One of the most native religions that were practiced in Japan and one of the world’s oldest religions is Shintoism or Shinto, which is the commonly used word to refer to the religion. It was once Japan’s state religion before Buddhism was practiced. Basically, the word Shinto originated from the Chinese word “Shintao,” which means “The Way of The Gods” (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008).
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The Shinto religion mainly involves the worship of multiple gods or goddesses, which are collectively called deities. More specifically, the Japanese term used to describe these deities is “kami,” which means that the beings or gods and goddesses are superior, mystical, or pine (Crystallinks.com, 2008). The Japanese used the term “kami no michi” which literally means the “way of the gods” in their language (Dominguez, 2006) so that they can distinguish themselves from their Buddhist counterparts. The main or most superior being or deity in Shintoism is Amaterasu, the sun goddess who many believe to be the founder of Japan’s ruler dynasty (Dominguez, 2006). As such, it was also believed that the Imperial Family originated from Amaterasu, which is why the Emperor was considered a pine being (Public Service Projects, 2008).
Although the Shinto religion is rich in history, its founder and founding date is not fully known. Even in the earliest documented historical accounts of Japanese people, the exact origin of Shinto cannot be found, which is why most historians and researches have difficulty explaining where its beliefs, cultures, and practices came from. The earliest culture that was found to have practiced the religion is the Yayoi (ReligionFacts.com, 2008). The practices of the Yayoi that were closely associated with Shinto were shamanism and agricultural rites. The shamans were the ones who performed the ceremonies and as a result, other tribes such as Yamato, followed suit and made their respective chieftains as head of the Shinto state (Religion Facts.com, 2008).
Moreover, the history of Shintoism can be pided into several stages or periods. The first period was from the time of Yayoi to the 552 A.D in which the religion was the sole religion being practiced throughout Japan (Global Media Outreach, 2008). However, in the year 645 A.D., then Japanese Emperor Kotoku rejected Shintoism and instead embraced Buddhism, which market the beginning of the religion’s decline. The next period of its history was from 800 to 1700 A.D. in which Shinto was combined or amalgamated with other religions such Confucianism and Buddhism, resulting in Ryobu Shinto or a dual-aspect religion (Global Media Outreach, 2008). It was also during this period that the religion experienced a significant decline as less people were practicing it.
There was also a period that Shinto was revived, particularly due to the efforts of Hirata, who was one of the most prominent scholars of the religion. In 1700, Harata in his writings emphasized the importance of Shintoism as it reaffirms the belief that Japan and its people are of pine origin. His ideas led to the Japanese people’s renewal in the Shinto faith (Global Media Outreach, 2008). In addition, Emperor Meiji made Shinto as Japan’s official religion although people were still allowed to practice Buddhism. It then became a state religion in 1882 and it was also during this time that the belief in the Emperor’s pinity was strengthened (Global Media Outreach, 2008).
The Emperor’s superior status was further reaffirmed following the victories of Japan in World War II. However, after the country’s defeat at the end of the war, the idea that the Emperor was pine was no longer believed by a lot of people. As a result, Shinto was abolished as the official religion of the people of Japan and all its images, shrines, and other objects of worship were removed from government protection and were only preserved by private entities (Global Media Outreach, 2008).
As mentioned above, the main characteristics of the Shintoism was its worship of objects and beings or kami which they consider as pine or superior. This may include even the simplest inanimate objects. The religion also has great worship and reverence for nature, which is why a strangely-shaped rock, waterfall, or even the moon can be considered as kami (Crystallink.com, 2008). Moreover, despite being a well-preserved religion, Shinto has no official scriptures, no organized system of beliefs, and no set of dogmas (Crystallnks.com, 1008) unlike other religions such as Christianity and Islam. It does not have its own moral code and mainly follows the code of Confucianism (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008).
One of the main beliefs of the Shinto is that Japanese are descendants from the sun goddess Amaterasu, which began through the Imperial family. This is also the reason behind the belief that every Japanese was “Kami’s child,” which means that human life is pine and sacred (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008). It is also believed that a pine couple, called Izanagi-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto were the ones who gave birth to the islands of Japan and also to the gods and goddesses that the religion worshipped. Their son and Amaterasu’s brother, Susano, was one of the deities who descended from the heavens to the Earth and was famous for slaying an evil serpent that plagued Japan (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008).
In addition, the followers of Shinto also had high regard for “mushui” (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008) which are the Kamis’ harmonizing and creative powers. It is also their objective to possess “makoto” (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008) which means being sincere or true to one’s heart. Both practices are believed to be the will of the gods and goddesses of the religion.
Furthermore, possibly the distinguishing belief of Shintoism is its “Four Affirmations” (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008). The first affirmation is “Tradition and the family,” (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008) which means that the family is the main tool that preserves tradition and includes celebrations that are associated with marriage and birth. The second affirmation is “Love of nature,” (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008) which treats everything in nature as sacred. It also means that being close to nature is similar to being close to the gods which is why objects of nature are considered as sacred spirits. The third affirmation is “Physical cleanliness,” (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008) which urges followers of Shinto to constantly wash their hands, rinse their mouths, or take baths. Finally, the fourth affirmation is “Matsuri,” (Religious Toleranc.org, 2008) which is the honor, reverence, and worship given to the kami and ancestral spirits.
In general the Shinto has a variety of practices. However, possibly the most notable among them is their place of worship— the shrines. For the followers of the religion, the shrines are the places where kami can be found. Each shrine is dedicated to a certain god or goddess who has his or her own pine and unique personality and powers (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008). The most important shrine structure is the inner sanctuary, called honden. Enshrined inside the honden is a sacred symbol called mitama-shiro, which means pine spirit’s symbol or shintai, which means kami body (ReligionFacts.com, 2008). These symbols are usually in the form of mirrors but there are times when they are wooden images, swords, or other objects. In addition, nobody, except for the heat priest, is allowed to view these sacred symbols and enter the inner sanctuary (ReligionFacts.com, 2008).
Moreover, located at the entranced of the shrine are gateways or torii. Before visitors can enter the gateway, they wash their hands and rinse their mouths on an ablution basin. Upon doing so, they usually pray and make an offering on the oratory. They may also ask priests to conduct special prayers for a certain wish or desire (ReligionFacts.com, 2008).
Another notable practice of Shintoism is its ceremonies. Usually, Shinto ceremonies are done to ask the kami or deities for protection or treatment. These ceremonies largely consists of prayers, offerings, abstinence, and most of all purification through washing with water, which symbolizes the cleansing of the impurities and dust that cover one’s mind (ReligionFacts.com, 2008). It can be said that this practice is similar to the Catholic religion’s practice of praying before the statues of saints and making offerings in order to ask for a certain personal wish.
Moreover, Shitnoism is also known for its ritual dances called Kagura. This dance is usually performed by skilled people and may include group of men, a single man, or a group of girls who are still virgins. It is also the practice of the Shinto followers to wear mamori, which are charms used for protection or healing. In addition, origami, which means paper of the spirits, is never cut or torn as this gives respect to the trees that gave their lives to create origami paper (Religious Tolerance.org, 2008).
As mentioned above, Shintoism does not have any official scriptures or texts like the Bible or Qur’an. However, it has certain books and texts that are considered important not only to the religion but to the entire country as well as they also accounts of the ancient literature, history, and topography of Japan. These books include the Kojiki, which is also called the “Record of Ancient Matters” and the Nihongi or Nihon shoki, which is called “Chronicles of Japan” (ReligiousFacts.com, 2008).
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