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Shinto; How the Japanese Culture Prays to Nature Rather Than One God


Let’s pray to the gods of nature and learn a little about the Japanese culture at the same time.

Religion is a very special means for some people to ease their mind, and to become one with an unknown force. The most common religions seen in our country follow, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. However, have you ever wondered what the worship of Gods within nature is? This particular religion is huge in Japan and according to Dr. Ann Horak, a University of Texas-El Paso world religions instructor is practiced by 80-90 percent of the country.

I present to you, Shinto.

So what is Shintoism? Shinto or Kami-no-michi as it’s also known as a Japanese religion dating from the early 8th century and incorporating the worship of ancestors and nature spirits and a belief in sacred power ( kami ) in both animate and inanimate things. It was the state religion of Japan until 1945.

Shin means divine, and Do (to) means a way, therefore Shinto translates to the way of the Gods.

The word Kami translates literally into God. So for example, the anime Kamisama Kiss translates into The God’s Kiss with the particle “sama” put as a formality. (It’s a great anime by the way and I highly recommend it to anyone.)

Shintoism, however, doesn’t begin with anime but with the tale of Izanagi and Izanami. These two deities, both siblings, and spouses created the many islands of Japan. They birthed a daughter and two sons. The daughter, Amaterasu became the goddess of the sun due to her radiant beauty and their first son Tsukuyomi became the god of the moon. Their second son Susanoo became the god of storms due to his temper.

The legend goes that Susanoo visited Amaterasu in the sky after climbing the ladder to the heavens. He, with his want to cause problems, tried his hardest to upset his sister, but she remained extremely patient with him. One trip he threw mud at her feet and she at that point snapped. Amaterasu left the heavens and hid within a cave which meant the world was dark and demons ran rampant. Not only did the people of Japan begin to fear for their lives, the Gods became concerned.

According to Ancient.eu, “The gods tried all manner of ways to persuade the peeved goddess to leave the cave. On the advice of Omohi-Kane, cocks were set outside the cave in the hope their crows would make the goddess think that dawn had come. The gods also placed a large sakaki tree (Cleyera japonica) outside the cave and decorated it with sparkling jewels (magatama), fine white clothes and a mirror at its center. In addition, the goddess Amenouzume (or Ama-no-Uzeme) danced so wildly in a strip-tease routine that the other gods’ uproarious laughter finally excited the curiosity of Amaterasu. Opening the blocked cave just enough to see what was going on and whilst distracted by seeing her stunning reflection in the mirror, the strong god Ame-no-tajikara-wo yanked the goddess out of the cave. Tuto-Tamu then held behind the goddess a pole of plaited straw and emphatically stated that the goddess could hide no longer and the world was once more bathed in her radiant sunlight.”

These are really the roots of this particular religion and as more modern Japanese individuals continue the tradition it’s starting to spread within the digital culture. Perhaps the most famous person to practice Shintoism would be animater and academy award winner Hayao Miyazaki.

Miyazaki is famous for working with Ghibli Studios and has released movies such as Spirited away, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. These movies completely follow the Shinto belief in which everyone is connected with nature and the spirits that live within everything.
“Howl’s Moving Castle”

“Spirited Away”

Keeping in mind the Shinto belief watching these movies has a whole new meaning. Now, you might be asking, how does this affect real-life Japan. Well, considering that more than half the country follows it, Shintoism can be seen everywhere.

The most common sights are Torii gates or shrine entrances. Many torii gates are found in rural areas and are usually the first thing that is thought of when talking about the gates, but there are many gates that litter the city centers as well.

(Click the images to make them fullsize)

Modern Japan also has many fox sanctuaries which can also be depicted in several shrines with stone fox sculptures. Stories depict them as intelligent beings and as possessing paranormal abilities that increase with their age and wisdom.

According to Yōkai folklore, all foxes have the ability to shapeshift into human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others— as foxes in folklore often do— other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Rachel and Jun, a Youtubing wife and husband show us this shrine in great detail. This shows just how close Japanese people are with foxes and their spirits.

This finally rounds us back up to modern Japan and the media culture. The most prominent anime, aside those made by Miyazaki would be Noragami. This anime literally follows these particular gods and the struggle of living with each other. While it is not a completely factual anime, viewers can get a sense of what Shintoism is through here. (By the way, it’s another great anime and I highly recommend watching all the seasons.)

Sources: Dr. Ann Horak, Noragami, Kamisama Kiss, Wikipedia, Ancient.eu, BBC, Rachel and Jun, Howl’s Moving Castle, Studio Ghibli

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