World Religions


Shinto (sometimes called Shintoism) is a native religion of Japan and was once its state religion. It is a form of animism. It involves the worship of kami, which can be translated to mean "sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility". Some kami are local and can be regarded as the spirit or genius of a particular place, but others represent major natural objects and processes, for example, Amaterasu, the Sun goddess. The word Shinto was created by combining two kanji: "?" shin, meaning gods or spirits (the character can also be read as "kami" in Japanese), and "?" to- meaning "way" or "path" in a philosophical sense (the same character is used for the Chinese word Tao). As such, Shinto is commonly translated as "the Way of the Gods"
After World War II, Shinto lost its status of state religion; some Shinto practices and teachings, once given a great deal of prominence during the war, are no longer taught nor practiced today, and others remain largely as everyday activities, like omikuji (a form of drawing lots) and Japanese New Year, that few identify with religious connotations.

Shintoism History

number of theories exist about the ancestors of today's Japanese. Most scholars accept there was migration from central Asia and to a lesser extent from Indonesia, though there Shinto first developed. Nationalists claim that it has always existed, back into the mists of the Jomon age. Others maintain that it came about in the Yayoi age as the result of immigrants from China and Korea, who brought agricultural rites and shamanic ceremonies from the continent which took on Japanese forms in the new environment. Some modern scholars now claim that "Shinto" as it is presently understood did not exist in this age at all and should be more properly referred to as 'kami worship'.
In the early centuries BCE, each tribe and area had its own collection of gods with no formal relationship between them. However, following the ascendency of the Yamato Kingdom around the third to fifth centuries, the ancestral deities of its Imperial family were given prominence over others and a narrative made up to justify it. The result was the mythologising of Kojiki (712) in which it was claimed that the imperial line descended directly from the sun-goddess herself. Another important kingdom, Izumo, was dealt with in a separate cycle within the mythology and its deities incorporated into service of Amaterasu's descendants. A more objective and historical version of events appeared in Nihon Shoki (720), where alternative versions of the same story are given.
Early shrines are thought to have been held outside before copses or sacred rocks (iwakura). There was no representation of the kami, for they were conceived as formless and pure. After the arrival of Buddhism in the sixth century, the idea of building 'houses' for the kami arose and shrines were built for the first time. The earliest examples are thought to have been at Izumo (659) and Ise (690).
An important development was the introduction of the Ritsuryo System in the late seventh and early eighth centuries, based on the Chinese system. This established in law the supremacy of the emperor and great nobles, as well as formalising their relationship to major shrines and festivals.
Even before the arrival of Buddhism, the rituals involved in kami worship had borrowed from Chinese Taoism and Confucianism. Though clan rivalry led to friction and fighting during the introduction of Buddhism, the worship of kami and buddha soon settled down into happy coexistence. In fact the emergence of a syncretic shin-butsu (Shinto-buddhism) was to become the dominant feature of Japanese religion as a whole.

Shintoism Cultural effects

Shinto has been called "the religion of Japan", and the customs and values of Shinto are inseparable from those of Japanese culture prior to the influx of Chinese religious ideas that occurred in the mid 6th century. Many famously Japanese practices have origins either directly or indirectly rooted in Shinto. For example, it is clear that the Shinto ideal of harmony with nature underlies such typically Japanese arts as flower-arranging (ikebana) and traditional Japanese architecture and garden design. A more explicit link to Shinto is seen in sumo wrestling, where, even in the modern version of the sport, many Shinto-inspired ceremonies must be performed before a bout, such as purifying the wrestling arena by sprinkling it with salt. The Japanese emphasis on proper greetings and respectful phrasings can be seen as a continuation of the ancient Shinto belief in kotodama (words with a magical effect on the world). Many Japanese cultural customs, like using wooden chopsticks and removing shoes before entering a building, have their origin in Shinto beliefs and practices. Also, a number of other Japanese religions, including Tenrikyo, have originated from or been influenced by Shinto. Tenrikyo is a religion of Shinto origin with some Buddhist influence.

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  Facts about Shintoism
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