Carlos Albizu University.
Shinto is the principal religion of Japan, with roots that date back to prehistoric times with origins in Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. The term Shinto refers to the “way of the gods” and was first given to Japan’s native religion a few decades after Buddhism arrived to the country. Shinto remains an essential, defining, part of Japanese life, culture and belief. The religion underwent a major revival in the second half of the 19th century and today the faith is still strong. Shinto is amazingly interesting, with a strong structural society, thus making this a very meaningful religion. To understand such a religion is important to read about its origins and history. In early Shinto days during the Yayoi period (ca.300BCE-ca.300CE), people established rice cultivations, sawing and harvesting rituals. By the time Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century, Japanese people were worshiping Kami as a part of the country’s culture. The arrival created conflict in the country and both religions fought for power. Buddhists won, and they constructed many temples shadowing Kami. Despite victory of Buddhism as a religion, people were still worshiping Kami with, and soon to be known as Shinto. Both religions coexisted until the Tokugawa period, which lasted from 1603-1867 and under such time the shoguns promoted Daoism and Confucianism, which drastically reduced Shinto’s practices even more. During the Shinto’s revival in the 18th century, the Meiji emperor took power from the shoguns and made Shinto the official state religion. The Japanese Imperial family convinced the crowds that the emperor was the descendant from the sun goddess Amaterasu. Once devoted to local Kami, these know focused on the imperial cult, which was known as “State Shinto” and was used to promote nationalism. The Buddhist sites were destroyed and people who objected to State Shinto were punished. The religion drastically changed after WWII, with the new Japan removing Shinto’s status as a state-sponsored religion, and gave Japan the freedom to choose whatever religion they wanted to worship. The influences of Shinto are seen on the streets, houses, cleanliness and even sports like Sumo Wresting, Karate and Kenpo. This ancient faith is still an important part of Japan’s entire national Identity, despite the country’s technologically advancement and forward-thinking attitude. Now, that the history of Shinto has been explained it is important to understand the Symbolism and Mythology of their religion. It is said that Izanami and Izanagi (a woman and a man) created Japan by swirling the water with the tip of the sword that Izanagi holds. The physical representation of Izanagi and Izanami are two rocks connected by a rope or lace with three strings attached to it and at the end of one of the rocks there is a “Torii”. Amaterasu, the son of Izanagi and Izanami is the most worshipped Kami (deity), and represents the “Sun Goddess”. Japan’s close identity with the sun, from the symbol on its national flag to its popular name as the “Land of the Rising Sun”, helped to strengthen claims that the royal family was descended from Amaterasu. This was pre-WWII, eventually, in 1946; the emperor publicly renounced his divine lineage, to become a constitutional figure. The “Torii” is usually seen at the entrance of a shrine or nature, as both are considered sacred. To me the Torii, which has a door-like frame, is an entrance to a sacred Shrine where people can directly worship and pray to a Kami. As nature is also considered sacred you will see a Torii, which mean that people can also pray directly to Kami’s in the forests, rivers, mountains, etc. People usually bow at the entrance or Torii, before proceeding. Kami’s are deities or gods, and in Shinto they are thousands of deities that represent different meanings, for example Inari is the god of rice and can also mean prosperity. Many Shinto practices are based on need, and people will usually pray to the god for a need in the following way. The person enters through the Torii and bow, then proceeds to Shrine or nature environment and buys and Ema, which is a wooden tablet. The person then proceeds to write to the corresponding Kami a need, to hang it on the shrine. The person then claps twice and holds their hand near to their heart to be pure and sincere. The last process is to pray for that need, and if it is conceded, the person will repay by helping to reconstruct a Shrine or Temple. Probably the most important moral concept in Shinto is Harmony. Shinto encourages thought, actions, and emotions that preserve and nurture “wa”, and discourages everything that disrupts or destroys it. In a few words Shinto encourages social conformity and also supports the efforts to conserve the environment and they do so, by initiating anti-pollution campaigns. It also enforces that japan as a whole and their cleanliness, and organization everywhere ensures that people are ritually pure. In Shinto the group is usually more important than the individual. People are loyal to the “ie”, a term that embraces a kind of extended family, including Kami and the living members. This is why Japan has such a rigid social structure. The society in Japan is so strong that for them to “Face” is to deal with the problem in an ethical Shinto way. People who step outside social norms, do wrong, or let the rest of society down in some way, lose face and are left to confront shame depending on the severity of the crime. For a minor offense, this might mean a public apology; for a more serious wrongdoing, it may involve an offering or compensatory gift. A person who has sinned greatly and especially if the sin affected the lives of other people, it is expected of the individual to commit “Seppuku” or suicide. To conclude I will like to state that every religion is heavily weighted in Mythology, just that we had to explain rain, storms, earthquake with some sort of story or mythology behind it. Shinto is no different, as they have Kami’s, which explain how Japan was created. Religion does have a huge impact in the culture of a country and Shinto has made Japan’s society incredibly rigid, to the point that the whole is more important than one. Probably this is the reason why japan flourished after their devastation in WWII, to become the 3rd largest economy in the world.