Brief Overview of Shinto (神道)

Shinto, The Native Religion of Japan
Shinto (or Kannagara no michi) is an ethnical religious framework in Japan and a polytheistic religion that is unique to Japan. Shinto is a religion originating in particular cultural traditions that have been believed since ancient Japan. Shinto is based on traditional ethnic and natural beliefs that naturally generated and grew among ethnic groups living in Japan and has been gradually growing in conjunction with central and local systems of politics carried out by groups of local ruling families.

Shinto has neither a specific creed nor specific scriptures, and Japanese classics such as "Kojiki" (the Records of Ancient Matters), "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), "Kogo-shui" (History of the Inbe clan) and "imperial edict," which are called 'Shinten,' are norms. According to Shinto's idea, the Kami (Shinto) exists in Shinrabansho (all things in nature, the whole creation) and religious services are considered important, with Amatsu Kami (god of heaven), KunitsuKami (gods of the land), and Sorei (ancestral spirit, collective of ancestral spirits that have lost their individualities, ancestors deified as Kami, spirit of a Kami) enshrined. The type of virtue practiced in Shinto religion is Jyomyoseichoku (clean and clear, cheerful, honest, and straightforward). As compared with other religions, shinto religion is more inclined to secularism and belief in the innate goodness of man and seems to have a characteristic that a strong sense of solidarity has been built up between an enshrined subject (Kami (God)) and worshipers (believers).

There is a big difference between Shinto and Buddhism, and while people have believed in Shinto for the purpose of having Kami (God) protect communities (tribes and villages) connected by territorial and blood ties, like Kami (God)s do in mythologies, people have believed in Buddhism for the purpose of securing individuals' Anjin-ryomyo (spiritual peace and enlightenment) and have their souls relieved and keep the state's peace and security.

Shinto is supported by approximately 16 million people in Japan (Agency for Cultural Affairs' "Shukyo Nenkan") and there are approximately 85,000 recorded shrines.

Classifications of Shinto
The following are denominations of shinto religion.

Imperial House Shinto
It is Shinto for the Imperial Court; that is, the Imperial family, centered on the Three Shrines in the Imperial Palace.

Shrine Shinto
This is a type of belief putting an emphasis on the implementation of religious services and ceremonies, mainly by shrines and other organs consisting of Ujiko (shrine parishioners) and revering persons.

Sect Shinto (the 13 Shinto sects)
A religion based on religious experiences of a founder or originator of the sect. Sect Shinto is slightly different in character from other Shinto religions.

It is also called 'Minkan Shinto and Minzoku Shinto' (Folk Shinto and the Folk or Popular Shinto,) Primitive Shinto, Jomon Shinto (縄文神道) and Kodo (ancient moral teachings) (Primitive Confucianism of Chinese Civilization is the same in meaning, but it is excluded here), and means things that have been continued by common people in Japan from the olden times and events of faith related to Buddhism or Sutra syncretized with Koshinto, such as Shugen or Koshinto incorporating the thoughts of Taoism. After the Meiji period, only Koshinto was separated and established as a new religion, so it can be classified as Fukko shinto (returning to the ancient Shinto).

Nowadays, when speaking of 'Shinto' alone, it means Shrine Shinto.

Particularly, 'State Shinto' was a name of a denomination of Shinto religion which was supported by the state in Japan from the Restoration of Imperial Rule of 1868 (Japan) to the end of World War II. As for Sect Shinto, 'the way with the Kami (God) which was separated from "all sects of Shinto" is particularly called State Shinto, and persons of law and government practitioners have usually called it shrine for a long time,' and before World War II, simply speaking 'shrine' meant State Shinto which was managed by the state. As a result of separation of government and religion, the meaning of the word 'shrine' has changed and there is really very little chance to simply call State Shinto 'shrine. 'In addition, there is a misleading opinion that GHQ (General Headquarters of the Allied Forces) fabricated the tradition or story of State Shinto.

Meiji Jingu Shrine in the middle of the Tokyo Metropolis
Torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, one of the world heritages of Japan
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Documentary of Shinto Shrine (28:05)

Origin and Creed of Shinto

Origin of Shinto and Its Creed
The term 'Shinto' appears in "I Ching" (the Book of Changes) and "Jin shu" (History of the Jin Dynasty) in China and the term means 'Ayashiki michi ' (神しき道.) This idea is different in character from the conception of Shinto in Japan.

The first appearance of the word 'Shinto' in Japan was '天皇信佛法尊神道' (Emperor believes in Buddhism and respects Shinto) in the descriptions of Emperor Yomei in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan). Accordingly, Shinto represented a Japanese peculiar belief which was opposed to Buddhism as a foreign religion.

It was thought in China that belief progressed in four phases, Kido, Shinto, '真道' and '聖道' and that Buddhism reached '聖道' as the most advanced phase. The lowest phase was 'Kido' and this term appears in Gishi wajin den (the first written record of Japan's commerce). The next phase is 'Shinto' ('Ayashiki michi' (神しき道). Given the above, the term Shinto (Ayashiki michi) in "I Ching" and "Jin shu" is a derogatory term describing that Shinto was more advanced than Kido, but was of very low level. Shinto' in Japan is more conservative than Chinese Taoism with the advanced phases of '真道' and '聖道,' and remains in the situation close to fundamentalism of other religions by substituting '祈祷' for '鬼' even if '鬼' was considered a derogatory term.

In 1887, European and modern religious conceptions were imported in Japan, and the religious term 'Shinto' began to be settled. In 1897, philosophy of religion was actually introduced and the word 'Shinto' was established in the academic field.

Originally, there was no charismatic founder for Shinto like Jesus Christ or Shakyamuni. Although the integration of a native ethnic belief and politics was forced to be implemented by the government for Shinto, Shinto did not spread and establish the doctrine in language in a uniform manner. Therefore, it is believed that Shinto had a nature to be easily fused with foreign religions. However, examples that a native ethnic belief such as Shinto and religions of various schools exist together are observed in various areas in the world, and the Japanese case is not very rare.

In fact, after Buddhism was first publicly imported to Japan, there were conflicts between the Mononobe clan in the anti-Buddhist faction and the Soga clan in the pro-Buddhist faction. In the medieval period, various schools such as Ise Shinto and Yoshida Shinto established a complicated framework of theories such as Han honji suijaku setsu (the theory of converse origin and traces). In the late medieval period, Atsutane HIRATA developed Yumei shinpan shiso, which was ideologically influenced by the Last Judgment in Christianity and an idea of henotheism with Ame no Minakanushi as god of creation, and the development of the theories provided a way leading to the modern era. After Juka Shinto (teachings on Shinto as expounded by Japanese Confucianists) made significant progress in the medieval period, it gradually gained support bases among the public and made the antiforeign imperialism widely known, which became a foundation or principle for the nation to attack the shogunate.

Although there was a heated theory war called State Shinto Shinto Office, Saishin Dispute (国家神道神道事務局 祭神論争) in the modern period, the government finally recognized that it was impossible to form a theory system/framework which was common to Shinto and that it was impossible to control the public directly based on a theory of Fukko shinto (returning to the ancient Shinto) and therefore, religious liberty was reluctantly allowed in the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. There was another reason that Japan had to clearly demonstrate to powerful European countries and the U. S. A. that Japan was a modern state. As it was impossible to clearly unify the theories of Shrine Shinto, there exists 'Difficulty of grasping' in Shinto, and it is the appearance of behaviors focusing on the physical senses, continued for a long time and still succeeded in Japan's modern society, because Shrine Shinto cannot be completely absorbed into foreign religions that heavily depend on language. Consequently, after Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity were approved, Shinto-related aspects continued to exist in the wide scope of people's spiritual lives in Japan. When overviewing these, it can be said that embracing aspects has been succeeded by Izumo (Shinto) and social controlling aspects were succeeded by Ise (Shinto).

Researches on Shinto
People in Izumo were likely to discuss relations with Japanese myths before the Heian period, and those characteristics can be clearly identified in Izumo "Fudoki" (ancient record of the features of Izumo), unlike Fudoki in other areas.

In the Kamakura period, Shinto priests of Ise-jingu Shrine started academic research, and the shrine gradually made changes and reached the current style of Shingi belief (神祇信仰). Ise school managed to establish the practice of visiting Ise-jingu Shrine in the late Edo period with their earnest efforts and gained support of part of ordinary people with stronger Sorei nature, rather than intellectual people. Meanwhile, Norinaga MOTOORI succeeded in interpretation of "Kojiki" (the Records of Ancient Matters), which had been left undecipherable in the Edo period, and contributed in forming the origin of the study of Japanese classical literature. Shinto and interest in the study of Japanese classical literature raised awareness for Japan and formed part of the trend of thoughts which led the Meiji Restoration to success in Asia where there were increasing plantations by powerful countries such as America and European countries. During the process of the establishment of Shinto, the ancient times were deeply influenced by Buddhism, and in the modern times, the entry of Confucianism into Japan was significant. It should be considered that what Ise school achieved was efforts of people on the Shinto side who were opposing the party.

Shinto of The Modern Period
Shinto of the modern period is controlled, centering on the gods enshrined by Yamato Court (Yamato sovereignty (the ancient Japan sovereignty)) from the ancient period as seen in Enkishiki (an ancient book for codes and procedures on national rites and prayers,) and looks to hold a large and nationwide network and a peculiar world by integrating Buddhism and local gods (originally, Ujigami, etc). Shinto of the modern period has been strongly affected by Confucianism Shinto and Fukko Shinto in the Edo period and State Shinto in the Meiji period.

A building where gods belonging to Shinto are enshrined is called Jinja (Shinto Shrine), and most of the Jinja (Shinto Shrine) in Japan are controlled by Jinja-Honcho (神社本庁) (the Association of Shinto Shrines).

Imperial Court and Shinto
Nowadays, as a result of the separation of government and religion, it will hardly occur that the Imperial Court and Shinto will be apparently connected with each other, but it is a historical fact that the Imperial Court and Shinto were closely related to each other. While many Japanese people practice and have belief in Buddhism and Shinto at the same time, since the Meiji period the Imperial Court has been more inclined to Shinto. An emperor (including sosen shin (ancestral god)) is more likely to be a subject of belief in Shinto.

Ise Jingu Grand Shrine, one of the two most sacred shrines in Japan
Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine, one of the two most sacred shrines in Japan

Kami (神)

Kami, The Objects of Faith in Shinto
The "Kami" found in Shinto are objects of faith that are to be feared or held in awe. Yaoyorozu (8 million)' appearing in the expression 'Yaoyorozu no Kami (8 millions deities)' is an example of a large number.

While Shinto's multitude of Kami are 'humanized divinities' who have the same form and attributes as humans, they are also 'guardian gods' that bestow blessings on the living; however, such Kami are also capable of tormenting or harassing the living. It is precisely because of this capacity to cause disasters and other misfortunes that Kami are to be feared. Kami in Shinto are intimately related to the ability to curse human beings.

Since Shinto is a polytheistic religion, it has a strong aspect of admiring Sorei (ancestral spirit, collective of ancestral spirits who have lost their individualities, ancestors deified as Kami, spirit of a Kami) and respects older things. Ise-jingu Shrine won a case related to Saishin Dispute based on Emperor Meiji's judgment in 1881 and Amaterasu OmiKami (the Sun Goddess) of the Ise Shrine was given the highest divinity, but there remain beliefs taking on the character of Izumo Grand Shrine Shinto, which was a loser of the case, and also many beliefs taking on local aspects, such as Ujigami belief.

It recognizes that Kami exists in everything, including weather, geography, and landscape. That is, 'Yao yorozu no Kami' (eight million gods). This aspect is common for the religion of Ainu. Moreover, there is a custom that a shrine was built, in which a person who performed outstanding accomplishments before the person died was enshrined as Kami (Kami of person).

On the other hand, it has a nature to take in foreign 'god' by itself, and many of 'gods' of primitive religions who were from the Eurasian Continent are enshrined as 'Kami' in Shinto. Among them, some 'gods' which should have conflicted with one another exist simultaneously. Furthermore, many of saints which were from other countries are regarded as 'god. 'In the medieval period, this custom was disappearing because belief was getting less important due to the industrial revolution and progress in means of information transmission, but the custom lasts in a cultural way like the cross as an essence of Christianity has been generally recognized as 'sacrament' and essences such as the moon (particularly, new moon and Islam) and Rokubosei (Hexagram) (Judaism) have been regarded as 'a symbol of existence beyond human wisdoms. '

Categories of Kami
1. Kami that have come into existence as a result of the transformation of a natural entity or phenomenon into a Kami.

2. Conceptual Kami that have come into existence as a result of the transformation of an abstract entity such as a concept or misfortune into a Kami.

3. Kami that are thought to be deified individuals that have come into existence as a result of the deification of ancient leaders, influential personages and the like (euhemerism).

4. The three Kami that are the creators of all things (referred to below as the three creator deities).

5. The all-powerful Emperors, who are the creators and rulers of all things.

6. Emperors are Kami that in the sense that monarchs are considered 'divine' according to the "Theory of the divine right of kings".

Kami that have come into existence as the result of the transformation of natural entities or phenomena into Kami
The oldest among the above-described types of Kami are those that have come into existence as the result of the transformation of natural entities or phenomena into Kami. In ancient Japan, people felt that there was something awe-inspiring about the mountains, rivers, giant rocks, giant trees, animals, plants, and other such elements of nature, as well as natural phenomena such as fire, rain, wind, thunder, and the like. This sense remains as a fundamental underpinning of Shinto to this day, and Yakumo KOIZUMI maintains that this is 'the sensibility of Shinto'. Nature bestows benefits onto humankind, and from time to time also presents hazards to humankind. Upon being instilled with a sense that these were anger (curse) of 'something' awe-inspiring, people in ancient Japan began to venerate of natural entities and phenomona, seeking to placate the anger when they thought that the awe inspiring entity or phenomenon was angry (and would impart misfortune), or to seek blessings. These natural entities and phenomona later came to be called 'Kami'.

Kami that have come into existence by the deification of ancient leaders or influential personages
With respect to the third category, the Emperor was said to be a "living god" prior to WWII, and this held true not only within the confines of Shinto thought, but in the realm of politics as well, where the Emperor was also considered to be a Kami. At present, as a result of the proclamation by Emperor Showa after WWII that he was a human being and not a god, the role of the Emperor in the political realm, and the relationship of the Emperor to the people has changed. However, within the institutional confines of the Shinto religion, the existence of the Emperor as bloodline descendent of the sun goddess, Amaterasu OmiKami, still occupies an important position, and the Emperor is positioned at the summit of the religious beliefs and practices. In addition, there are examples of individuals who having been influential in their eras have come to be venerated as Kami after their deaths (e. g. Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI as the Toyokuni Daimyojin, and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA as Tosho Daigongen); examples of individuals who, after losing some sort of struggle for power or being punished as traitors, have come to be venerated as Kami so as to placate their anger (e. g. , SUGAWARA no Michizane, TAIRA no Masamune), are also included in this category.

Each of the various tribes worshiped its individual unique Kami. Interaction among the tribes brought about the fusion of each of the tribal Kami, whereby the Kami were metamorphosized. Shamanism from the north also exerted an influence. There are scholars who refer to these phenomona as 'Kamigami shugo' (fusion of the gods). They maintain that this fusion of the gods phenomona laid the foundation for the later introduction of Kami from other religions, starting with Buddhism.

Kami, the creator of all things
Number 4 is Kami that Atsutane HIRATA, who had been influenced by banned books related to Christianity, assigned the position of creator of all things to Amenominakanushi no Kami. His thought formed the foundation of the anti-foreigner ideology of the royalist faction, as exemplified by the slogan 'Revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians' ('sonno joi'), which exerted a strong influence on each of the sects of modern Sect Shinto. This later became the basis of State Shinto (Kokka Shinto); however, after the Izumo faction lost the so-called pantheon dispute (saijin ronso, 1880-1881) within the Shinto Jimukyoku (Bureau of Shinto Affairs), this theory fell from prominence and receded into the background, becoming a latent force. Amenominakanushi no Kami (God Ruling the Center of Heaven), TaKamimusubi no Kami, and Kamimusubi no Kami became the three creator deities. The three creator deities are treated as the supreme Kami in many types of restoration Shinto even today. Among these three creator deities, Amenominakanushi no Kami is assigned the highest position.

Kami, the all-powerful Emperors as the creators and rulers of all things
As for the number 5, with the unification of the state and religion in the early days of the Meiji period, Koremi KAMEI and others at the Jingi Jimukyoku (Shinto Worship Bureau) promulgated a theory unifying Shinto and Confucianism maintaining that 'the Emperor' was consubstantial with 'heaven', and therefore omnipotent. The Emperor is the ruler of all things, and has ruled the earth and the heavens without break since the creation of the universe…. ' (excerpted from a book on conducting public religious services)

In "Saishu senso ron/Senso-shi dairon" written by Kanji ISHIWARA (originally delivered as part of the 'Kowa yoko' (the Outlines of Pacification) in China at Changchun in July 1929), the following descriptions are found. When humankind first awakened to belief in an Arahitogami (a Kami who appears in this world in human form), the true value of civilization based on the rule of virtue (the way of kings) is shown forth for the first time. The final war, that is, the war between the way of rule by virtue and the way of rule by military might is ultimately a war to decide whether the believers or the non-believers in the Emperor shall prevail; more specifically, it is a war to decide whether the Emperor is to be the Emperor of the world or whether the president of the Western world is to be the leader of the world, making it an unprecedented event in the history of humankind. It was on the basis of this ideology that Ishiwara, who was a staff officer in the Kwantung Army (Japanese armed forces in Manchukuo), incited the outbreak of the Manchurian incident.

Kami (the Emperor) as 'divine' according to the Theory of the divine right of kings
Number six was used as the interpretation of 'Arahitogami' in the proclamation (Imperial edict) in English made by Emperor Showa in 1946, in which he declares that he is a human being, not a god.

Names of Kami
The names (Shinmei) of Shinto Kami can generally be said to consist of three parts. Take the case of Ame no uzume no mikoto, for example.

Ame' no

Uzume' no


are the three parts.

In addition to these three parts, a variety of words and phrases honoring Kami can be added to this name. For example, the formal name of the Kami usually called 'Ninigi' is 'Amenigishiku ninigishi amatsuhiko hiko hononinigi no mikoto'.

There are cases in which the Kami is addressed with the first part of the Shinmei omitted. Also, in the case of academic research, such as in the fields of folklorology, mythology and the like, the third part of the Shinmei is often omitted when referring to Kami.

Ame' no (attibutes of Kami)
The first part (prefix) of the Shinmei indicates attributes of the Kami. The most frequent prefix used in Shinmei, 'Ame', 'Ama' (heaven) indicates AmatsuKami, or Kami related to the heavens or Takamanohara (plain of high heaven). The prefix 'Kuni' indicates KunitsuKami; however, in contrast to the many Kami having a Shinmei prefixed with 'Ame', a Shinmei prefixed with 'Kuni' designates a Kami associated with the land or the country. The prefix 'Yomo' (land of the deceased) indicates a Kami from yominokuni, 'Ho' (ear/head of a plant) indicates a Kami related to rice ear. There are many Shinmei that do not include a prefix.

Uzume' no (name of Kami)
The second part of the Shimei is the name proper of the Kami. Upon close examination, it becomes apparent that there are many Shinmei that end in the same sound. For example, there are many Shinmei that end with 'chi', 'mi', 'hi', 'musu, 'mutsu', 'muchi', 'nushi, 'ushi', 'o', 'me', 'hiko', 'hime', and so on. These can also be thought to be the names that each of the tribes called their respective 'Kami' before the fusion of the Kami. Chi', 'mi', 'hi' (spirits) are frequently appended to the Shinmei of nature Kami, as in the cases of Shinmei for spirits (Kagutsuchi, Oyamatsumi, etc, in which the syllable 'tsu' means the same as the syllable 'no'). The syllable 'mi' indicates the Shinmei of a higher level Kami than the syllable 'chi'. The syllables 'nushi' (owner, master) and 'ushi' (adult) are appended to the names of high level Kami, as in the cases of Oohirumenomuchi (an alternative name for Amaterasu), Okuni nushi, and so on. The syllables 'musu' (birth), 'mutsu' (parent) and 'muchi' (ancestor) designate ancestor Kami that have given birth to something; the syllables 'ki', 'nu' (male), 'shi', 'ko' (child), and 'hiko' indicate male Kami, while 'me' (female), 'hime' indicate female Kami. In particular, there are many cases in which a Shinmei appended with 'me' indicates a shrine maiden who has been deified. The suffix 'ko' was originally used to indicate a male, as in the case of kuninomiyatsuko (provincial governor) ONO no Imoko; however, as the Fujiwara clan had monopolized all the names for females, because it only a portion of females of high position, such as the Empress, were able to have the names with 'ko' up until the modern era, 'ko' has become a popular suffix for female names at present.

Mikoto' (title of the Kami)
The third part of the Shinmei is called the shingo. It is a so-called honorific title. The most prevalent examples are 'Kami' and 'mikoto'. Mikoto' means a 'honourable task', that is to say, an order, and is appended to the Shinmei of Kami that have received some kind of an order. For example, the shingo of Izanagi and Izanami at the time of their appearance was 'Kami'. Upon receiving an order from KotoamatsuKami to 'Solidify a country', their shingo changed to 'mikoto'. However, in the Nihonshoki all shingo have been unified as 7mikoto'. The character used to rite "mikoto" is the character for 'exalted' for paricularly sacred Kami, and the character for 'order' for other Kami. For particularly exalted Kami, the shingo "OKami" or OmiKami" is used. In addition, later eras saw the addition of myojin, gongen, and so on.

Meanings of The Word 'Kami'
The word 'Kami' in the Japanese language was originally a word used to indicate a deity in the Shinto religion. However, in the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) it is already possible to see descriptions of Buddhist deities as 'banjin' (foreign deities). When Christianity arrived in Japan in the 16th century, the object of worship venerated by the Christians, 'Deus', was referred to as the 'Lord of Heaven' and the like, and was treated as a separate deity from the deities of both Shinto and Buddhism. However, with the onset of the Meiji Period, the Christian God was also interpreted as being a 'Kami'.

Controversely, in other countries, when the Kami of the Shinto religion are discussed, in many cases they are grouped together as 'Kami', and distinguished from other deities, and the corresponding English language page on Wikipedia is also entitled, 'Kami'.

The word pronounced 'Kami' in Japanese has numerous meanings, including 'top', 'chief', 'director', 'Emperor', 'lord', 'head', 'count' and the like, and originally meant a person of high stature in society.

Nikko Toshogu Shrine, where the shogunate Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined

Tatari (祟り)

Tatari, The Essential Concept in Shinto Belief
Tatari refers to a condition wherein a god, Buddha, or a soul of human being causes a calamitous condition for human beings, or a supernatural force that works within that condition. Although a word "noroi" has a similar meaning to tatari, the latter mainly indicates a punishment by Shinto and Buddhist deities whereas the former mainly originates from human resentment.

Japanese gods innately haunt people or places. The word 'tatari' is said to be a corrupted form of 'tachiari,' meaning the manifestation of god. Infectious diseases, famine, natural disaster, and other calamities are the manifestation of god, and a theory states that religious services in shrines started in awe of god to quell and seal these disasters and enshrine gods.

Today, it is generally believed that the power of god will punish human beings for their violation of divine will, transgressions, malice, or neglect of religious duties. When a calamity or epidemic occurred, people recognized tatari through bokusen (divination) or takusen (an oracle) that revealed which divine spirit was causing the disaster and for what reason. It was also believed that by correcting the error or transgression, tatari could be quelled. After the syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism, people believed that the Buddha, who was supposed to give salvation, also caused tatari as other divine spirits of the Shinto did. It was believed that such tatari could also be quelled by enshrining the Buddha. This is just a folk belief or opinion, however; the original Buddhism view had no indication that the Buddha would cause any calamity or punishment.

Tatari by Vengeful Ghost
Later, when Goryo-shinko (a folk religious belief of avenging spirits) developed, ghosts of dead and living human were also considered able to curse and harm people. Human spirits with malevolence or malice causing tatari are called onryo (vengeful ghost). The famous case is tatari caused by SUGAWARA no Michizane (Tenjin) who died in despair. It was strongly believed that Michizane's tatari caused Seiryo-Den (an imperial summer palace) thunderbolt striking incident and the death of the Emperor Daigo. Court nobles at the time were frightened to death so they enshrined with great care the spirit of Michizane in the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine to let the tatari spirit ascend to be a guardian god. This method to transform a tatari spirit to a guardian god by enshrinement seems to be common practice in Japan since the introduction of Buddhism. In the most primitive concept of religion in Japan was, as the proverb says, "Sawaranu Kami ni Tatari nashi" (If you don't touch the god, the god won't haunt you), people probably only scared and sealed the mausoleums not to bother the divine spirits that were enshrined in the quiet solitude in the depth of the mausoleums.

Another well-known vengeful spirit is TAIRA no Masakado, and it is said that cataclysms occurred frequently in the vicinity of his tomb "Masakado Zuka" and they were believed to be caused by Masakado's tatari. Masakado was deified by Shinkyo, a traveling monk of Jishu school, and enshrined in Kanda-Myojin Shrine in 1309. There is also a rumor that every time the transfer of Masakado's kubi-zuka (burial mound for heads) in Otemachi, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo was scheduled, an accident occurred.

Various forms of Tatari
Belief in 'Tatari-chi (place of tatari)' found throughout Japan can be a reflection of primitive religious concept. Tatari-chi is a particular mountain, woods, or fields that is feared to cause a tatari. It is believed that if people cut trees or own the land, their family members would die. In Tokai region, such places are called 'Kuse-chi' or 'Kuse-yama. 'Tatari-chi also has local names such as 'Otoroshi-tokoro,' 'Bachi-yama,' or 'Irazu-yama. 'Places such as these generally have an ominous legend that they used to be an execution ground, for instance. There is an interesting opinion that these places are actually ancient sacred places for religious services, but only people's fear for divine punishment remained as a tatari tradition without religious beliefs.

Another widespread belief is that tatari are caused by divine trees or spiritual trees. Belief in huge trees survived since ancient times and elderly trees still remain in Japan today, and so do tatari folk traditions about elderly trees. In Shinshu region, for instance, there is a tradition of a pine tree that shed blood when it was cut with an ax. Many regions across the country have similar traditions.

It is also believed that the 'spirits of animals' cause tatari. The spirits of cats is feared in particular, as the phrase says, 'Killing a cat will torment the family for seven generations. '

Animals that have been believed to cause tatari since ancient timesFoxes are worshipped as divine servants in the Inari faith, and snakes are the embodiment of god in the Miwa-yama faith. Therefore, it is believed that if people do harm to these animals, they will be punished.

Aside from these, the tales of the supernatural, include a cat with nine tails, nekomata (cat monster) and ghost cat, suggest the widespread belief of folk tradition that fox and cats have the power to torment people. Many instances of jinx on cats can be found in the Western countries as well.

Kagura holy ritual of Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara

Koshinto (古神道)

Koshinto (Ancient Shinto)
Koshinto was the ancient Japanese religion which was the origin of Shintoism and was called Kodo, Shintoism before 6th century.

Koshinto is also referred to as primitive Shinto, Jomon Shinto and Fukko Shinto; all such names are used refer to the Shinto that existed before being influenced by foreign religions like Buddhism, esoteric Buddhism and Taoism, and indeed Koshinto is sometimes used to express those forms of Shinto opposed or contrasted to Shrine Shinto. Today's Shinto and Shrine Shinto have incorporated Koshinto to such a degree they are inseparable.

Koshinto is also termed a primitive religion, similar to those that sprang up naturally all over the world when people first formed into societies in the most ancient times. Its major tenets are worship of nature and of the dead (animism), and also emphasizes an extended understanding of and respect for the lives, souls, and gods of one's ancestors, conceiving of these things as the essence of life, and whose material substance it is possible to know; it also views existence as divided between the Tokoyo (the spiritual world, the realm of gods, heaven and hell) and the Utsushiyo (this world, the realm of human beings), and also affirms the existence of Kinsokuchi, places where gods dwell (within whose hallowed borders one may not enter), as well as barriers that prevent crossing between the realms, and the efficacy of prayers and fortune-telling (shamanism), including in the determining of government policy, and finally in the creation of a mythology of the world and of human beings. Japan's case, in which this sort of primitive religion survived the feudal and Medieval periods and reached the modern period intact, is almost unique. Although at base Shinto is a primitive religion, it has existed in Japanese culture for thousands of years and now has very deep roots, becoming sublimated to the point that up until the Meiji period, most professions held as sacred the principle of hard work, just as expressed in the Norito (Shinto prayer), and even apart from the official rituals of Shrine Shinto, there are many work-related ceremonies even today that originally came from Shinto rituals.

A View of The World
Many concepts have been added to Koshinto since ancient times, including the idea of shinra bansho (all natural things in the world), making it very difficult to classify the religion precisely, but the following concepts--as well as comments concerning the meaning of the Chinese characters and ancient Japanese words used in Shinto terms--of the religion, beginning with Koshinto and turning into today's Shinto, can be listed:

Nature and Ancestor Worship of Koshinto
Nature worship, in the form of continuing belief in himorogi (holy branches) and iwakura (rocks in which gods are said to dwell) has survived to the present day, and more specifically, there are sacred trees and spirit rocks decorated with shimenawa (holy straw cords) on the grounds of every shrine and distinct from the shrine building itself; indeed, quite apart from shrines, well-known and familiar sites of nature worship include the village groves near shrines as well as the huge boulders known as "fufuiwa" that can be found along the coast. Moreover, thunder was thought to be a sign of the Ina no Kami, the god of rice, and was believed to bring a good harvest, which is why lightning came to be called "Inazuma" (Ina's wife); and to an archipelago like Japan, whales that drifted ashore or were beached became an important source of food, so out of gratitude the people began to call such whales "Ebisu" (today worshipped as the god of fishing), and people in many different provinces began to believe in YoriKami ("the god who visits," also known as hyochakujin, the god who drifts ashore, or as kyakujin, the guest-god). It was thought that the gods arose not only out of nature or happiness, but also--as seen in the case of Tsukumogami--choose to dwell in living creatures that had lived for a long time or even in man-made tools that had been used for a long time. And it was thought that gods also lived even in the enemies who had invaded Japan and in the bodies of the animals killed and eaten by humans for food, which is why the mounds raised for the fallen Mongols, swords, fish, and whales have all been made into shrines.

The festival called Obon is based in its traditions and style on the ancestor worship of Koshinto, but monks at various temples carry out the ceremonies differently due to the syncretic blending of Shinto and Buddhism, and so the "true" version of such traditions has become unclear. Originally, because Buddhism held that if people cultivated enough virtue over the cycle of rebirth, they would finally reach enlightenment and become Buddhas, there was no significance to any particular death of an individual and hence no ancestor worship, so in the beginning Urabon was an official Buddhist ceremony to revere Shakyamuni. Today, if a person is not affiliated with any Buddhist sect, s/he will have little opportunity to participate in Urabon, which is why Obon is thought to be a specifically Buddhist festival.

Kinsokuchi (hallowed ground) and the barriers between Utsushiyo (the current, physical world) and Tokoyo (the spirit realm) as well as the barriers around Shinto shrines
As yorishiro that occur in nature, boulders and mountains (like holy Mt. Fuji) as well as seas and rivers are both places that the gods come to dwell and barriers between the spirit realm and the current (physical) world, and the "gi" from himorogi also means "fence", much as iwakura can also be called "iwasaka" (where "saka" means "border"); all these terms express the idea of the spritual boundary around a Shinto shrine. In fact, there are many places--Okinoshima island, for example--whose entire area, including the shrines, the little islands, and the forests, are hallowed ground; this concept has been passed down to Shrine Shinto, and finds expression in the various building methods used in shrines, like for instance the fact that originally, the sando (the road that approaches the shrine) was for the gods, and as such no human was allowed to walk on it. Symbolic barriers are still present in ordinary homes; for example, the shimenawa (holy straw cords) displayed around the new year and the ornaments made of dried sardines hung up for Setsubun (the holiday marking the end of winter, according to tradition) are intended to separate out the gods one wishes would visit from those one does not. Furthermore, small shrines, stone statues of the god who guards travelers, or statues of Jizo (the god of travelers and children) adorn the crossroads connecting villages; these are there not only to make the road safe and protect those traveling, but also to form barriers that can keep disasters or misfortune from affecting the village.

Prayer or Fortunetelling of Koshinto
Traditions concerning prayer and divination have been passed down to the modern-day Shrine Shinto, and there are still some shrines where tortoise-shell divination is still practiced at the new year, just as it was in ancient times. Japanese archery, which was popular up through the Taisho era, has also had a significant influence on the culture of Japan and the values of its people (as seen in terms like "to target," "to be on the mark" and "speculative spirit" (lit. "the hitting good fortune heart"), all of which derive from words used in archery), and because people determined the luckiness of each year by divination, the one selected to be "arrow taker" often went down to the "target area". Today's omikuji (fortune) is a simplified version, made by the Shinto priesthood, of the original prayers and divination. Moreover, Miko no mai (Shrine maidens' dance) as well as many kinds of entertainment among the common people and professional performers that have been passed down to the present day, including the "show business (Sumo) as Shinto ritual" or various kinds of mai (dance) like the Matoi (flaming flag) mai, shishi (lion) mai, Kagura (musical dances including Miko no mai) and Daikagura (spinning tricks and acrobatics), were originally types of ritual prayer intended to honor and appease the gods.

Government, Festivals, and Enshrinement of Koshinto
It is thought that many in ancient times, including Himiko, were actually shamans who made political decisions about the course the country should take based on prayer or divination. Shrine Shinto priests have been involved in governance since ancient times, and in the Heian period, they incorporated the Taoist concept of Inyo (Onmyo) gogyo shiso (yin and yang and the Five Elements) into their beliefs and practices and in so doing, obtained official positions in the government as Onmyoji (masters of divination and sorcery). And so through their prayers and divinations, they were able to control the course of government policy. This sort of decision-making model fell out of vogue and lay dormant starting in Japan's Warring States period, but remained in use among the court nobility and among Shrine Shinto. In ancient times most local development efforts were carried out by temples and shrines, and among such shrines, the focus was on entertainment, religious festivals, and Shinto rituals; their efforts were not limited only to building temples and shrines, but also extended to firming up societal infrastructure as well. And their method, in which even commoners practiced self government, received recognition, and indeed it became all the more striking starting in the Edo period (beginning in that period, large cities were divided into machiba (towns, under the jurisdiction of town magistrates), niwaba (jisha-bugyo, under the jurisdiction of (government-appointed) temples and shrine administrators), and nochoba (unsurveyed areas or suburbs of unfixed jurisdiction), and so commoners and townspeople cooperated to achieve self-government); the people used festivals to enshrine gods, spirits, and elements of nature itself, including such festivals as Tanabata (the Festival of the Weaver, celebrated July 7) and the Feast for Ebisu, both of which are still celebrated today, eventually becoming established as popular versions of Shinto rituals quite separate in form from Shrine Shinto rituals, but in any case, shrines continue to contribute to local development, even as they did in the past.

Remnants of Koshinto that have survived to the present day, and the sacredness of hard work
Remnants of Koshinto can still be seen today, many of which can be termed "folk belief", but in fact Koshinto is the very origin and essence of Shrine Shinto, and as such is inseparable from it. Some Shinto rituals, unlike those of Shrine Shinto, actually developed into occupations, including such ancient practices as entertainment and show business, farming, forestry, and fishing but also extending to blacksmithing, iron smelting, sake brewing, public works, and construction; it was said of such jobs that in the act of working itself was something divine. This tradition of hard work has been passed down to the present day, and many companies today choose both to erect small Shinto altars at their workplaces and to commemorate major turning points for the company with ceremonies featuring Shinto rituals. Originally, Shinto lacked any set doctrine or teaching method, which meant there was no need to differentiate Koshinto and folk beliefs in Kozukuri (baby-making) or Yorigami (god-summoning) from the rest of Shinto, including Shrine Shinto; if one constrains oneself to unearth the similarities that can be discovered in the above-mentioned actions, the only one that comes to mind is the concept that one must "purify, rectify, and beautify" one's heart.

Nachi Waterfall, one of the old gods of Shinto

How to Visit a Shinto Shrine

Simple Ways of Behaving at a Shinto Shrine
The following briefly describes the common steps and manners with respect to visiting Shinto shrines in Japan. However, the steps and manners may differ depending on shrines. Usually, there is a posted sign of how to make a prayer at the shrine.

It is recommended to visit a shrine on either the 1st or the 15th or both days every month. Before reaching the offering hall, visitors are required to go through a purification ritual to make their bodies and spirits fresh. That is because the Kami (God) is believed not to avoid 'impurity' and therefore it is advisable for visitors to take a bath or shower before visiting a shrine. Before walking through under a Torii (an archway to a Shinto shrine) after arriving at a shrine, visitors are supposed to perform 'Isson' (deeply bowing at forty-five degrees) in front of the Torii. Before bowing deeply, check your clothing to look nice and neat.

Next, rinse your mouth and hands with fresh water at the purification fountain. This is intended to purify your mouth and hands (also spirit) used for clapping and telling Norito and is one of getting rid of impurity. The steps to use the purifying water are:

First, take one of the ladles by your right hand, fill it with water, and rinse the left hand by pouring some of the water over the hand three times.

Second, grasp the ladle with your left hand and rinse the right hand three times with some of the remaining water.

Third, grasp the ladle with your right hand again, fill some of the remaining water in the cupped left hand, and rinse the mouth. Finally, rinse the left hand again with the remaining water. Don't transfer the water directly to your mouth.

After rinsing is over, hold the ladle vertically and rinse it by pouring some water over its shaft. To rinse the shaft is intended to think of the next user, too.

Put the cleaned ladle back to the place upside down and dry your mouth and hands with tissue paper or handkerchief.

If assisted by a female attendant, behave in manners as advised by her. After the rinsing steps, head for the main shrine to pray, walking on Sando (an approach to a main shrine) and when walking on Sando, it is advisable to walk on the parts other than the center. The central of Sando is called 'Seichu', which is a way of the Kami. At the main shrine, first, throw a coin into the offering box for an offering to the Kami. Ring a bell near the offering box, which is believed to aim to remove evil and be a sign to call for the Kami and begin with a ceremony.

Bow and pray after ringing the bell. A basic manner of prayer is 'Twice bowing, twice clapping and one-time bowing. 'Actual movements are:

Bow twice (bow the straight body from the waist at 90 degrees). Clap (Shinto) twice - to say more concretely, put both hands together in front of the chest, slide down the right hand a little (until the first joint of the left hand,) clap the hands twice to make a sound, slide up the right hand to the original place, pray, and drop down both hands. Bow again (if serving Shinto prayers, bow after the prayers are over). Before and after practicing 'Twice bowing, twice clapping and one-time bowing,' it is much better to perform Ichiyu (a one-time little bow). In a prayer, it is common to speak (loud or at heart) the address, name, and wishes of the visitor just after clapping twice. If you want to express thankful feelings in a prayer, follow the same procedure as the above. Although the prayer manner was different in each shrine in the past, unification to the current method, twice bowing, twice clapping and one-time bowing' was implemented due to the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the Meiji period. However, a few shrines practice different prayer manner; for example, Izumo Taisha Shrine and Usa Jingu Shrine practice 'four claps. '

When sacred wine or sake is offered, take it. Drinking sacred wine or sake is thought to get help from the Kami.

Sacred Path of Kifune Shrine in Kyoto
Sacred Path with thousands of Torii gate of Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Japanese Shrine Architecture

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