The people of the West tend to
believe that Oriental religions are mysterious. this may be
because we, in the West, have never taken the time to really understand
the Asian people and their religious beliefs. the religions and
concepts of the Western peoples are quite different from those of the
East. But the more you study and learn about the Asian religions,
the more you will be able to see similarities.
In the West,
religion makes morality part of our daily lives. In Japan,
religion does not have much influence on the daily life of the
people. The attitude of the Japanese toward their gods is
respectful and practical. They tend to find religion comforting
and even enjoyable. The purpose of a visit to a temple is for a
brief contact with a Supreme Being. Visiting the temple brings
about a feeling of emotional release, and gives the people a chance to
visit with other people. There are hundreds of small local
festivals during the year in which the Japanese can become religiously
it hard to understand why Japanese society is orderly since there is no
fear of sinning against God. Since there are no commandments,
morality does not come from God. The Japanese do not feel a sense
of guilt before God, but they do feel a sense of shame before their
fellow men. A Japanese parent will discipline a child not by
saying that what he has done was morally wrong, but rather that people
will laugh at him. The greatest sin in Japan is to violate the
social codes and "loose face!"
SHINTO: "THE WAY OF THE
"the way of the gods," has no official religious influence in
Japan. Shinto is Japan's own religion, created by the Japanese for
the Japanese. The name SHINTO,
however, comes from two Chinese words--SHIN, meaning "good
spirits," and TAO, meaning "the way." These spirits
are known as kami, a word
which a Westerner could translate as "god." However, the
Japanese kami and the Western concept of God are not the
same. Shinto is based on man's response to his natural and human
surroundings. It is a way of life woven into the character of
Japanese thought and conduct.
Kami Shinto is a
simple religion. In fact, it is one of the simplest known.
There are no images, no sacred books, and no commandments. It was
originally a way of thinking, a way of looking at life. As a
religion, it is concerned with a variety of gods--the spirits of trees,
animals, and mountains; the principles of love, justice, and order; and
the god-like ancestors, heroes, and Emperors. The chief heavenly
deity is Amaterasu Omikami, the Sun
Goddess. The worship of these kami is centered in private,
personal meditation as well as in the observance of ceremonies and
festivals which are closely related to the community and national
traditions. To have unity with the kami, a person must have
a bright, pure correct heart. If a person does not have these
qualities, he is in disfavor with the kami.
years ago, Shinto began as a religion centered about nature, and ever
since it has been closely connected with the natural world. it was
a combination of nature worship and animism,
a belief that everything is inhabited by a soul which gives life or
activity to substances. Anything the Japanese feared seemed to
them to possess extraordinary powers or qualities and was worshipped as
a divine spirit. These spirits, or kami, were the gods of
heaven and earth. Their spirits dwelt in shrines, beasts, birds,
plants, seas, waterfalls, mountains, storms, rocks, winds, and
echoes. The insect, too, is awe-inspiring and has a kami
Man's approach to
the kami was one of friendly intimacy, love, and gratitude.
Fear was almost totally absent. Shintoists love the sun; thus they
worship the Sun Goddess. The Japanese sing, dance, laugh, and clap
their hands at the sun to express their joy and gratitude. The sun
provides light and warmth, and causes the rice to grow. Without
the sun, all Shintoists believe they would die and go to the
underworld. The sun also signifies beauty, which is one of the
main concepts of Shinto. Anything that has beauty beyond the power
of man is considered to be the greatest kami. Shinto, which
is said to have been founded in 660 BCE, is the third oldest religion in
the world. For over 1,400 years Shinto has been mixed with
Confucianism and Buddhism in Japan.
numerous shrines throughout Japan. They are usually found in a
lovely natural setting. The Shinto shrines further show Japanese
belief in simplicity. Few shrines are highly decorated, and some
reflect Chinese architecture rather than Japanese. The Shintoists
favor what is natural, and this is shown in their shrines. These
shrines can only be entered through the torii
gate. The ends of the upper crosspiece of the gate curve upward to
signal communication with the gods. The torii always marks
a sacred place. As a symbol, the torii marks off the
earthly world from the kami world; the world of everyday life is
separate from the spiritual world.
The shrines are
designed to promote a religious appreciation of nature. Every
shrine, even if it is in a crowded city, is surrounded by trees.
The oldest and most gnarled trees are roped off because they are
regarded as the holiest of trees. The Japanese believe that a
divine spirit exists among the pines that shelter the shrines.
Only the priests and the Emperor are allowed inside a shrine. When
they enter the shrine they must wear specially purified garments.
Before taking part in any Shinto ritual, the worshipper also must purify
himself. he must cleanse himself physically and mentally. He
then faces the object of devotion and says his prayers.
home contains a Shinto altar. It is always spotless, as is the
rest of the home. The altar is plain, and is rebuilt as soon as
the wood begins to rot. There are no images. There are slips
of paper on which the kami's names are written. The name of
the kami to whom a prayer is said is burned at the altar.
The family also places wine, rice cakes, and flowers on the altar.
Offerings are made daily. if the act of placing something on the
altar is neglected, the kami, and especially the ancestral kami,
are displeased. Misfortune will probably come to those who do not
perform their duty of attending the home altar.
SHINTO RITUALS & CEREMONIES:
faith has many ceremonies and rites that might appear strange to
Westerners. Cleanliness is very important to the Shintoist.
Great washing ceremonies take place before any holiday. it is
important to realize that the purity of Shinto is regarded more as
physical and ceremonial than as a purity of heart or thought.
Basins of salt and water are found before every shrine. These are
used by the worshipper to purify himself or herself. They wash
their hands and mouth before they pray.
pollution, is offensive to the kami. The West finds it hard
to understand some Japanese festivals because the Japanese have an
appreciation of the beauty of nature that most people in the West
lack. The Japanese feel close to nature and believe that the
forces of nature are also in mankind. the people in the West often
try to dominate nature. The Japanese love nature so much that in
the spring they close their shops and go to the parks or to the country
to admire the cherry blossoms. A class may be dismissed if a bird
begins to sing outside a window. Students and teachers may sit on
the lawn and listen to the bird's song. To the Japanese, this is a
lesson nature offers. A Japanese may sit for hours gazing at the
moon, or thinking about the beauty of the garden.
HONOR TO THE EMPEROR:
has a symbolic position in Shintoism. Prior to World War II, he
was believed to be the highest of all kami. During the
Meiji period, political Shintoism developed and called for the worship
of the Emperor. Emperor-worship continued until Japan's defeat in
World War II. In 1945, when political Shintoism was no longer
supported by the new government, it was made a private faith; the idea
of Emperor worship was also ended. Nevertheless, even today, the
Emperor is held in the highest regard by all the Japanese people.