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Religion is used to explain what the happenings in our universe that cannot be explained through science and philosophy. It is the belief in an overseeing power that dictates the events of the universe including how the universe came about, how the world will come to an end, and even affect the happenings of everyday life. The being that controls these events is usually depicted as having a similar appearance to man. Often flawed to give us something to relate to or perfect to provide us with something to aspire to be. However, there does not always have to be a singular deity. In ancient religions like that of the Greek, they believed in polytheism under which multiple gods undertake different duties in the universe. Although religions are often debated by their validity, accuracy, and exaggeration, there is no dispute that they have had a gross effect on the culture of every country and city-state of the known world. Wars have been fought in the name of religion like that of the crusades, but it has also been used to bring people closer together. For example the Silk Road took theology and philosophy from the east to the west which evolved them into what they have become today. The two largest practiced religions in the world today Christianity and Islam, are known as universalized religions which just means that they seek out new followers by trying to convert those who are already practicing a religion or do not have a religion at all like atheists. However, not every religion is a universal religion like Christianity and Islam. Shinto is a religion that is referred to as being centralized, or that it does not seek followers. Shinto is centralized in Japan and relies on people to seek it out rather than to have followers seek out converts in exchange for a passage to Nirvana
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were all founded by disciples of Jesus and typically have a certain founder such as Muhammad or Jesus. However, because nobody knows when Shinto was created, often debated to be as old as the country of Japan itself, there is no certain person known to have sparked the creation of the religion. Modern day Shinto today is not majorly focused on the religious aspect as it was in the traditional belief. The religion of Shinto today is focused on praying rather than the creation aspect and is said to be reflected upon the culture of Japan and certain parts of China. Although Shinto does have a creation story, it is mainly focused around praying to the gods or Kami to affect us in everyday life in a beneficial manner. Most religions focus around shaping a person into a perfect being or to push us towards being a better person. However, Shinto recognizes that every person is flawed in one way or another and encourages us to embrace our flawed traits as opposed to molding us into what we are not. Traditional Shinto was much more focused on things like the creation of the universe and how it would affect the weather and things alike. Today it is mainly used to pray upon certain gods or even late family members to give them luck through the day. Because the religion today is more about the tradition and culture of Japan rather than of the religion itself, it has allowed Buddhism and Confucianism to remain large entities that lie in the myths and in the religion of Shintoism side by side without interfering with one another(McIntosh). The three religions are usually tied to one another, but in Japan the Shinto part is much more prominent than the Buddhist and Confucianist practices. On the other hand, Chinese Shintoism focuses more on Buddhism and Confucianism with small ties to Shintoism. Because Japanese is part of the same language tree as Chinese and has taken much of the language from the chinese many words can be translated to focus on similar ideas to that of their Japanese counterparts. Shinto in Chinese means Spirit Away which means to remove someone from this world without anyone noticing. Usually this is to have happened as a result of an angry god. In Japanese the word Shinto is broken down to mean Kami no Michi or Way of the Gods. The Way of the Gods is also an ancient scripture used in Shintoism as a guide to the religion similar to what the Bible and Quran are to Christianity and Islam. However, there are several books that are used to learn and practice Shinto.
The creation story of Shinto describes the universe as beginning as a single entity and states that all matter was condensed into a single egg before the heavens and the earth separated into two entities. Similar to the Big Bang Theory that describes the universe as being a massively dense amount of energy before expanding and creating the universe. The idea of having everything come from one entity is to let the followers of Shinto know that everyone is the same in a sense. We are all created equal and all come from the same place therefore making every person as flawed as the next. Shinto is an old religion that was originally spoken rather than written so the exact details of the myth vary from book to book. The telling of Shinto is usually told by the differing versions that overlap one another to confirm what they believe to be true or untrue(Francisco).
The traditional belief of Shinto states that after the earth and heavens separated from the egg stated above, two ancient gods were created from the expanding universe, Izanami(female) and Izanagi(male). These two deities are said to be created by the chinese idea of yin and yang, portraying a little darkness in the light and a little light in the darkness. However, because Shinto recognizes that every person has evil and good in them darkness and light is not always referring to good and evil and the meaning may differ from the context. After the earth and heavens were separated the earth was nothing but a vast ocean that spread across every horizon with no land in sight. Izanagi took a spear and dipped it in the water before bringing it level and letting the droplets fall off the tip of it. When the water returned to the earth it did not remain as water, but rather expanded into land creating a large island. The island is believed by the followers of Shinto to be the island of Japan.
Shortly after the two ancestors Izanagi and Izanami birthed their first child Amaterasu. After being born Amaterasu was said to have been brought to the heavens and placed in the sky to become the sun and therefore allowing Amaterasu to govern over the day as the sun goddess. The differing reading and translations of Shinto recognize Amaterasu as being the ancestor of all mankind in one reading or the ancestor of the most powerful family at the time in another. Both are referred to as either the Yamato people of Japan or the royal bloodline of the Yamato.
Tsuki-yumi was the second child birthed from Izanami and Izanagi and was originally intended to be the mate of Amaterasu. However, Amaterasu did not like the dark nature of Tsuki-yumi and demanded they be separated from one another. Again, the dark nature does not always refer to the evil inside of something. Respecting Amaterasu’s request Izanami and Izanagi placed Tsuki-Yumi on the opposite side of the sky which made Tsuki-yumi the god of the moon and the overseer of the night.
Sosano became the final child birthed from Izanami and Izanagi and is as close to the embodiment of evil because he is often tied to defiance, deceit, and is typically portrayed as a trickster. Sosano is typically tied to evil spirits, bad omens and most of nature after being banished to the land of the dead for deceiving his father and mother. Susano like his brother and sister was given the planes of the sea, wind, and the land of the dead. However, although he is usually perceived under a negative perspective Susano is still not inherently evil(Crystal).
Amaterasu is the most iconic of the three and is most often portrayed by the people of Japan as being a kind spirit. Most prayed to Amaterasu has always been the symbol of Japan and its people. The line of emperors became governed completely by the myth because the people of Japan would only accept an emperor that was of the noble Yamato bloodline or somebody who was directly related to the goddess of the sun, Amaterasu. This is very familiar to the muslim belief of the Shiite that the only person who can rule the nation is someone who contains the blood of the prophet Muhammad. However, as stated before the several different readings of Shinto also tell of the Yamato people, but rather than only being of the noble bloodline, it states that every person of Japanese descent has the blood of Amaterasu in them. As the belief became more popular and widespread as opposed to the noble bloodline theory of the Yamato, the Japanese stopped fighting for the emperor and started to fight for themselves. Yamato can be directly translated in Japanese to mean Japan. However, the meaning became more of a name and pride of the Japanese people. This became one of the largest driving factor of the Japanese people during World War Two. The belief of the Yamato people was that they were born to become the ultimate being and unite the savages(anybody not of Japanese descent) and rule over the modern world. This was also portrayed by the Germans belief in a master race that they were born Aryans. The irony is that if the Axis powers would have won the war you would have had the Japanese and the Germans ultimately fighting one another after being allied for so long allowing the Italians to steal the land fought for by both sides(McIntosh). Bushido is known as the warrior code of the Japanese people created from a mixture of Shinto and Confucianism. This is what ultimately kept Shinto from becoming a dead religion. In feudal Japan the teachings of Shinto were lost until the samurai adopted Bushido. The belief was kept all the way into World War Two which may be why the American people were forced to use nuclear weapons on Japan. The belief of Bushido stated that if you backed down as a warrior you were nothing but a coward. This was not only reflected on the male warriors, but also the women and children. The initial plan was to invade Japan, but after hearing that even the women and children would fight to their dying breath the United States dropped nuclear bombs to save casualties on both sides. Although many may argue that the use of nuclear weaponry was inhumane it ultimately saved many more lives that would have been lost. So if you ever stayed up late at night, practiced what to do during a nuclear fallout, or lived through the Cold War the fault ultimately lies with the Japanese religion of Shintoism. Finally, Amaterasu became the iconic symbol for Japan by being portrayed in their flag. You may have heard the flag of Japan as being referred to as the rising sun, but what you may not know is that the sun is actually the reflection of the sun goddess Amaterasu as portrayed in Japanese Shintoism. During World War Two the flag was given red stripes to signify the people of Japan being shined upon by the sun goddess Amaterasu. However, after the war the stripes were removed and the sun was no longer seen as rising because just like the flag’s stripes the pride of the Japanese people was no longer there. The Japanese people became humiliated and forced to take steps to appeal to the western world such as removing their navy(Robinson).
Shinto is still a religion, but is mainly found in the culture of Japan from the customs of the people, holidays celebrating the spirits, and is even used in the architecture. Most of Shintoism that we see today primarily focuses on praying to Amaterasu and ancestors that are prayed to for good luck and guidance throughout the day. The rest of the religion like Tsuki-yumi and susasnoo is usually portrayed more in pop culture than in the religion itself. For example, they are seen in Japanese anime, manga, video games, and even in movies.Shinto shrines are found all over Japan for people to pray to. As stated before they primarily aim to pray to the sun goddess Amaterasu(Furphy). However, shrines may also belong to a family member that had recently died. Just like Amaterasu these shrines can be prayed to for good luck. Although you would expect the shrines to only be found in temples you can can also find these in public places like pubs or shown on display in someone’s home. This would be another example of Shintoism being ingrained into the modern Japanese culture. The shrines can be for a family member who has passed, or more often a shrine to a deity like Amaterasu to bring good luck. Because Japan has had a lot of influence from the western world like the United States of America and the United Kingdom their architecture has changed drastically to the towering apartment blocks that can be up to sixty floors off the ground. These have little to no resemblance of how these buildings looked before the influence of the western world. Before the influence of western allies, Japan’s architecture style mirrored that of a Shinto temple. This was primarily to make one’s home seem more inviting to the typical Shinto believer. The idea was to make the person believe that their home was to be both respected as a shrine and that they should feel comfortable to pray there. However, the traditional architecture of these buildings can still be found in rural areas of Japan(Young).
Shinto is one of the oldest religions that we know of even stated as being almost as old as the state of Japan itself. Because the religion is so old it is hard to trace back one founder or even what stories are true and overlap one another. This is not to say true in the sense of reality, but in the sense of how the story was meant to be told. After centuries of being told verbally, what was written is now lost. The effects of Shintoism still affect the ideals and morals of the Japanese people today.
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