By C.C.

Thank you, Wikipedia, for your excellence.

These excerpts are from there:

“Shinto is a religion in where practice (actions) and ritual, rather than words, are of the utmost importance. Shinto is characterized by the worship of nature, ancestors, polytheism, and animism, with a strong focus on ritual purity, involving honoring and celebrating the existence of Kami (神?). Kami are defined in English as “spirit”, “essence” or “deities”, that are associated with many understood formats; in some cases being human like, some animistic, others associated with more abstract “natural” forces in the world (mountains, rivers, lightning, wind, waves, trees, rocks). It may be best thought of as “sacred” elements and energies. Kami and people are not separate, they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.[2]

Shinto currently has about 119 million known adherents in Japan,[4] although a person who practices any manner of Shinto rituals may be so counted. It is generally accepted that the vast majority of Japanese people take part in Shinto rituals, while most would also practice Buddhist ancestor worship. However, unlike many monotheistic religious practices, Shinto and Buddhism typically do not require professing faith to be a believer or a pratitioner, and as such it is difficult to query for exact figures based on self-identification of belief within Japan. Due to the syncretic nature of Shinto and Buddhism, most “life” events are handled by Shinto and “death” or “afterlife” events are handled by Buddhism although this is not exclusive. For example, it is typical in Japan to register or celebrate a birth at a Shinto shrine, while funeral arrangements are generally dictated by Buddhist tradition.


Main article: Kami

Shinto teaches that everything contains a kami (神, “spiritual essence”?, commonly translated as god or spirit). Shinto’s spirits are collectively called yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神?), an expression literally meaning “eight million kami”, but interpreted as meaning “myriad”, although it can be translated as “many Kami”. There is a phoenetic variation kamu and a similar word among Ainu kamui. There is an analog “mi-koto“.

Kami are a difficult concept to translate as there is no direct similar construct in English. Kami is generally accepted to describe the innate supernatural force that is above the actions of man, the realm of the sacred, and is very inclusive of gods, spirit figures, and human ancestors. All mythological creatures of the Japanese cultural tradition, of the Buddhistic tradition, Christian God, Hindu gods, Islamic Allah, various angels and demons of all faiths among others are considered Kami for the purpose of Shinto faith.

The kami reside in all things, but certain places are designated for the interface of people and kami (the common world and the sacred): sacred nature, shrines, and kamidana. There are natural places considered to have an unusually sacred spirit about them, and are objects of worship. They are frequently mountains, trees, unusual rocks, rivers, waterfalls, and other natural edifices. In most cases they are on or near a shrine grounds. The shrine is a building built in which to house the kami, with a separation from the “ordinary” world through sacred space with defined features based on the age and lineage of the shrine. The kamidana is a home shrine (placed on a wall in the home) that is a “kami residence” that acts as a substitute for a large shrine on a daily basis. In each case the object of worship is considered a sacred space that the kami spirit actually dwells, being treated with the utmost respect and deference.


Ise Grand Shrine – Kugaraden, the apex of the 80000 Shinto Shrines
Izumo Taisha – Haiden and Honden, one of the oldest shrines in Japan
Tsubaki Grand Shrine – Haiden, one of the oldest shrines in Japan
Fushimi Inari – Main Gate, one of the oldest shrines in Japan
Isonokami – Haiden, a historically siginificant Imperial National Treasure
Main article: Shinto shrines

The principal worship of kami is done at public shrines (jinja), although home worship at small private shrines (kamidana) (sometimes only a high shelf with a few ritual objects) is also common.

While many of the public shrines are elaborate structures, all are characteristic Japanese architectural styles of different periods depending on their age. Shrines are fronted by a distinctive Japanese gate (torii) made of two uprights and two crossbars denoting the separation between common space and sacred space. There are a number of symbolic guardians and barriers that exist between the normal world and the shrine grounds including Shimenawa, statues of protection, gates, fences, ropes, and other vestments of supernatural power. Usually there will be only one or sometimes two approaches to the Shrine.


Shinto teaches that certain deeds create a kind of ritual impurity that one should want cleansed for one’s own peace of mind and good fortune, not because impurity is wrong in and of itself. Wrong deeds are called “impurity” (穢れ, kegare?), opposed to “purity” (清め, kiyome?). Normal days are called “day” (ke), and festive days are called “sunny” or simply “good” (hare).[6] Killing living beings should be done with reverence for taking a life to continue one’s own and should be kept to a minimum.

Modern Japanese continue to place great emphasis on the importance of ritual phrases and greetings (挨拶, aisatsu?). Before eating, many (though not all) Japanese say, “I will humbly receive” (戴きます, itadakimasu?), to show proper thankfulness to the preparer of the meal in particular and more generally to all those living things that lost their lives to make the meal. Failure to show proper respect can be seen as a lack of concern for others, looked down on because it is believed to create problems for all. Those who fail to take into account the feelings of other people and kami will only bring ruin on themselves.

The worst expression of such an attitude is the taking of another’s life for personal advancement or enjoyment. Those killed without being shown gratitude for their sacrifice will hold a grudge (怨み, urami?) and become a powerful and evil kami that seeks revenge (aragami). This same emphasis on the need for cooperation and collaboration can be seen throughout Japanese culture today. Additionally, if anyone is injured on the grounds of a shrine, the area affected must be ritually purified.


Haraegushi(祓串) for purification

Purification – Harai 祓い or Oharai お祓い

Purification rites are a vital part of Shinto. They are done on a daily, weekly, seasonal, lunar, and annual basis. In many ways these purification rituals are the lifeblood of the practice of Shinto. Such ceremonies have also been adapted to modern life. New buildings made in Japan are frequently blessed by a Shinto priest kannushi (神主?) during the groundbreaking ceremony (Jichinsai 地鎮祭), and many cars made in Japan have been blessed as part of the assembly process. Moreover, almost every Japanese factory or international business built outside Japan has had a groundbreaking ceremony performed by a Shinto priest, with occasionally an annual visitation by the priest to re-purify.


Unlike many religions, one does not need to publicly profess belief in Shinto to be a believer. Whenever a child is born in Japan, a local Shinto shrine adds the child’s name to a list kept at the shrine and declares him or her a “family child” (氏子, ujiko?). After death an ujiko becomes a “family spirit”, or “family kami(氏神, ujigami?). One may choose to have one’s name added to another list when moving and then be listed at both places. Names can be added to the list without consent and regardless of the beliefs of the person added to the list. However, this is not considered an imposition of belief, but a sign of being welcomed by the local kami, with the promise of addition to the pantheon of kami after death. Those children who die before addition to the list are called “water children” (水子, mizuko?), and are believed to cause troubles and plagues. Mizuko are often worshipped in a Shinto shrine dedicated to stilling their anger and sadness, called mizuko kuyō (水子供養).


Omairi – Visiting a Shrine


Temizu Basin – Isukushima Jinja

Any person may visit a shrine and need not be “Shinto” to do this.

Typically there are a few basic steps to visiting a shrine.

  • Approach the entrance and bow respectfully before entering.
  • If there is a hand washing basin provided, perform Temizu; wash your left hand first, then your right, then rinse your mouth, (do not spit back into the water supply or drink), and sometimes your feet as well if needed. Tip the ladle backwards to wash the ladle handle with the remanining water and place opening down on the rack where you found it.
  • Approach the shrine; if there is a bell, you may ring the bell prior to prayers; if there is a box for donations, leave a modest one in relation to your means; normally there will be a sequence of bows, (commonly 2) and then claps (commonly 2), hold the second and put your hands together in front of your heart for and a closing bow after your prayers.
  • There is variation in how this basic visitation may go, and depending on the time of year and holidays it may also have other rituals attached to visitations.
  • Be sincere and respectful to the staff and other visitors, and if at all possible, be quiet. Do be aware that there are places one should not go on the shrine grounds. Do not wear shoes inside any buildings.


The ritual prayers of offerings to Kami, usually done daily at a shrine and is an involved ceremony of offerings and prayers. Shinsen (food offerings of fruit, fish, vegetables), Tamagushi (Sakaki Tree Branches), Shio (salt), Gohan (rice), Mochi (rice paste), and Sake (rice wine) are all typical offerings. On holidays and other special occasions the inner shrine doors may be opened and special offerings made.

Misogi Harai 禊祓 – Water Purification

Also know as: Misogi Shūhō 禊修法

The practice of purification by ritual use of water while reciting prayers typically done daily by regular practitioners, and when possible by lay practitioners. There is a defined set of prayers and physical activities that precede and occur during the ritual. This will usually be performed at a shrine, in a natural setting, but can be done anywhere there is clean running water.

The basic performance of this is the hand and mouth washing (Temizu 手水) done at the entrance to a shrine. The more dedicated believer may purify by standing beneath a waterfall or performing ritual ablutions in a river or other running water. This practice comes from Shinto history, when the kami Izanagi-no-Mikoto first performed misogi after returning from the land of Yomi, where he was made impure by Izanami-no-Mikoto after her death.

Imi – 忌

Another form of ritual cleanliness is avoidance, that is, the taboo placed on certain persons or acts. To illustrate, one would not visit a shrine if a close relative in the household had died recently. Killing in general is considered unclean and to be generally avoided. When one is performing acts that harm the land or other living things, prayers and rituals are performed to help placate the Kami of the area. This type of cleanliness is usually performed proactively so as to prevent ill outcomes.

Amulets and protective items


A woman tying her fortune (omikuji) at Kasuga Shrine

Main article: Ema (Shinto)

Ema are small wooden plaques that wishes or desires are written upon and left at a place in the shrine grounds so that one may get a wish or desire fulfilled. They have a picture on them and are frequently associated with the larger Shrines.[7]

Ofuda are a talisman issued by a Shinto shrine, made of paper, wood, or metal, inscribed with the name of a kami and used for protection in the home. The are typically placed in the home at a kamidana. They are also renewed annually.[7]

Omamori are personal protection amulets, issued by a shrine and sold to individuals with a specific intent in mind. Frequently for warding off bad luck and for better health, more recently there are also ones for good driving, good business, and school success. Their history lies with Buddhist practices of selling amulets.[7]

Omikuji are a paper lot on which a personal fortune is written.[7]

Daruma a round paper doll depicting the Indian monk Bodi-dharma. A wish for success is made and one eye is painted on, when the goal is accomplished, the other eye is added. This is a Buddhist practice but very frequently you will also find them at Shrines as well. These dolls are very common. [7]

Less popular protective items include: Dorei are earthenware bells used to pray for good fortune, frequently in the shape of the animal representative of the astrological calendar.[7] Hamaya a symbolic arrow for the fight against evil and bad luck.[7] Inuhariko a paper doll of a dog used to bless and provide a good birth.[7]


2 Responses to “Shinto”

  1. March 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    C.C., Quite interesting. I teach world civilization and my students are always fond of shinto. I like its animistic aspects, ritual, spirit of things. Haven’t touched the surface of it after reading your excerpts.

    • February 19, 2012 at 9:40 am

      only replying 2 years later ! sorry …

      I am so glad to know of your world civilization teaching, wish I lived closer, I would take your class.

      This philosophy makes a lot of sense to me.
      I, too, am glad to read – re-read all of this.

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