Summary of Shintoism

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Shinto (神道 Shintō) is the name given to the non-Buddhist religious practices of Japan. The word Shinto ("Way of the Gods") was adopted first from the written Chinese (神道), combining two kanji: "shin" (神), meaning gods or spirits (originally from the Chinese word shen); and "" (道), meaning "do", or a philosophical path or study (originally from the Chinese word tao). The terms Kami no michi and kannagara also can be used and the meanings are very similar.

Shinto today has about 119 million members in Japan, although a person who practices any manner of Shinto rituals may be considered Shinto, there is debate as to the actual numbers. Generally, it is accepted that the vast majority of Japanese people are Shinto. This same number may also be considered Buddhist and neither faith has exclusivity in their dogma. Most people in Japan practice both.

Creation Stories

The creation story of Japan was written in the Kojiki in 712 CE; it is a depiction of the events that lead up to and including the creation of the Japanese Islands. There are many translations of the story varying in complexity. The basic story line is as follows:

Shinto Art of Izanagi and Izanami Creating the World

Izanagi (male) and Izanami (female) were called by all the myriad gods and asked to help each other to create a new land which was to become Japan. They were given a spear, stirred the water and when removed water dripped from the end, created an island in the great nothingness. They lived on this island, and created a palace and within was a large pole. When they wished to bear offspring, they performed a ritual each rounding a pole, male to the left and female to the right, the female greeting the male first. They had 2 children (islands) which turned out badly and they cast them out. They decided that the ritual had been done incorrectly the first time. They repeated the ritual but according to the correct laws of nature, the male spoke first. They then gave birth to the 8 perfect islands of the Japanese archipelago. After the islands, they gave birth to the other Kami, Izanami dies and Izanagi tries to revive her. His attempts to deny the laws of life and death have bad consequences.

The Japanese islands are considered a paradise as they were directly created by the gods for Japanese people, and were ordained by the higher spirits to create the Japanese empire. Shinto is the fundamental connection between the power of both and beauty of nature (the land) and the Japanese people. It is the manifestation of a path to understanding institution of divine power.

Kami

Shinto teaches that everything contains a kami (神 "spiritual essence", which is commonly translated as god or spirit). Shinto's spirits are collectively called yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神), literally meaning "eight million kami", but interpreted as meaning "myriad", although it can also be translated as "many Kami".

Main Gate of Fushimi Inari, one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan

Beliefs

Impurity

Shinto teaches that specific deeds create a kind of ritual impurity that we should want cleansed for our own peace of mind and good fortune, not because impurity is wrong in and of itself. Wrong deeds are called "impurity" (穢れ kegare), which is opposed to "purity" (清め kiyome). Normal days are called "day" (ke), and festive days are called "sunny" or simply "good" (hare). Killing living beings should always be done with reverence for taking a life to continue one's own and should be kept to a minimum.

Shinto Woman

Modern Japanese continue placing great emphasis on the importance of ritual phrases and greetings (挨拶 aisatsu). Before eating, many (though not all) Japanese will say, "I will humbly receive" (戴きます itadakimasu), showing proper thankfulness to the preparer of the meal in particular and more generally to all those living things that lost their lives in order to make the meal. Failure to show proper respect is seen as a lack of concern for others, and looked down on because it is believed to create problems for all. Those who fail to take into account the feelings of other people and kami only will bring ruin upon themselves.

Purification

Shinto Priest Praying

Purification is a vital part of Shinto. These may serve to placate any restive kami, for example: when their shrine had to be relocated. Such ceremonies also have been adapted to modern life. For instance, a ceremony was held in 1969 to hallow the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, new buildings made in Japan are commonly blessed by a Shinto priest kannushi (神主) during the groundbreaking ceremony, and many cars that are made in Japan have been blessed as part of the assembly process. Moreover, every Japanese car factory that is built outside Japan has had a groundbreaking ceremony performed by a Shinto priest, with an occasionally annual visitation by the priest to re-purify.

A more personal purification rite is purification by water. This involves standing beneath a waterfall or performing ritual ablutions in a river-mouth or in the sea (misogi). This practice comes from Shinto history, at the time when kami Izanagi-no-Mikoto first performed misogi after returning from the land of Yomi, where he was made impure by Izanami-no-Mikoto after her death. These two forms of purification are quite often referred to as harae (祓).

Afterlife

Unlike most other religions, one does not need to publicly profess their belief in Shinto to be a Shintoist. Whenever a child is born in Japan, a local Shinto shrine will add the child's name to a list kept at the shrine and then declare him or her a "family child" (氏子 ujiko). After death an ujikowill become a "family Shinto Tori Gate spirit", or "family kami" (氏神 ujigami). One may choose to have their name added to another list when moving and then be listed at both places. Names can be added to the list without any consent and regardless of the beliefs of the person added to the list. However, this is not considered an imposition of belief, but a sign that they are welcomed by the local kami, with the promise of addition to the pantheon of kami after their death. Those children who die before addition to the list are known as "water children" (水子 mizuko), and they are believed to cause troubles and plagues. Mizuko are often worshipped in a Shinto shrine that is dedicated to stilling their anger and sadness, called mizuko kuyō (水子供養).

Practices

Fujiyoshida Shrine

Omairi - Visiting a Shrine

Any person can visit a shrine and need not be "Shinto" in order to do this. Typically there are a few basic steps while visiting a shrine.

  • Approach the Torii and bow respectfully before entering.
  • If there is a hand washing basin provided, wash your hands left first, then your right, then rinse your mouth, (do not spit back into the water supply or drink), and sometimes your feet as well.
  • Approach the shrine, if there is a bell you may ring the bell prior to prayers; if there is a box for donations, leave a small one 5-10 yen; normally there will be a sequence of bows, (commonly 2) and then claps (commonly 2), hold the second and put your hands together in front of your heart for and a closing bow after your prayers.
Ise Grand Shrine — Kugaraden, the apex of the 80,000 Shinto Shrines

Misogi

The practice of purification through the ritual of immersion in cold water while reciting prayers is typically done daily in the morning by regular practitioners, and when possible, by lay practitioners isknown as Misogi. There is a defined set of prayers and activities that precede the ritual. Usually, Misogis will be performed at a shrine, in a natural setting, but can also be done anywhere there is clean running water. Rivers and waterfalls that are very cold are the preferred places for practice of Misogi.

Harae

The ritual prayers of offerings to Kami, usually done at a shrine daily and is an involved ceremony. Shinsen (food offerings) and Tamagushi (Sakaki Tree Branches) are offered along with Sake. On special occasions the inner shrine doors may be opened and special offerings made on holidays and other different events.

Shinto texts

There is no core sacred text in Shinto, like the Bible is in Christianity or Qur'an is in Islam. Instead there are books of mythology and history providing stories and background to many of the most well-known kami.

  • The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters)
  • The Rikkokushi (Six National Histories)
  • The Shoku Nihongi and its Nihon Shoki (Continuing Chronicles of Japan)
  • The Jinnō Shōtōki (a study of Shinto and Japanese politics and history) written in the 14th century
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