Shinto, meaning “The Way of the Gods” , is the main religion in Japan. It is an ancient religion, beginning sometime around the 5th century BCE. Shinto has no bible or single historic leader, rather, it is a mixture of nature worship, revered gods of different spirits, and hero worship.
Shinto began as
Buddhism came into the country. While people were basically an agricultural
society, they needed to organize themselves, town by town. In places
where growing rice was important, then certain rituals started to form.
This started the basis of nature worship and prayer toward nature gods.
Some of the nature gods took more permanent form. For example, Mt
Fuji, a famous mountain in Japan is considered an object of worship.
Followers of Shinto also believed in ancestral gods. They feared the souls of those who died, so they prayed for their souls to be cleansed, and those souls later became gods that were peaceful and kind. This means that in Shinto the belief is that the soul is immortal.
Shinto had the belief in so many gods that the name was yaoyorozu-no-kami, which means “eight million gods”. Since there seem to be even more gods than this in the religion, the name was changed to mean “countless gods”. Just as a side note: kami means “gods or deities”.
believe the creation story of a divine couple names Izanagi-no-mikoto and
Izanami-no-mikoto, who gave birth to the Japanese islands. Their
daughter was Amaterasu Omikami, who became the sun goddess. This
sun goddess is considered one of the chief deities of the religion and
is a member of the Imperial Family. It is believed that her descendents
unified Japan, with the help of her brother, Susano.
As mentioned, the followers of Shinto believed in many gods and deities. This is different than other religions in that there is no one god, or one all knowing, all powerful being. Gods in Shinto are either related to natural objects, are guardians of particular areas or families like agricultural farms, are linked to important people, like Buddha or emperors, and also to other forces in life.
Shinto has borrowed from other religions too. There are some Buddhist practices, and also Confucianism practices. For example, many funerals are performed by Buddhist priests, and the moral code is from the code from Confucious. The emphasis is on “right practice, sensibility, and attitude.” Part of the right practice refers to tradition and the family, physical cleanliness, worship to the many gods, and a desire for peace.
Forms of Shinto
There are four forms
· Koshito Shinto (Shinto of the Imperial House) – This refers to the worship and rituals of the emperor.
· Jinja Shinto (Shrine Shinto) – This is the oldest form of the religion, with the biggest following. There are about 80,000 shrines that urge followers to be grateful to the kami, be helpful to others, and to follow the rules of the emperor.
· Shuha Shinto (Sectarian Shinto) – This includes different sects that started in the late 1800s and each sect had its own beliefs and ways of practicing the religion.
· Minzoku Shinto (Folk Shinto) – This is religion for the rural areas of Japan or in individual towns or families.
Here is a list of major
holidays in Japan:
Ø Sho-gatsu – The New Year Festival, Jan. 1-3.
Ø Setsubun, bean throwing in homes to ward of evil spirits, Feb. 3.
Ø National Founding Day, honors the beginning of Japan, Feb. 11.
Ø Hina Matsuri, Doll Festival for girls, March 3.
Ø Tango-no-sekku, Boy’s Festival, streamers are flown from flagpoles, May 5.
Ø Tsukimi, Autumn moon, harvest festival.
Ø Kanname-sai, offering of the first new rice, October.
Ø Niiname-sai, new rice is tasted by the emperor, November.