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Posted 2/27/08 , edited 2/27/08
Shinto is the indigenous, ancient, and original Japanese religion. It is unique in that it has no cannon of sacred literature, no orthodox dogma or doctrine. Actually, this religion had no name until other religions (such as Buddhism) began to appear in Japan-making it necessary to give a title to this religion in order to differentiate between the peoples.

The etymological roots of the Shinto’s title can be tracked back to shin and do. The former translating to “divine being,” and the later to “way.” So, it can be summarized as the “way of the divine being.” (Recall that English is a backward language, when compared to most other tongues-including many Asian languages as well as Spanish.)

Shinto had humble roots, but because it was the indigenous religion of Japan there was a time in which the Japanese government used the religion as a tool to inspire nationalism. However, this was abolished after WWII, and the religion quietly returned to its peaceful ways.

The ultimate keynote of the Shinto religion is kinship with nature. This is accredited to the natural aesthetics of Japan. In the early times, when this religion was young, people lived in tune with nature to such a degree that they took it for granted. So harmonious with nature was their existence that their language actually lacked a word with which to -define- nature. Nature was simply the world around them. Despite Japans rapidly growing industrial end, the beauty of the nation still stands with magnificent islands and awesome mountain ranges.

Amongst these were Mount Fuji, which was considered the emblem of divine creativity.

Life in Japan during those times revolved around the turn of seasons and honoring the sun and moon for their roles in life. The oceans were considered an awesome symbol of purity, redoubtable force, and brightness. Even today we can see the influences of the Shinto religion readily visible to those who know how to look. Advertised in native poetry and painting, even gardening and culinary crafts.

Traditionally there is no omnipotent/omniscient entity in the Shinto religion. However, in a time were substances floated like oil and water a deity sprung forth and shaped the world. This deity bore myriads of Kami (spirits) and two of them were of particular importance. These two are called the Amatsu Kami, or Heavenly Spirits. Their mandate was to organize the material world, and shape the earth. They did this by thrusting a bejeweled spear deep into the vastness of the ocean, and letting brine drip into it forming a series of islands that eventually became Japan. (The world, some say, but it seems more likely-to me, at least-that it was only Japan mentioned here.)

When the Amatsu Kami saw their kingdom they created the Kami Amaterasu. This translates to, “Spirit that lights the heavens,” or -more literally,- “The one who illuminates sky,” though it is often called “The Sun Goddess.”

Kami is a no plural or singular form, because Kami are considered a single stirring essence-a communal entity manifesting itself in many ways and in many places. Kami can be elementals such as fire and water, or they can be of abstract form and concept. Actually, Sakamiki Shunzo says that anything which is to be dreaded and revered for the preeminent power in its possession is classified as a Kami.

A Shinto scholar once said that by making images and idol of the kami we hamper our appropriate worship by distracting ourselves from the kami themselves and instead revering the item in question.

Unlike Judaic and Christian religions the Shinto religion believes that Human beings are naturally pure creatures and that sin is not of our nature. However, through what is called tsumi we are pulled away from our nature and made impure. Impurity can potentially offend the Kami and bring about natural disasters. Ritually purifying oneself is, then, a major part in the way of the Kami.

Methods for doing this include bathing beneath a water fall, or rinsing the hands and mouth with water. The process of “letting a waterfall carry away your impurity” is called misogi, and this requires preliminary purifications-such as dressing in white. This is because the waterfall itself is considered a Kami.

Sexuality is -not- a taboo in the Shinto religion. Actually, Shinto people have been known to bathe together in communal wash areas. Another way of purification is to bathe in the ocean and this was often done in mixed company.

There are forms of exorcism in the Shinto religion. However, these do not carry the same idea as the Christian concept of casting out demons. Rather, these exorcisms are more along the lines of purification of an object. One method of this is to wave a bit of sacred wood from a sacred tree with white streamers at the end over an object while chanting sacred mantras. (The symbolic value of which have, to some degree, been lost over the ages.) This process is called oharai.

The example presented to me in my religions class was of a Shinto priest, dressed in his classical attire, waved his sacred wood and white streamers over a car-to help a young couple concentrate on safe driving while employing the vehicle.

During the Meji are the standing regime created a state cult out of the Shinto religion. They proclaimed the ruler of Japan a “god on earth,” an “august child of the sun goddess.” Over time the belief that the ruler of Japan was the offspring of the Sun Goddess became more widespread. However, at the end of WWII the Emperor announced his morality and humanity.

Today there are over 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan. Shinto is, however, a relatively small religion that fails to even meet the top six.

Note: I translate Kami to mean "Spirit," however, this is a ambivalent translation at best. There is no good English equivalent, but Kami are seen to be energies and manifestations rather than physical entities, so it made sense to use spirits. I've also seen it done before in various text-books.


Main Source:

Living Religions, Copyright © 2005, 2002, 1999, 1997, 1994, 1991, Mary Pat Fisher. Published by Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 07458. Pearson Prentice hall. Printed in Hong Kong.

Online Sources:
(I haven’t checked these out, just gathered them asymmetrically.)
http://www.religioustolerance.org/shinto.htm

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2056.html

http://jinja.jp/english/s-0.html

The religion also appears in the anime, Ghost Hunt. (See my favorites.)
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