University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The Religion of Shinto
Shinto or “the way of the gods,” is the oldest religion in the history of Japan. Many of the Shino beliefs deal with natural disasters, animals, and plants. Over the years Shinto has become more modern adapting to the changing world, but the core of beliefs still remain the same as they were in 6 bce. Over time due to the different emperors and world events Shinto has had to change in order for it to remain in practice. A lot of Japanese culture such as dance, literature, and music stem from the religion, and even today in the 21st century you can see Shinto’s affect on Japanese culture. (Historyteacher, OMF International)
The beginnings of the Shinto faith are not concrete since there were no official recordings of the beginning of the religion. Shinto was said to date back as early as 6 bce. Many local Japanese cults during that time are now grouped under the Shinto religion, but were seen as separate religions prior to the joining of all their beliefs. The first official recordings of Shinto were dated around 8th century AD. Like many religions, Shinto was believed to have begun with animist living in modern day Japan. They praised different spirits such as the sun, moon, and rain to help them in their life. This developed into the idea of Kami the spirit found in plants, animals, etc. The early Japanese created stories and rituals that allowed them to understand the universe and give them a grasp on the idea of life and their existence in their strange and scary world. Other influences on Shinto came from the Korean tribes, which invaded Japan during prehistoric times. All these different cults weren’t seen as a faith they viewed themselves as just trying to understand the natural world. (BBC, OMF International).
After many centuries Shinto became more and more concrete, and now like all religions there are seven dimensions to Shinto: experimental, mythical, doctrinal, ethical, ritual, social, and material. These dimensions are specific only to Shinto and cannot be applied to any other religion. The ritual aspect of Shinto and initiation into the religion is to worship at the kamidana and shrines. When visiting a Shinto shrine it is called Omairi. Upon entering one must respectfully bow before they fully entering the shrine and if there is a place to wash your hands you do it to show a sign of respect this action is called Temizu. Some Shinto rituals that are performed daily are called Harae, and Misogi harai.
Harae is the rite of ritual purification. Every day at the shrine they lay out offering such as food, tree branches, salt, and rice are the usual offerings. Misogi harai can be translated to water purification. This ritual is done daily by a regular practitioner at a shrine, but it can be performed in any setting that has clean running water. This ritual originates Shinto history, when Izanagi-no-OKami returned from he visit to Yomi (world of death). When he returned he performed the first Misogi harai to wash away the defilement he acquired on his journey. (BBC, tsubakishrine, Stephen Gray).
The experiential aspect of Shinto has a lot to do with unity with the kami. Kami or “gods” are the spirits that are worshiped in the Shinto religion. Unlike Christianity, that has saints and prophets, the gods in Shinto are usually elements of nature. Animals, plants, rocs, water are all considered gods in Shinto. Any one can become kami if they “embody the values and virtues of Kami life.” Many emperors or great leaders can become kami; similar to how great and virtuous leaders can become saints in the Christian faith. Kami and nature are not separate but Musubi, an energy that connects the universe, which humans should strive towards, connects them. Kami is special since it is believed that kami created human life. With Kami there are three sects amatsu-kami, kunitsu-kmai, and ya-o-yorozu no kami but because the nature of Kami is always shifting these guidelines are not strictly held. (historyteacher, Japanese-guide, jref).
Shinto’s mythical dimension deals with the origins of Japan. When the universe was created the first deities entered the universe too, they were called Kotoamatsukami. These are the first Gods, which came into existence. They were born in Takamagahara or the world of Heaven. After their existence, the seven generations of kami, also known as Kamiyonanayo, entered the earth. The first two generations of kami were called hitorigami, they were spate from the other five who became male and female pairs. The
hitorigami were said to have stayed to themselves to achieve full spiritual awareness which is why they did not interact with each other. The other five deities were coupled even though they were brother and sister. These deities began to have more and more kids an eventually populated Japan and the earth. (crystalinks).
The doctrinal dimension of Shinto is very unique. Unlike other religions that have the Torah, Bible, the Vedas, Shinto does not have an official sacred text. Although Shinto does not have an official sacred text, that doesn’t mean that they are against sacred texts in general. The two central texts the Shinto faith are the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. Inside these text entails the entire mythological background of Shinto and the early beginnings of the Japanese islands. These texts aren’t necessarily apart of the Shinto doctrine, instead they serve as mythological narratives and historical evidence that inform the reader about the Japanese culture. There are important texts for different sects of Shinto such as the Nakatomi Harea Kunge and Tensho Daijin Giki. These text are used for the Ryobu Shinto denomination, but besides these there aren’t any really essential texts to Shintoism. (Joesph Elacqua).
Shinto is closely related to Buddhism and Confucianism, so some of the ethical dimensions of Shinto are similar to the other two religions. The ethics in Shinto are not based of specific laws or commandments. They are based on following the will of kami. A follower of Shinto will try to live according to kami, and keep their relations with each other in balance in order to live a healthy life. The kami, however, are not always correct. The kami can get out of control and have a negative impact on the people. Examples of this are things such as natural disasters that cause devastation and death, etc. Shinto followers understand that their Gods are not perfect which is why they are a very reasonable and humble religion. The overall ethical dimension of Shinto though is to promote peace and purity in all aspects of life. (BBC, Kenyon).
The social and material dimensions of Buddhism are unique to the religion. In many religions many women are not allowed to perform the rituals of mass, but in Shinto men and women are allowed to perform the rituals. The priests of Shinto, unlike many religions, are allowed to be married and have children. During ceremonies they are aided by young women, who must be unmarried, that wear white kimonos to complete the rituals and ceremonies. Much like Hinduism with the Ganges River, Shinto has places of nature as major symbols and sacred places for them. The torii usually symbolizes the entering of a sacred space. A big place of worship for Shinto is the Nachi Waterfall. It is one of the most well know waterfalls in Japan, and is a popular place to perform the water purification ceremony. There are also many famous shrines such as the General Imperial Shrine at Ise, and there are many other places to worship and sacred places in Shinto. (mail-archive, japan-guide)
The three main question of any religion, what is the human condition?, what is ethical?, what is our destiny? all vary according to the religion . Comparing Shinto and Christianity many of the answers to these questions are different. The human condition in the view point of Shinto is to be one with the universe since there is energy that links humans and the universe together. Whereas in Christianity the human condition is to live and at some times suffer, but o try and follow the examples of Jesus and the saints to gain your entry into heaven. In Shinto anything is ethical if it’s respecting kami. If you are respecting the environment and kami it is ethical. In Christianity what is ethical is what is according to the law. Christianity has many laws given by God that his children must obey. In Shinto our destiny is to go to heaven similar to Christianity. Shinto we would be rejoined with kami in heaven whereas in Christianity we would be rejoined with God in the after life.
The religion of Shinto is very different from our own. Although its origins are unknown, it is the oldest religion in Japan and one of the eldest in the world. Shinto has shaped Japanese culture greatly since it’s first recording in 8th century CE by influencing their art, music, and education. The seven dimensions in Shinto are unique to the religion its self, except for the few that are similar to Buddhism and Confucianism. Faith can learn a lot from Shinto like that fact that they believe the fact that their Gods aren’t perfect and like all of us they too are prone t making mistakes. Shinto is also very in touch with the natural world unlike other religions that separate themselves from nature by believing in a God and going to see him in church. Instead they could go out and look for their God or Gods in all things. Shinto is a very interesting and complex religion since you cannot really read sacred text to discover more about it, instead to be apart of Shinto we must be one with the natural world and the kami.