I believe one of the most mind boggling concepts for a foreigner to understand is Shinto. The thought that a mountain like Fujisan has to be considered holy can be challenging (devoted to the worship of Konohana Sakuyahime No Mikoto). A lot of misunderstandings still exist today. Within the next few days, I will introduce several aspects of Shinto for better understanding.
Prior to the introduction of Buddhism to Japan in the 6th century AD, there was no special term for the already existing religious practices and beliefs. In order to distinguish the indigenous tradition from Buddhism, the term Shinto (Way of the Kami) was created.
Overall I can say that the strength of Shrine Shinto is in its emphasis on sensory experience derived from mystic rites and natural phenomena, rather than on theological discourses. The Kami-faith (Shinto) is one that is maintained through observance of traditional ways rather than by overt teaching. Kami faith is caught, not taught. The experience begins when a baby is first carried to the shrine on the mother’s back. Basically shrines are the manifestation of people’s faith in the Kami. The shrine rites and festivals are the highest expression of one’s faith. In Japan there was never a focus on developing a cannon for Shinto, because the priority lies in the place for expression of the Kami-faith, plus having a symbol for the communal faith. The 20th century Shinto scholar Sokyo Ono had written a book on Shinto (Shinto: The Kami Way), which describes the concept of Kami containing the following aspects:
– qualities of growth and fertility;
– natural phenomena: wind, thunder, sun, mountains, trees;
– some animals;
– ancestral spirits;
– the imperial family, or spirits of noble families;
– guardian spirits of certain occupations and skills;
– spirits of people who have demonstrated exemplary bravery or courage, or those who have made great contributions to society.
The Kami are considered to be directly involved in the affairs of the living; they are the source of blessings and prosperity.
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)
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