On every continent of the world, there are groups of people who over centuries have passed on traditions that have been in their families, communities and cultures that define their way of life. The most influential tradition of them all is the religious belief that the group take to heart. One such religion is known as Shinto. The religion is thought to have been introduced between 500 to 2000 BCE on the continent of Asia, and is closely tied to nature, and recognizes the existence of various “Kami”, nature deities. So we will be looking at the foundations of this religion, how it was formed, and how it is viewed by those who follow its teachings, what is the structure of the religion compared to other religions, and what types of visions the followers seek from the religion.
Shinto, as a religion, does not have a defined founder, as the major religions of the world, such as Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. These religions have documented books written specifically for the followers, so that they can read and absorb the message, so that they can fell apart of the religious belief. So where did this religion come from. Historians have studied the origins of Shinto and have come to the conclusion that Shinto, evolved many years ago as an native religion from Japan, and is still being practiced by many Japanese communities today, and it” is unique in its attachment to nature, and as such, constitutes the basis of Japanese culture.” (John Breen, 2000) Until the relatively recent publication of a series of seminal articles by the historian Kuroda Toshio, the Shinto establishment’s construction of the Shinto past went unchallenged by specialists writing in Japanese, English and other Western languages.
To this day, that construction remains largely unquestioned in non-specialist literature. There is some value, therefore, in a brief rehearsal of both the establishment position and Kuroda’s incisive critique of it. (John Breen, 2000). According to scholars, Shento is thought to be a religion that has been around for many years. The religion is different from others, because it is not a system of beliefs. In the book Mans Religion by John Noss, he states that “It is basically a reverent loyalty to familiar ways of life and familiar placesâ€¦it is true to say that for the masses in Japan love of country, as in other lands, is a matter of the heart first, and of the doctrinal substance second.” (Noss, 1969). The religion is said to not be weighted down with “canons of sacred literature, and no explicit code of ethical requirements. The meanings of many of its elaborate rituals are unknown by many who practice them. Historically, individual clans apparently worshiped a particular deity as their own
ancestors.” Which included invisible spirits and natural powers, “but such worship was localized until the eighth century CE, when the term “Shinto” came into use to distinguish indigenous Japanese ways from Buddhism and other imported religions. Shinto is different in, its connection to the natural belief, and, is the bases of the Japanese culture. The religions label “Shinto” was formed from the words shin (divine being, which can be read as kami) and do (way).” (Fisher, 2008) Clark B. Offner defines Shinto as “the traditional religious practices which originated in Japan and developed mainly among the Japanese people along with the underlying life attitudes and ideology which support such practices.” (Offner, 1976) one of the differences of this religion is that it has a free style of belief, and is not so drawn to predispositions as other religions are, they believe the spiritual, kamis are present and take various forms. In Shintaku’s book; The Way of the Kami, he believes that “the belief is in the spiritual world and knowledge that the earth is inhabited by both humans and kami alike.” (Shintaku, 2011) In the religion, sin is considered original, but a condition of personal moral development and a connection with the Kamis’ . According to historians, the oldest recorded usage of Shin-do is in the Nihon-shoki dating to the Emperor Yomei between 552-587, who is said to have believed in the law of Buddhism and revered the way of the kami. The word kami is often translated to “god” with a small “g”. This is usually taken as grounds for claiming that the religious culture of the Japanese is polytheistic.
The above may be confusing to those who know the Japanese language, because the language has no distinction between singular and plural and “although there may be many kami, they all share the same character.”
“Kami thus refers to the essence of many phenomena that the Japanese believed were endowed with an aura of divinity.” (Picken, 1994) Shintoism is filled with an inestimable quantity of kami inherited spirits of the people of Japan. Some worshipers have the belief that the deceased become kamis’ after passing. Shintaku notes in the way of the Kami ” they live on in the afterlife as special kami. Respect for family has high priority of the people of Japanese culture with roots deep within Shintoism.” (Shintaku, 2011)
One often told story, is about the sun goddess Amaterasu-o-mi-kami ( “glorious goddess who shines in the heavens”). The story taken from Shintaku’s book talks about how the goddess was lured out of hiding by festive sounds, music and dancing. She was hiding because of her disapproval of her siblings actions, and out of the store came symbols that are special to Shinto believers. “1. A mirror (to reflect your true nature and the symbol of Amaterasu -o-mi-Kami). 2. A sword (symbol of power and Susano-o-no-Mikoto) 3. A jewel to represent one’s influence over others.” (Shintaku, 2011)
The place for those who worship the religion of Shinto occurs at any of the many shrines that cover Japan. Even though many people have constructed personal alters around their homes, the main place to worship is at a local shrine. Because Shinto has numerous deities, it is hard to worship all of them. Because of this, many are not worshipped consistently other than the sun goddess. Outside of Tokyo, there is a grand imperial shrine that is dedicated only to Amaterasu. This location is the most sacred in all of Japan for worshipers of Shinto. It is said that this place of worship pre dates Christ. Shinto followers make a pilgrimage to the sacred worship site and pray in the outer court of the facility, one rule when coming to this site to worship, is that non priests and public servants’ must pray in the outer area because the internal facility is available only to the priests and public servants’ for worship. The following Shinto prayer faithfully recited during their visit that shows the intertwined spirit and nature that the religion encompasses as presented in Stewarts book the Handbook of Today’s Religions;
“I declare in the great presence of the From-Heaven-shinning-great-deity who sits in Ise. Because the Sovereign great goddess bestows on him the countries of the four quarters over which her glance extends, As far as the limit where Heaven stands up like a wall, As far as the limit where the blue clouds lie away fallen- The blue sea plain as far as the limit whither come the prows of the ships without drying poles or paddles, The ships which continuously crowd on the great sea plain, And the roads which men travel by land, as far as the limit whither come the horses’ hoofs, with the baggage-cords tied tightly, treading the uneven rocks and tree-roots and standing up continuously in a long path without a break- Making the narrow countries wide and the hilly countries plain, And as it were drawing together the distant countries by throwing many tens of ropes over them, He will pile up the first-fruits like a range of hills in the great presence of the Sovereign great goddess, and will peacefully enjoy the remainder. “(Stewart, 1983)
As shown in the prayer, nature and spirit has a very close relationship to the mindset of those who are worshippers. And because the livelihood of the people comes from the natural essence of their surroundings and everything natural, their economy, is an extension of their belief, so it too has a place in the religion as well. As it is said, that the religion “is concerned not only with the sacred but also with the secular, all activities necessary for the production of nourishment, clothing and shelter, and the development of culture and giving happiness to the world, has a direct connection with the kami.” (Ono, 1962)
In order to ask for blessings and enlightenment, worshippers engage in festivals, rites, & ceremonies. Some celebrations such as the New Year, a child’s birth, puberty, farming, marriages’, and ceremonies for new construction are some of the main ones. At the local shrines, regular festivals are held to acknowledge special dates that relates to the worship site and its deities, along with a plethora of blessings ranging from a good harvest, fertility, health, and success of a business. Many shrines use the planetary calendar for traditional ceremonies. Some events on are, the new moon, the first half-moon of the year, the full moon, and the half-moon of the last three months of the year are said to be a sacred period that are known as “Hare-no-hi.” ke-no-hi are said to refer to the remaining days of a month. Stewarts breaks out the Festivals into three main parts. “1. Kami Mukae, “Welcoming the kami.” A special welcoming ceremony to invite deities to earth. 2. Shinko – The main event, typically with the local community parading in the streets or shrines with palanquin, in which the kami are enshrined. 3. Kami Okuni, meaning “sending the kami back” to their heavenly abodes. Not ending with this ritual, is thought to invite disaster.” (Stewart, 1983)
Even though the religion of Shinto does not have a formal document to follow, it does have traditions, rituals, temples, and deity(s) as the more known religions. Peace harmony to all life form and nature are the takeaways from this information. The peaceful admiration of nature and all natural things is thought to bring a spiritual feeling of purpose to all, and to give thanks for being apart of what was created by the gods should be worshiped and protected.
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below: