Do you know if this is also the case for Shingon practitioners/priests?
I have little experience with Shingon priests specifically, but it wouldn't surprise me to know of revisionism in Shingon as well. In Jodo Shinshu of all Japanese schools there are priests saying the pure land is really inside you and not something to be reborn in post-mortem (you might not expect that kind of development). Again, a lot of revisionism going around.
In my experience and opinion, Japanese Buddhism as it stands now is degenerate and in many cases (but not all) no longer qualifies as Buddhadharma. Discipline and observances (precepts and so on) might be neglected, but a lot of fundamental aspects of Buddhadharma (karma and rebirth being the two key ones) are simply rejected in contemporary Japan, at least in the intellectual spheres (who are also the upper echelons and leadership). It is largely just a hereditary priesthood that earns a comfortable income, or supplementary tax-free income, by performing archaic rituals that few know the meaning of anymore. The same thing has occurred in Shinto where you have priests who really don't believe that Kami exist, yet nevertheless maintain shrines and perform rituals for money.
If people express an interest in Zen, I advise them to investigate and pursue Chan as it taught and practised in Taiwan. If someone expresses an interest in Vajrayana I'll advise them to look into Tibetan Buddhism for the simple fact that despite all the institutional nonsense you can still relatively easily find legitimate teachers and resources in English. Going for the Kalacakra initiation is a lot easier than getting something of equivalent power in Shingon (which normally requires ordination as a priest). If you want to do Shingon you'll have to learn at least two new languages and live in Japan, or possibly Taiwan. To practise it also requires ordination.
I really like Japanese Buddhism. Its history, figures and ideas really had me attracted to Buddhism when I was a teenager. However, after living in Japan for three years and doing a MA degree there I concluded if you want to practice Mahayana Buddhadharma and not just be an academic, you would do best to pursue the interest either in Taiwan or with Tibetan Buddhism.
Huseng spent three years in Japan as a student, I have been in Japan for thirty-two years now, eighteen of them as a Shingon priest in Koyasan. Perhaps Huseng saw only what he expected to see in Japan, or perhaps his experiences were unfortunate, but what he describes of Japanese Buddhism and what I know of it don't match up.
He says he has "little experience in Shingon" but then goes on to make some extraordinary claims about it. Its quite plain to me that he in fact has little or no experience or knowledge of what Shingon is, or teaches. It would be good, in that case, to refrain from further commenting, but that wasn't the case once again.
Shingon strongly emphasizes both literal rebirth and karma, from page one (literally, I'm referring to a new Shingon English manual that will appear next month). I know of not a single Shingon priest who denies either, including those in the "upper echelons and leadership" of both Koyasan Shingon Buddhism and Koyasan University. The widespread belief is also that Kukai (born 774) himself was Amoghavajra's reincarnation (died 774), and that Huiguo and Kukai alternated appearing in the world as teacher and master for many generations for the benefit of living beings. There are other stories of that type. And the depth of importance and repeated appearance in standard Shingon texts, classical and modern, for all levels of practitioners, of rebirth and karma is undeniable.
Huseng seemed to imply that Shingon does not teach these things, so I would like to make that record straight first. It does, in the traditional way. I don't know what Zen or anything else teaches, but Shingon is not Zen. Perhaps someone else will speak for Zen in Japan.
Huseng states "If you want to do Shingon you'll have to learn at least two new languages and live in Japan, or possibly Taiwan. To practise it also requires ordination." He doesn't recognize my own work over several years now to prepare a complete series of manuals and training materials for a full and formally recognized Shingon training program in English, some already published, the rest to be published within the next two years. Some members here have seen the published material already. This publishing project is run by Kongobuji temple, the temple I work at and the head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism. Also Koyasan Shingon Buddhism's unstinting efforts to establish a new and directly operated training center in the US that will begin operation this year (formal announcement forthcoming), with additional new US centers opening afterwards. The training in these centers using these English materials will be formally recognized and recorded by Koyasan Shingon Buddhism.
Huseng appreciates East Asian culture, but perhaps only when it suits him? I refer to his statement that ordination is required to study Shingon formally. This is absolutely true. As he also well knows (and tells us so often), it is not a fully monastic ordination. It is essentially a fundamental commitment as a lay person (meaning a non-Vinaya holder) to the Shingon path. Is it wrong to ask for a serious and tangible commitment from people before undertaking the very demanding process (for all parties) of formal training? East Asian culture typically requires people to jump through hoops to make progress in any traditional field. You don't get anything worthwhile or authentic just by walking in off the street and asking for it, and particularly not by demanding it. On the other hand, if you are humble, patient, persevering, respectful and play by the rules Shingon Buddhism makes for its own training regimen, you will get everything that there is to offer according to a regular curriculum, nothing held back unless you create problems for yourself. And everything available in English very soon.