This is the basic religion of Japan which celebrates life. It is focused on the kami or sense of the sacred. It is the essesnce or soul of anything that inspires awe.The universe depicted is amoral and indifferent. Virtue is not necessarily rewarded nor is evil always punished. Shinto provides the Japanese creation myth but no afterlife. Death is the end. Shinto has no moral code. Society provides through its etiquette the moral code which is partly based on ideas introduced from Confucian philosophy. Morality is a human, social concept.
Shinto is a community based religion. The community may include all Japanese or those who live in a specific area or individuals who respond to a particular kami.
The priesthood is focused around the rituals of shrine (jinja) worship and maintaining Shinto practice. They may on occasion serve as counselors but their main obligations are service to the rituals of the shrine and kami.
The shrines are territories marked by the presence of gates: torii and shimenawa or wrapped straw and paper. The gates are of various sizes and are usually painted red. Shrines may be dedicated to a specific deity but may also include various kami and may also be found in Buddhist compounds and temples as well as everyday places. Shrines have a distinctive architecture that features a peaked roof and is either natural wood or painted in red.
Some shrines have regular festivals, matsuri, that commemorate dates related to that shrine or deity. These festivals include parades, music and dancing, sometimes theatrical performances of plays or Noh drama, food and games and often the travels of the mikoshi or portable shrine. Miko or shrine maidens may engage in divinations through trances. Everyone is welcome at shrine festivals.
The mikoshi is a portable shrine. It is carried on the shoulders of people in the area. If the mikoshi it large it will be carried by many people, mostly young men but some shrines have chosen to have small ones carried by children. The mikoshi is a way for the god to mingle with the people and see how they live.
The sacred treasures of the shrine are either a sword, mirror or jewel in which the spirit of the god is said to dwell. These are rarely displayed but kept inside the shrine main building. The sacred sword is said to be one used by Susanoo (brother of the sun Goddess) to defeat the eight-headed dragon. The jewels (magatama) are a necklace said to belong to Amaterasu Omikami and the mirror (kagami) is also said to belong to her and hold her image.
One goes to the shrine for happy, community events such as births, weddings, planting, building. These events welcome new members to the community and indicate new beginnings. The gods are asked to protect its followers and to bring prosperity. Blessings of the gods are also sought through amulets (omamori) which provide protection from danger or pain and also bring the power of the god to provide success and prosperity.
Entering a shrine is entering a sacred and somewhat dangerous space as you are coming into the presence of power, therefore, the person who enters must be ritually, spiritually purified. The elements that provide purification are: water, salt, fire, sand and sake (alcohol).
When one enters a shrine compound, usually a water purification ritual is performed by scooping up water at a basin provided and cleaning ones hands and mouth. Then you proceed to walk around the compound where you will find various shrine buildings and occasionally trees, rocks or other items deemed to have some sense of kami or spiritual power. Sometimes there will be a fire burning and people will waft the smoke over their heads. The most imprtant value in Shinto is cleanliness both physical and spirtual and pollution, which is mainly identified with blood and death, must be avoided as much as possible but can be erased through elaborate ritual.
This sense of entering and leaving sacred or dangerous space has left its influence on Japanese society in a sense of spiritual compartmentalization that affects the way in which the Japanese designate space and interact with one another.
There are various kinds of kami, variously estimated at about 8 million, but the main ones identified are:
kami - spirits which may be found in water, rocks, trees and other natural manifestations which have a particular aura about them. These places and things are usually set off with a nawa or rope of straw festooned with paper.
earth elements - sun, wind, rivers. The most important kami is Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun Goddess and ancestress of the Imperial family. The kamikaze or divine wind has saved Japan from invasion.
powerful forces - war, health, agriculture. Inari-sama, the God of Agriculture has shrines all over Japan and is often represented by the fox.
- deceased persons - Sugawara Michizane, Emperor Meiji. Michizane was a courtier in the Hieian period who became a deity after death when a plague that struck Kyoto was identified as caused by him in revenge for being exiled. This led to the Gion Matsuri the oldest continuously performed religious festival in the world. He is also the god of calligraphy and learning and every year on the 2 of January, students go to his shrines to offer their first calligraphy of the year and also to ask for help in the important entrance exams.
- foxes, racoons, rabbits and cats are the tricksters of Shinto and there are many stories of human encounters with these animals who cause problems for those unlucky enough to encounter them.
- Human emotions such as anger, jealousy, or mirth can
also be kami.
Shinto does not deal very well with death which is associated with corruption and decay. Therefore, this aspect of life is mainly dealt with by Buddhism. All individuals who die become kami. People who have died peacefully and happily amid their family are the revered ancestors but not everyone dies this way. Those who die without family to care for their kami become hungry ghosts (an idea imported from China) who wander and can cause trouble. A person who died violently or who led an unhappy life can be a source of danger or trouble to others. Things are done to ease these spirits. Sometimes flowers will be left at a place where someone died in a car accident or of a heart attack. Or small stones will be piled up to indicate a place where the sacred space touches on everyday space.
There are thousands of kami. According to one scholar there are 8 million dieties in Shinto. The stories of the gods are told in the Nihongi and the Kojiki. These tales depict an amoral (at least in the Western sense) universe. These stories are still popular and the source for plots and images in all forms of Japanese art, poetry, literature including the newer forms of manga and anime who rely especially heavily on the myths for characters and story plots along with their imaginative interpretation by modern artists and writers.
Besides seeking blessings, the rituals also are to pacify those gods seen as fearful or able to cause damage such as Hachiman, the God of War. Shinto has had a major impact on the Japanese view of the world. Sumo wrestling began as an offering of strength and entertainment for the gods in Shinto temple grounds. It was not a popular sport until this century and the sumo ring still has elements of the Shinto shrine in the canopy above and in the ritual stomping of the ground and tossing of salt before an individual bout and in the ceremonies at the opening and closing of matches.
The Seven gods of Luck are from Chinese Taoism. Not much from the Taoist tradition entered Japan as much of it was similar to the Shinto already practiced but these gods are sometimes found displayed in business and homes: 1) Benten - goddess of music, arts, beauty and fertility (identified with Ryugu Otohime - Shinto Princess of the Dragon Palace - sea); 2) Hotei - the fat, laughing god of happiness; 3) Jurojin - the god of longevity; 4) Fukurokujin - the dwarf god of wisdom; 5) Bishamon - the armor clad god of religious zeal; 6) Daitoku - the generous god of wealth and 7) Ebisu - the god of honest labor. They are often depicted traveling on the Takarabune (Treasure ship).
one", one of two aspects of Shinto Kami, and nigimitama
(benevolent). Rituals are performed to bring this duality into balance.
Ema - letter to the gods (on a small wooden board)
Goriyaku efficacious benefits bestowed by divine entities upon human beings in this lifetime. They must be sincerely petitioned and gratitude must be shown or there will be divine retribution (tatari)
Guji - highest rank of Shinto priest.
*Harae, harai Shinto purificatin rituals.
Hitogami "person-deity" end product of the process of deification of important human leaders of a clan.
Jinja a Shinto shrine. Other words signifying the temporary residence of kami are: jingû, miya, oyashiro, hokora.
*Jichinsai - land calming rituals.
Kagura a performance of music and dance within the shrine which is thought to pacify and entertain the kami.
Kamidana a Shinto altar in a private home.
Kannushi a common word to signify a Shinto priest.
Kansha gratitude to the kami for benefits received.
*Kashiwade The custom of raising one’s hands to the level of one’s chest and then clapping two or three times in succession. Signifies an individual’s respect for the kami.
*Kegare a pollution, defilement or the waning of the vital life energy. Purification rituals are designed to address and eliminate the destructive effects of kegare. Also called tsumi or imi.
*Makoto sincerity, truthful, conscientious. Essential attitude in Shinto practice.
Matsurigoto a synthesis of politics and religion.
Miki sake (rice wine) offered to the kami and later shared by those present at the ritual.
*Miko female shrine attendents.
*Misogi water to purify mind and body.
Norito invocation prayer delivered to the kami.
Omikuji - fortune
Omairi formal or informal visits to a shrine.
Reikon a spirit, that must be pacified and kept in check so its influence does not impede the normal functioning of life energies.
Reisai annual or semi-annual main festival of a shrine
* Sanpaisha - worshiper
Seimei purity and brightness of heart.
*Shinsen food offerings presented upon an altar to the kami. (always include: rice, water, salt, sake, and food representative of the sea, mountains, and plains).
Shintai a material object in the shrine’s holiest pace. The kami inhabit it during rituals.
Tamashii soul, spirit, ghost, can have both benevolent and malevolent aspects.
*Temizuya water basin at the entrance to a shrine where initial purifications of hands and mouth are performed.
*Torii gateway to a shrine. Boundary marker between the sacred and profane.
Tsumi anything from one’s own experience of sickness, error or calmity to encounters with the death or misfortunes of others.
Ujigami deity of a particular clan or family, have come to represent the protector of a geographical area.
Ujiko those living in the precincts of a particular shrine.
The God enshrined at Kamigamo Shrine is Wake Ikazuchi (god of thunder and lighning).
Taken from John Nelson "Enduring Identities" . The
words with an asterisk * you may be tested on.
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