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An Overview of The Japanese Religion of Shintoism

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Shintoism is a faith that is followed by people who are Japanese or sometimes live in Japan. Shinto is sometimes not labelled as a religion because it is more of a livelihood. Shintoism is a very old religion, and is like an indigenous faith to the Japanese, it was formed as soon as Japan was created. Therefore, this religion does not have a founder or a leader because it is all based on the people and the traditions they follow. The main aspect of Shintoism is to follow and believe in the Kami. The Kami can embody multiple things like humans, animals and nature. It is a spirit that influences humans to make better decisions, they are very similar to humans as they have human emotions and can die like a human. All Kami come as a pair, for example Izanami and Izanagi. These two were the creators of Japan and needed each other to balance out. The most famous Kami is the sun goddess, she protects all people in the world. 

Unlike other religions, Shintoism does not believe in any gods and no moral code. The focus of this religion is to speak to the Kami for guidance. There are multiple types of Kami that will help for whatever help is needed. Not all shinto followers live in Japan, there are around one hundred thousand ethnic Japanese living in Canada, and around the same in the United States. Although, the most prominent place of Shinto followers is in Japan, since twenty seventeen, seventy percent of people who live in Japan practice Shintoism. Shintoism was a part of Buddhism and Confucianism. It originated in the late sixth century, and this is when it finally separated as its own religion or practice. Then, in the eighteenth century, Shintoism was named as an important national religion. This religion does not contain a creation story, although it is believed that Izangi and Izanami were the Kami who created Japan. The most significant figure in Shintoism is the Kami, there is said to be around eight million Kami, and can take form in nature or certain concepts. This faith is a polythestic religion, this means that its followers believe in more than one god. Certain Kami embody different things like the sun, mountains or trees. They do not worship the objects, but what they represent and what type of Kami is shown through the object. It is also believed that Shintoism is an optimistic faith, and that humans are born good and that evil comes from evil spirits. There are no creeds within this faith but Shinto does have multiple core beliefs and affirmations. Followers believe in matsuri,which is the worshipping of gods and spirits, they also find the significance of purity very important to their faith, as purity is a reoccuring theme in the religion. The love for nature and family is sacred within this faith as well. Shintoism does carry sacred texts but they are normally shared orally. The prominent ones are the Kojiki, which is the record of ancient matters, and the Nihon-gi, which are the chronicles of Japan. Both books are filled with ancient myths and traditions that were passed down orally through generations. These myths are supposed to show the importance of Japan and its culture. In the texts there are often key ideas that need to be followed, for example how Kami are similar to humans, purification is a cleansing act, how the kami takes care of humanity and how death is the the most impure act. 

There are four core stories that all followers understand and have read, they are; the foundation of Japan, the land of the dead, the power of purification, and Amaterasu and Susanoo. These stories discuss the core values and beliefs of Shintoism. In religion there are rituals that go along with it. Shintoism does not provide a weekly service but followers do visit specific shrines on special occasions. For example, around thirty to a hundred after a baby is born, the family must visit the tutelary kami to make sure that baby is protected its whole life. Another significant ritual is the Shichi-go-san, it occurs on November 15th and it is when girls ages three and seven and boys ages five go to the tutelary shrine and ask for future blessings. At grand festivals, there is a list of rituals that occur, purification, adoration, prayer, sacred music and dance, a feast and more. Most of the time the followers are asking for guidance from the kami, couples often recite their wedding vows to the kami. Shrines are the most significant worship place in this religion, they are the homes of the Kami. Older shrines are simpler and less decorative and modern shrines are bright and have different types of sculptures throughout them. All shrines have a common torri gateway as well as, all shrines are surrounded in nature, to help emphasize the love for nature within this religion. 

There are three main symbols in Shintoism, these symbols were all passed down through the imperial family. Firstly, the mirror which is wisdom, the mirror can also represent a kami and its spirit body. The mirror was used to seek out the sun goddess from hiding in her cave, this is why she gave this mirror to her grandson so that whenever he was stuck, he could pull himself out. Secondly, the sword, which represents valour. It symbolizes male virility and how metal was a precious gift given from mother earth. Lastly, the jewel, also known as, magatama, it represents generosity. It is a curved shaped jewel that is made of Jadeite, the shape is supposed to symbolize the soul and the avoidance of evil.  

In conclusion, Shintoism is a very significant religion to people in Japan and possibly others in different countries. Christianity is also a prominent religion, a way these two can co-exist amongst each other is by realizing that they share similar beliefs. They both ask their god for guidance and help, they both seek purification and try to stay away from and sin, and finally they both have places of worship and understand that each other is trying to find peace throughout the world. Interreligious dialogue did not always against among these two faiths, in the past Christian missionaries found it odd or almost strange that others would be practicing Christianity along with Shintoism. Although, as of recent, it is believed that Shintoism and Christianity are so different that Japanese-Christians are allowed to believe in both. Vatican proclamation of 1936 allowed Japanese Catholics to participate in Shinto celebrations, as long as they still had a deep respect for the imperial family. 

Works cited

  • ONS/Shintoism.htm

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An Overview Of The Japanese Religion Of Shintoism. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2021, from
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