Shinto, which means the way of the gods, has no real founder, no written scriptures, no main laws, and only a very loosely organized priesthood. Shinto is a native religion of Japan and also one of the oldest religions in the world, dated back to 660 B. C. In Shinto natural objects such as rivers, mountains, and heavenly bodies can be worshipped and personified. It is not an exclusive religion and people may practice Shinto and at the same time any other religions. Shinto creation stories tell about the history and lives of the Kami, which is a spirit.
There was a divine couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikito, who were known as giving birth to the Japanese islands. One of their daughters, Amaterasu (Sun Goddess), is the ancestress of the Imperial family. Her descendants unified the country. It is known that there are 8 million gods and goddesses, but others have been added. Also, according to Piggot, “The attendants who accompanied ‘the Beloved Grandson’, Ninigi, to Kyushu from the Celestial Plains became Shinto priests. ” (38) In Shinto ancestors are deeply valued and worshipped. All of humankind is believed to be Kami’s child.
Believers value musuhi, which is the Kami’s creative and harmonizing powers. The Shinto believers seek to have makoto, which is to have true heart. Shintoism has no definite set of theological beliefs or code of morality. As Motoori explains, “It is because the Japanese were truly moral in their practices they require no theory of morals. ” Morality and theology was believed to be naturalistic. According to Juliet Piggot, “Early Shinto did not preach moral codes, ‘follow the genuine impulses of your heart’ was the core of the teaching, coupled with obedience to the Emperor. ” (38)
Through the combination of Shinto and Confucianism the warrior code of bushido developed. The warriors who followed the code of bushido emphasized the importance of loyalty, gratitude, courage, justice, truthfulness, politeness, reserve, honor, and mental and bodily discipline. When a Bushido warrior was dishonored, he was expected to kill himself by hara-kiri. Worship in Shinto is to express gratitude to the gods and to secure their honor. During certain times of the year, large festivals take place to worship events such as spring planting, the fall harvest or to celebrate historical events.
Some festivals may last for a few days. During a Shinto festival, people wearing special dresses carry the kami through the streets in palanquins. Decorated floats accompany them, where people play the drum, flute and other traditional Japanese instruments. However, some celebrations may be celebrated more privately at home or at a neighborhood shrine. Shrines are places of worship and dwelling of the Shinto gods. Inside a shrine there are sacred symbols that represent the kami, and are located in the innermost part where they cannot be seen.
People visit the shrines to pray for such things as good fortune and to turn away evil spirits. The common way to pray at a shrine is to first purify your self by cleaning your hands and mouth with clean water. Then throw a small offering, such as a coin, in to the box in front of the sanctuary. Then bow twice deeply, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds. If you are sick, or have an open wound, or are mourning you are not supposed to visit the shrine. These things are considered to be impure. The word affirmation, which means “things we agree are good”, is used to describe the basic beliefs of Shinto.
In Shinto there are The Four Affirmations that are: Tradition and the family- Family is extremely important because traditions are passed down through families. The main celebrations are birth and marriage. Love of nature- Being in contact with nature brings you closer to the gods. Natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits. Physical cleanliness- The Japanese often take baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their mouth. Someone who is dirty is ugly and cannot be in the presence of the spirits. Matsuri- It is a festival, which honors the spirits.
It is when people and spirits come together and enjoy each other’s company. Presently there are thirteen Shinto sects that are brought into five major categories: First are the people who are strong believers of nature worship. The second are the people who are devoted to faith healing. The third are the people who focus more about the historic, reviving the myths of the origin of Japan, stressing purification rites, fasting, breath control, and other techniques similar to the Yoga cults of Hinduism. The fourth are the people who are devoted to purification rites.
Finally the last is the people who emphasize devotion to Confucian ethics. In the early 1990s more than 110 million participated in the different Shinto sects, and only 3. 4 million people believe in Shinto as their main religion. Shintoism has become an important and significant religion for the Japanese people. It is a religion that is not based on strict rules and more on love and respect for nature, life, and cleanliness. After observing the way of the religion, it is seen people celebrate life and nature through festivals and paying visits to the shrines.