Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pop. Culture in Shinto

Being an important aspect of Japanese culture, it makes sense that Shinto would play a huge part in pop culture in Japan. Aspects of Shinto are scattered all across anime and manga, and characters within these programs even make their way onto various items used for worship in Shinto. It is clear that creators all across Japan respect and admire Shinto culture.

Themes of Shinto, such as kami, are often found within anime and manga. For example, the series Dream Saga tells the story of the Earth being destroyed and recreated whenever it is polluted by humans. It features the Shinto God of the sea and storms, Susanoo, and Amaterasu, the sun goddess. The manga Urusei Yatsura is a parody of Amaterasu being locked into the Ama-no-Iwato cave. Aside from these examples, there are several other series that use these themes.

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Anime Characters Visiting a Temple
(Series: Lucky Star)
Characters within anime and manga often visit temples, and are shown giving prayers and wishing for better days ahead. This often occurs on or near New Years, and is done to give blessings for the new year. Often times, an entire episode or chapter is set aside for this visit, and it often displays important aspects of their culture, such as wearing yukata and receiving a fortune for the new year.

Anime characters are also displayed on items such as ema, wooden plaques with prayers written on them. These are often sold at local shrines. Due to the popularity of anime and manga within the Japanese culture, these are often very popular and loved by members of society.

Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America

While Shinto is not particularly as popular in western culture, there are still followers of the religion living in the United States. The only shrine large shrine located in the United States is the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America. Located in Washington state, this shrine is known for being a place of worship and peace.

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Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America
The Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America is also known as the Tsubaki America Jinja. It is the first shrine built on the mainland of the United States after World War II. Originally built in Stockton, California, it has moved to its current location in Granite Falls, Washington. The shrine not only offers a place of prayer and worship for followers of Shinto, but it also offers several ceremonies, such as wedding ceremonies, shichigosan ceremonies, and private ceremonies for those searching for purification. Festivals from Shinto are also celebrated at the shrine. Amulets and other items associated with Shinto are also sold there. To learn more about the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, you can visit their website here.

While this is the main shrine within the United States, there are also several shrines found on the islands of Hawaii, such as the Daijingū Temple of Hawaii. There is also a shrine located in Colorado. However, this shrine is small, and is dedicated to the worship of Kami. It is located within the Shambhala Mountain Center, and is free for those who wish to visit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki

Like other religions around the world, Shinto has several collections of text that are considered sacred to its followers. For Shinto, these texts are titled the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. These collections are meant to teach its followers about the mythology and history of Shinto's home country, Japan.
The Kojiki is also known as the Record of Ancient Matters. Finished around 712 C.E., it mainly covers the mythology that lies behind the origin of the four main islands of Japan, along with the origin of Kami. The collection contains songs and poems, and is split into three parts: the Kamitsumaki, the Nakatsumaki, and the Shimotsumaki. The Kamitsumaki includes the preface to the Kojiki, and focuses on the deities of creation and the birth of various other deities within the culture, including outlining the myths regarding the creation of Japan, such as the tale of Izanagi and Izanami (Pictured on the right). The Nakatsumaki focuses on the stories of the first fifteen emperors of Japan, from Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor, to Emperor Ojin. The Shimotsumaki picks up from the Nakatsumaki, and recalls the 16th to 33rd emperors, but has a lack of interaction with the deities shown in the first two volumes. To read over a version of the Kojiki, click here.

The Nihon Shoki, or Nihogi, is referred to as the Chronicles of Japan. Finished around 720 C.E., it is known as the most accurate recording of ancient Japanese history, making it respected by both historians and archaeologists alike. Like the Kojiki, it begins with the creation myth of Japan, but goes onto explain the history of Japan, including episodes from mythological eras and diplomatic contracts with other countries. Unlike the Kojiki, the Nohogi is split into chapters, the first few dedicated to the creation myth and the rest going into in depth analysis of the emperors and their times of rule. To read over a version of the Nihon Shoki, click here.

Monday, November 14, 2016


One of the most important concepts of Shinto, if not the most important, is the concept of Kami. While many describe it as the deities that are worshipped and respected within Shintoism, this definition does not necessarily stretch to all that kami encompasses. Kami, in itself, is the spiritual essence in the world.

Mt. Miwa
(Source: Green Shinto)
Kami can be used as singular or plural. However, it essentially stands for the essence of all that is sacred within our world. Many things can be considered as kami. Deities, ancestors, various forces, and natural phenomenon, such as mountains or water, can be considered kami. An example of this can be found in Mt. Miwa, which is worshipped as if it is kami itself, and according to the beliefs of Shintoism, it is. Even you or I could be considered kami. Essentially, everything in the world is seen as kami, and should be treated with the utmost respect and care that a spiritual being, such as a deity, would be shown. 

While kami is seen as the spiritual essence around us, there are specific deities that are specifically worshipped within Shintoism. The main deities are Izanagi and Izanami, the divine pair who created the Japanese Islands. Their legend is recorded within the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, and is greatly accepted as the true mythology and reasoning behind the state of Japan today. To view a brief retelling of their legend, click here.

Overall, kami can be found in all things. It is seen in both living and non-living things, and therefore everything should be respected and kept sacred. Kami is neither good nor bad, and should not be judged as such. They are not perfect, nor are they all powerful. They are exactly like us, as humans living on Earth, and they dwell among us, hiding within plain site, where we can feel and worship them as much as we please.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rituals of Shinto

In Shintoism, the performance of rituals is a key piece of practice. There are rituals for all means of life, from honoring a loved one that has past to purifying your spirit, Shinto covers many aspects important to its followers. While there are many examples of religions within this religion, there are a few main categories of ceremonies that are practiced regularly: purification rituals, rituals to honor ancestors and kami, rites of passage within a lifetime, and festivals.

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A priest performs a purification ritual using a haraigushi on visitors to the shrine
(Source: Brittanica)
Purification rituals could be considered the most important rituals practiced in Shintoism. Due to purification being the main focus of the religion, these rituals are most often stressed the most. Water, known as a purifier in other religions, is a key piece of purification. Also referred to as harae, these rituals can be performed both before entering and while visiting the shrine. Before entering a shrine, a visitor will wash their hands and rinse our their mouths with water using a ladle placed outside. while at the shrine, visitors can also be purified by a priest using a branch from a sacred tree or a wooden stick with strips of paper or hemp tied to it, which is also referred to as haraigushi. Another example of a ceremony that can be performed at a shrine is Misogi, a ritual that utilizes the natural flow of water in nature to purify participants in the ritual. During Misogi, participants will first complete deep meditation and pre-purification, such as rinsing the mouth out with water or sake. Then, participants will stand beneath a waterfall, allowing their impurities to be rinsed away. Finally, they will then retire into another session of self meditation and reflection. While Misogi is most often performed under a waterfall, it can also be completed in other natural bodies of water, such as the ocean. To see an example of Misogi performed, click here.

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A kamidana
(Source: Weasyl)
Rituals can also be used to honor kami. Shrines can be placed in the homes of followers. These household shrines or alters are called kamidana. Usually facing east or south and placed in a quiet part of the home, a shrine replica, vases of leaves and small, white dishes for offerings, such as rice, are placed there. Sitting in front of the alter, there can also be a small mirror surrounded by white pieces of paper. Engraved into the shrine is an amulet, which is meant to absorb evil spirits. When performing these rituals, followers will first wash their hands and mouth with water, then bow twice to the shrine to show gratitude, clap twice to get the attention of the kami and show respect, and then bow once more. Prayers are then completed, and offerings are made to the kami. In addition to this, a family may have a busudan, originating from Buddhism, where offerings can be made to ancestors.

Rites of passage are also an important part of Shinto. After a baby is born, their first important ritual is their first visit to their local shrine, where they are blessed and introduced to the kami. Then, the next ritual comes when they are either five (for boys), three (for girls), or seven (for girls again.) This is called the Shichi-Go-San blessing, when a child dresses in special attire and goes to the shrine for blessings of protection and good health. The coming of age ceremony doesn't occur for children of Shinto until they are twenty, when they participate in Seijin-no-hi, also known as coming of age day. On this day, girls dress in traditional clothing, and boys may as well. It is marked by blessings at shrines, speeches by local officials and parties. Weddings are also seen as rites of passage in a persons life, and usually include ceremonies at shrines where the couple is blessed by a priest and can participate in events such as San San Kudo, where the couple drinks from three cups of sake.

Festivals are a major part of Shinto, and there are many of them that occur all through out Japan. These are often seasonal, and there is at least one if not more occurring each season. These festivals are usually made up of three parts: the welcoming of the kami, a parade with a portable shrine for the kami, and returning the kami back to their home. An example of this would be the welcoming of the New Year, where followers clean their homes and complete their first shrine visit of the year. Other festivals include Niiname, a fall festival held in honor of the rice festival, Girl's Festival, celebrating daughters by placing dolls out on display, and Children's Day, which celebrates the children within Japan.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Forms of Shinto

Shinto, also known as Kami-no-michi, is the primary religion practiced within Japan. Since its establishment around 500 BCE, or theoretically, earlier, this religion has changed its state of practice and following within Japan. As the country has developed, so has its religion. At this point in time, there are three primary forms, or versions, of Shinto that are historically recognized: folk Shinto, shrine Shinto, and state Shinto.

A Festival on the Inland Sea, being completed by Islanders
(Source: Green Shinto)
Folk Shinto is known as the form focused on the individual, rather than the preferences of the entire population of Japan. In this form of Shinto, rural communities and groups are given the chance to show their own preference to a certain form of kami that appeals to them, and reflects that particular individual and/or groups preference in terms of mixing Buddhism and Shinto. Examples of this form of Shinto can be seen in things such as small images on the side of the road, an agricultural festival practiced by a certain family or families, and the worship of their local 'deity,' such as the Hachiman, the god of War, or Inari Okami, the god of agriculture and rice.

Shrine Shinto is one of, if not, the most common form(s) of Shinto that can be observed through out the country of Japan. It is represented by the many shrines that are scattered through out Japan. Dating back to the pre-history of Japan, shrine Shinto was once closely associated with state Shinto, and involved worshipping the Emperor of Japan as a living god. However, as Shinto has developed, shrine Shinto has become more about its followers, emphasizing purification, harmony with nature, and offering blessings for good fortune and health within its followers lives.

Lastly, state Shinto focuses on the state of the Emperor of Japan, and focuses on their state as the symbol of their country and the unity of its people. Dating back to the 1800s, state Shinto greatly biased and ridiculed other religions, such as Christianity and Buddhism, and was hailed as the state religion in an attempt to promote nationalism and patriotism within its people. After the end of World War II, state Shinto was seemingly disbanded, but is still practiced today. As mentioned above, shrine Shinto was closely associated with state Shinto for a time, but the two have separated themselves from each other.

Another section, or form, of Shinto that is not noted as a primary section is sectarian Shinto. While it is not thought of as a major form of Shinto, it still involves many Shinto practices. At its root, sectarian Shinto involved the creation of 13 sects, or groups of followers, around the beginning of the 19th century. Since this time, there have been many other sects that have been created. Each sect has its own rituals, and follow their own chosen 'deity,' or form of kami. Others may follow a form of almost monotheistic practice, or following strictly one god and one god alone.