and the symbiosis between modern technology and traditional craftsmanship—an approach that we believe will push forward the applications of 3D printing in the future.

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