View Full Version : Common Misconceptions about Shinto

19 Jul 2014, 02:12
Often when I see Shinto being discussed or portrayed in the Western world, I see many issues and problems with their interpretations. Among these are some rather crucial misunderstandings. I don't know if you all know that these are misunderstandings already, but I figured I would post them anyway. Enjoy! ;)

1) Shinto is a strictly Japanese religion, or is only relevant to Japan.

Perhaps the most common error in the interpretation of Shinto, within the Western world, even by some professors of religion I have observed, the idea that one must be Japanese, or live in Japan, to practice Shinto, or pray to the Kami, is not true. The Kami are in everything in the world, and not just within the islands of Japan. Just as there are local and ancestral Kami within Japan, so too are there local and ancestral Kami within every other country, continent and household. Everything in existence contains a Kami, and this is without exception.

2) You need to visit a shrine, or own a kamidana (home shrine) to worship or pray to the Kami.

It is generally recommended that one have a kamindana, or a shrine they can visit, to worship and revere the Kami at, and where they can partake in rituals. This is partial because the shrines can serve as 'hotspots', for lack of a better word, for the Kami which is enshrined within it, but this does not make them mandatory in order to perform Shinto rituals or prayers. The Kami are in everything in this world, and thus it is possible to communicate with the Kami even without any form of proper shrine.

3) The Kami have set genders (ie. Amaterasu-Ōmikami is female and Susanoo-no-Mikoto is male)

The term Kami itself carries no weight of gender specification, and serves to be a unisex word to refer to the deities of the world. Kami are depicted as one gender or another, in my opinion, because these are simply the ways that we have grown to commonly display them. This being the case, there are also Kami which have no common portrayal on the basis of gender.

One example of this in a prominent Kami is Inari-Ōkami, who serves as the God or Goddess of agriculture, industry, fertility and foxes. As the previous sentence suggests, depending on the person or the shrine in question, Inari-Ōkami may be displayed as either male or female, or neither in some cases. The same lack of a set gender can be applied towards all of the Kami.

I will add more of these as they come to mind, or as I see them in the world around me, but those were some of the big ones that came to mind when I thought about the common misconceptions surrounding Shinto as a faith and spirituality.

If you feel like adding anything to the list, you have a question regarding Shinto, or a clarifying question, feel free to post here in the thread. Or you can shoot me a PM anytime if you just want to chat. :^^:

19 Jul 2014, 03:04
I'm really interested in learning about Shinto, as I have a love for Japanese culture and their religious sites. Can't wait to see more posts!

19 Jul 2014, 18:49
Here's a big one.

4) Shinto has no beliefs about the afterlife.

While it is true that Shinto has no concept of Summerland, Valhalla, Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, et cetera, this does not mean that Shinto has absolutely nothing to say about what becomes of human beings when we depart from our mortal lives.

Humans, like all things within the world, have a Kami within them, and become Kami when they die. These Kami form the ancestral Kami of their respective households, and the Kami of especially greatly revered persons may be enshrined as the Kami of a shrine. An example of this is Sugawara no Michizane, an imperial official in the 9th and 10th century, who was enshrined as the Kami, Tenjin.

Beyond this, however, there is no real description of the nature of an afterlife, or any of its qualities, in Shinto, and the topic of afterlife is largely considered to be unimportant.

19 Jul 2014, 23:04
Didn't Izanami end up in the underworld when she died? Is that not the general "afterlife" in shinto? I'm pretty interested, I love Japanese myths, but I've only read the one reference to the underworld in the story of Izanami and Izanagi.

19 Jul 2014, 23:32
Didn't Izanami end up in the underworld when she died? Is that not the general "afterlife" in shinto? I'm pretty interested, I love Japanese myths, but I've only read the one reference to the underworld in the story of Izanami and Izanagi.

The Kojiki and the Nihon-Shoki can be considered to be a form of mythology for Shinto, but it does not hold the same importance as the Bible in Christianity, or other religious texts. Ultimately, there is no proper mythology, scripture or religious texts that define, and are held as true in, the Shinto religion. Likewise, there is no concept of the afterlife that forms a proper dogma in the Shinto religion. A person can be Shinto while believing in any form of afterlife, or even claiming there not to be one.

That being said, to come at it from the mythological perspective, Yomi is mentioned as being a form of afterlife in the Kojiki, and seems to share some similarities to Hades in its nature, but details are significantly lacking in regards to the place itself, or any of its functions, attributes, qualities or nature, or how the souls that end up there exist there.

Most of the time though, from my observations, the afterlife is considered something that we should concern oneself with, in our daily lives, in Shinto (and in my personal beliefs as well, to be honest).

21 Jul 2014, 22:27
5) Only men may form the clergy in Shinto. Females may be shrine maidens (Miko), but not priests.

Shinto has no restrictions on what people may participate in the clergy based on gender. There are both priests and priestesses present in the shrines, though, by simple observation, it is easy to come to the conclusion of the opposite. The current ratio between the number of female priestesses to male priests is 1 priestess for every 9 priests. So men greatly outnumber women within the clergy, but it is not due to any restrictions placed on women from becoming priestesses.