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LunarHarvest
23 Aug 2014, 01:20
Welcome to Shinto Explained! :^^:
This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, but only am getting around to it now. The purpose of the posts I make in this thread will have one purpose: to answer the question of “What is Shinto?” This is not only so that I can explain my religious and spiritual beliefs to others, but also gives me the opportunity to further expand my knowledge on the topics.

So I thought it might be interesting for you guys to put in some input on what topics I should cover first, so I put up a poll on this thread, with several topics related to Shinto and its beliefs and practices. Feel free to vote on the topics you find interesting, and I will check on it from time to time to see which topic to cover next. Also, if you happen to have any questions, feel free to ask them below! :^^:

So without any further discussion on my part, let’s get started with a general summary.

Shinto is a Polytheistic, Eastern religion, which is highly centralised in Japan, in terms of its practice. It is recognised as the cultural and national religion of Japan, in all but a legal sense. Shinto is highly focused on the natural world in its aspect of divinity. Shinto sees no division between the physical universe and the spiritual universe, but they are rather seen as a part of each other. This plays into the concept of the Shinto ‘deities’ called Kami. Shinto revolves around a ritualistic structure by which a practitioner maintains purity and worships and reveres the Kami and their ancestors.

Gleb
23 Aug 2014, 01:59
Thanks for making the post, LunarHarvest! :)
If I may, I would like to ask you to explain a bit about the Kami. What are they (I understand they are souls, or life energy)? How do they manifest in everything? Is there a difference between the Kami of a human and the Kami of a god?

Amadi
23 Aug 2014, 06:55
Aye, I'm looking forward to the reply's here ^^, I'd love to know more about the Festivals in Japan, Shinto and other holidays :3

LunarHarvest
23 Aug 2014, 20:01
So its almost been a full day, and we're at a four-way tie in the results. x3
If it comes down to it, I have a contingency plan for equal votes, but I will wait a tad bit longer to see if the results change.

LunarHarvest
24 Aug 2014, 22:52
​Shinto Explained 1 - Kami (Gods)
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What is Kami?
Kami is a very difficult topic to put simply.
Overall, if you were to boil it down to a single, oversimplified sentence, Kami are the spirits of everything which exists in the world. The best example I can come up with is that they are similar to the concept of the soul, as they are the spiritual nature and existence of everything in existence. That being said, the Kami of a specific thing can also be interpreted as the literal physical embodiment of that thing as well, so there is no distinctive separation between the spiritual and physical nature of the universe. They are pretty much considered as one and the same.

Kami are the spiritual existence that make up the physical world, and which manifest in everything. Everything from a pebble to the tallest of mountains, and from the tiniest of animals to human beings all have a Kami within themselves. Even non-animate and manmade things in the world, such as the skyscrapers of a major city, have their own Kami. This means that there are a near-infinite number of Kami, and this is often expressed by the phrase yaoyorozu no kami (literally “eight million Kami”), which actually simply means ‘infinitely many’, in its application.

Kami can also be understood as the forces we see in the world. The rushing of water, the wind blowing across the plains and deserts, the waves crashing against the coast, all are elements of the Kami of those specific areas of the world. After all, all the world, in the physical sense, derives itself from the energy that makes up the matter of the universe, and even air has a physical nature, so it therefore must contain a Kami to fulfil its spiritual nature.

Kami are the defining feature of Shinto. Shinto, in its simplest definition, is reverence and worship of the Kami.

How do Kami Compare to the Western Concept of ‘God’?

There are significant differences in comparing the terms Kami and God, in the Western sense. These do not simply refer to the differences in terms, but also in the sense of their states of existence. Unlike Western deities, Kami are not omnipotent, nor are they separate from the world. Rather the physical and spiritual world are considered to be one and the same, and Kami live in the same world as we human beings, and we are in a constant state of interaction with them. In addition, Kami are not as unified as the typical Western view of deity, and have numerous varying attributes between each other. For example, while the monotheistic, Abrahamic, God is often viewed as being omnibenevolent, Kami can be viewed as benevolent, malignant or even apathetic.

How does one see the Kami in the World?

Anything one sees in the world that draws them to feel awe or wonder, regardless of if it is made by man or by nature, shows its Kami to that person. As a direct result of this, each individual sees different Kami within the world.

What type of Kami are there?

There are three distinctive usages of the term Kami in the Shinto religion that I have noticed.

(a) Kami, or Kami as a whole, is the term for the Kami as an entirety, without making a proper distinction of any specific Kami. A prayer directed in such a manner is heard by all of the Kami for their consideration.

(b) Ancestral Kami are the Kami that are revered as one’s ancestors who live on as Kami. When an individual dies their Kami lives on as an ancestral Kami. Ancestral Kami primarily serve to be protectors of their decedents, clans and households. Additionally, a human being of large fame or renown may be enshrined as a Kami, but this is different than an ancestral kami to certain degrees. An example of such a person is the man Sugawara no Michizane, who was enshrined as Tenjin, the Kami of scholarship, after his death.

(c) The name of a specific Kami, or using the term Kami in reference to a specific object or thing, refers to the Kami of that specific object or thing, instead of the Kami as a whole. Additionally, one can also use the proper name of the Kami in question. A prayer directed in such a manner is directly sent to a specific Kami for consideration.

How are Kami Worshiped or Revered?

(a) The most common type of reverence towards any specific Kami, at least in those places where Kami worship is common, is to go to the shrine(s) to which that Kami is enshrined, and to pray with sincerity. Prayers do not have to ask for anything, but rather can express gratitude to the Kami, or offer thanks for good fortune. Alternatively, a practitioner may have a home shrine which enshrines a particular Kami within the home.

(b) Simply by having an appreciation of the beauty of nature, and of the things within it which cause you to feel wonder and awe, form a basis of reverence for that particular Kami.

(c) Festivals are often held in honour or in gratitude to the Kami, or a particular Kami.

(d) Offerings are another way to show reverence of worship to the Kami. Commonly food offerings are left on home shrines, or left at a shrine to be attended to by a priest. Common food offerings are rice, salt, sake and water, though other foods are not unheard of.

Disposition of Kami towards Humans?

There is no common disposition of Kami towards human beings. Some Kami are perceived as being more benevolent than others, but all Kami are different in their view of humanity. Just as Some Kami are perceived as being benevolent, there are other Kami which are properly malignant and aggressive towards humanity. Other Kami, could care less about humanity, and don’t have any really any opinion on us.

Who are some of the Major Kami in the Shinto Religion?

(1) Amaterasu-Ōmikami: The Kami of the Sun, Amaterasu is a Kami who is held in extremely high regard for the role she plays in the ecosystem, as the Sun. She is portrayed as a Goddess.
(2) Inari-Ōkami: The Kami of Agriculture, Foxes, Rice, Tea, Fertility and Sake. Inari has a distinctive quality in being portrayed as both male and female, or neither, depending on practitioner or shrine. Foxes are generally considered to serve as Inari’s messengers from time to time.
(3) Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto: The Kami of the dawn, mirth and revelry. Ame-no-Uzume is depicted as being female.
(4) Susanoo-no-Mikoto: The Kami of storms, and also the sea. Susanoo is depicted as being male, and is well known in the folk tales as being something of a trouble maker.
(5) Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto: The Kami of the Moon and of the Night. Tsukuyomi is depicted as being male.


Hope that I have done a good job explaining the basics surrounding the concept of Kami. If anyone has any questions about Kami, or about a certain topic related to them, feel free to post it below or PM me with it.

Gleb
25 Aug 2014, 11:58
​Shinto Explained 1 - Kami (Gods)
3400

What is Kami?
Kami is a very difficult topic to put simply.
Overall, if you were to boil it down to a single, oversimplified sentence, Kami are the spirits of everything which exists in the world. The best example I can come up with is that they are similar to the concept of the soul, as they are the spiritual nature and existence of everything in existence. That being said, the Kami of a specific thing can also be interpreted as the literal physical embodiment of that thing as well, so there is no distinctive separation between the spiritual and physical nature of the universe. They are pretty much considered as one and the same.

Kami are the spiritual existence that make up the physical world, and which manifest in everything. Everything from a pebble to the tallest of mountains, and from the tiniest of animals to human beings all have a Kami within themselves. Even non-animate and manmade things in the world, such as the skyscrapers of a major city, have their own Kami. This means that there are a near-infinite number of Kami, and this is often expressed by the phrase yaoyorozu no kami (literally “eight million Kami”), which actually simply means ‘infinitely many’, in its application.

Kami can also be understood as the forces we see in the world. The rushing of water, the wind blowing across the plains and deserts, the waves crashing against the coast, all are elements of the Kami of those specific areas of the world. After all, all the world, in the physical sense, derives itself from the energy that makes up the matter of the universe, and even air has a physical nature, so it therefore must contain a Kami to fulfil its spiritual nature.

Kami are the defining feature of Shinto. Shinto, in its simplest definition, is reverence and worship of the Kami.

How do Kami Compare to the Western Concept of ‘God’?

There are significant differences in comparing the terms Kami and God, in the Western sense. These do not simply refer to the differences in terms, but also in the sense of their states of existence. Unlike Western deities, Kami are not omnipotent, nor are they separate from the world. Rather the physical and spiritual world are considered to be one and the same, and Kami live in the same world as we human beings, and we are in a constant state of interaction with them. In addition, Kami are not as unified as the typical Western view of deity, and have numerous varying attributes between each other. For example, while the monotheistic, Abrahamic, God is often viewed as being omnibenevolent, Kami can be viewed as benevolent, malignant or even apathetic.

How does one see the Kami in the World?

Anything one sees in the world that draws them to feel awe or wonder, regardless of if it is made by man or by nature, shows its Kami to that person. As a direct result of this, each individual sees different Kami within the world.

What type of Kami are there?

There are three distinctive usages of the term Kami in the Shinto religion that I have noticed.

(a) Kami, or Kami as a whole, is the term for the Kami as an entirety, without making a proper distinction of any specific Kami. A prayer directed in such a manner is heard by all of the Kami for their consideration.

(b) Ancestral Kami are the Kami that are revered as one’s ancestors who live on as Kami. When an individual dies their Kami lives on as an ancestral Kami. Ancestral Kami primarily serve to be protectors of their decedents, clans and households. Additionally, a human being of large fame or renown may be enshrined as a Kami, but this is different than an ancestral kami to certain degrees. An example of such a person is the man Sugawara no Michizane, who was enshrined as Tenjin, the Kami of scholarship, after his death.

(c) The name of a specific Kami, or using the term Kami in reference to a specific object or thing, refers to the Kami of that specific object or thing, instead of the Kami as a whole. Additionally, one can also use the proper name of the Kami in question. A prayer directed in such a manner is directly sent to a specific Kami for consideration.

How are Kami Worshiped or Revered?

(a) The most common type of reverence towards any specific Kami, at least in those places where Kami worship is common, is to go to the shrine(s) to which that Kami is enshrined, and to pray with sincerity. Prayers do not have to ask for anything, but rather can express gratitude to the Kami, or offer thanks for good fortune. Alternatively, a practitioner may have a home shrine which enshrines a particular Kami within the home.

(b) Simply by having an appreciation of the beauty of nature, and of the things within it which cause you to feel wonder and awe, form a basis of reverence for that particular Kami.

(c) Festivals are often held in honour or in gratitude to the Kami, or a particular Kami.

(d) Offerings are another way to show reverence of worship to the Kami. Commonly food offerings are left on home shrines, or left at a shrine to be attended to by a priest. Common food offerings are rice, salt, sake and water, though other foods are not unheard of.

Disposition of Kami towards Humans?

There is no common disposition of Kami towards human beings. Some Kami are perceived as being more benevolent than others, but all Kami are different in their view of humanity. Just as Some Kami are perceived as being benevolent, there are other Kami which are properly malignant and aggressive towards humanity. Other Kami, could care less about humanity, and don’t have any really any opinion on us.

Who are some of the Major Kami in the Shinto Religion?

(1) Amaterasu-Ōmikami: The Kami of the Sun, Amaterasu is a Kami who is held in extremely high regard for the role she plays in the ecosystem, as the Sun. She is portrayed as a Goddess.
(2) Inari-Ōkami: The Kami of Agriculture, Foxes, Rice, Tea, Fertility and Sake. Inari has a distinctive quality in being portrayed as both male and female, or neither, depending on practitioner or shrine. Foxes are generally considered to serve as Inari’s messengers from time to time.
(3) Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto: The Kami of the dawn, mirth and revelry. Ame-no-Uzume is depicted as being female.
(4) Susanoo-no-Mikoto: The Kami of storms, and also the sea. Susanoo is depicted as being male, and is well known in the folk tales as being something of a trouble maker.
(5) Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto: The Kami of the Moon and of the Night. Tsukuyomi is depicted as being male.


Hope that I have done a good job explaining the basics surrounding the concept of Kami. If anyone has any questions about Kami, or about a certain topic related to them, feel free to post it below or PM me with it.
Thanks very much, LunarHarvest! This information really explains a lot! Thanks again! :)

LunarHarvest
28 Aug 2014, 01:42
Shinto Explained 2 – Matsuri (Festivals)

Festivals (called Matsuri) form one of the aspects of shrine culture in the Shinto religion. Festivals are usually annual events that celebrate a wide myriad of events. These can range from the passing into the New Year to the celebration and reverence to the ancestors. In truth, it would be near impossible to cover all of the aspects of the Festivals for every shrine, as there are a huge number of festivals which are held on a local-basis only, or in only a specific region. Due to this I will focus on some of the festivals which are typically celebrated at most, if not all, shrines.

Even though we will be going over very common festivals, it is still important to highlight that the practices may vary from region to region, and even shrine to shrine. Additionally, there are many festivals which are not as focused on the Shrine, as they are on certain rites, rituals and traditions.

Oshogatsu (New Year’s Festival) – 1 January
Arguably among the most popular, if not the most popular, festival in the Shinto religion, at least where Kami worship is more common, Oshogatsu celebrates the beginning of the New Year and the passing of the previous year. It can be said that Oshogatsu is similar in popularity and participation to Christmas, in Western cultures.

Bonenkai (“forget the year gathering”) parties are held throughout the month leading up to the festival (although not technically a part of the festival itself), among coworkers and friends, to forget the troubles of the previous year, and look forward to the coming year. Likewise, Shinnenkai (“new year gathering”) is the same, but takes place in the month following the festival, to welcome the New Year. Both types of party are usually accompanied by large quantities of alcohol being consumed.

The New Year marks a new beginning, and debts are usually paid off before it is over. Family visitation, cleaning of the house, business, et cetera, and visiting the local shrine to pray for the New Year are all commonplace during this time of year, and work to establish the New Year as a blank slate, for lack of better terms. Traditional foods are eaten at this time, and Shrines celebrate in various ways such as fireworks.

Below is a very useful video from a channel called TheJapanChannelDcom
This is an example of a traditional Oshogatsu, in a smaller community setting, which I find very useful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2Cu7t7IfkE

Setsubun (Beginning of Spring Festival) – 3 February
Name literally meaning “seasonal division” the Setsubun festival marks the beginning of spring, and is somewhat adequately referred to as the “Bean-Throwing Festival”. It is tradition that a practice called Mamemaki (“Bean scattering”) takes place during this festival. During Mamemaki, in order to symbolically expel Oni (demons/evil spirits) and misfortune, roasted soybeans are thrown at a member of the household who is wearing an Oni mask while saying “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Demon out! Luck/Happiness in!).

Alternatively, people visit Shrines which hold ceremonies and rituals of a similar nature.
Following the Mamemaki it is customary to eat as many beans as is your age for good luck, and in some cases one additional bean for good luck in the coming year.

Hina Matsuri (Doll’s Festival) – 3 March
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The Hina Matsuri is held to wish good health and a successful and happy life for young girls. The festival gets its name from the tiered displays which commonly start to appear in February, and are displayed by families which have girls. These displays tend to be either five or seven tiered, and contain the following symbolic dolls on them:

At the top are the Emperor and Empress. The next levels contain three court ladies, followed by five musicians, two ministers, three servants, with the bottom two levels containing a variety of miniature furniture pieces. Additionally, there are some single-tiered displays which only display the imperial couple.

The doll displays are taken down immediately following the end of the festival, as it is superstition that leaving the display up past 3 March will bring about a late marriage. In some areas, it is customary to float paper dolls down the rivers late on the afternoon of the day of the festival, as this is tied to a belief that misfortune will be transferred to the doll, and removed by abandoning the doll on the water.

Shunbun no hi (Spring Equinox Day) - ~20 March
The festivals and purposes surrounding Shunbun no hi are varied, but they can usually be attributed to the remembrance and honouring of ancestors. In this time, people often visit the graves of their ancestors, and will tend to them, as well as leave offerings for them.

Tanabata (Star Festival) – 7 July/7 August
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Tanabata is a festival commemorating the meeting of the two lovers Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair) who, according to legend, meet in the sky for their yearly visit to each other on the days of the festival. It is customary, at the time of the Tanabata festival, to write one's wishes on a small piece of paper to hang on a bamboo tree.

Obon – 13-15 July/13-15 August
Obon is a festival dedicated to the remembrance of the ancestors, the ones who came and lived before us. It is believed that, during the days of the festival, the spirits of ancestors return to visit the members of their family. It is customary at this time for an individual to leave out food offerings to their ancestors, and to gather with family and to remember the dead.

At the end of the festival, paper lanterns are lit and floated down the water, to symbolically guide the ancestors back to the realm of the dead.

Shubun no hi (Autumn Equinox Day) – ~23 September
Shubun no hi essentially has very similar practices as Shunbun no hi. Many people return to the graves of their ancestors to tend to them.

Shichigosan (Seven-Five-Three) Festival - 15 November
The Shichigosan Festival is a time for young girls of the age of three and seven, and young boys of the age three and five. These children are often taken to visit their local shrine to pray for good health and growth.

Hope you all enjoyed learning about the various Matsuri with me! :^^:
Questions or corrections about Matsuri, or just want to talk? Feel free to PM me.

Cobra
28 Aug 2014, 17:18
Excellent resource on Matsuri you have put together here. If you can, I think you should add in the kami section information about Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto as I find there are often questions about them and they are quite important. I came in to ask, now that I have moved and am in college, do you want to form a Shinto group to discuss our practices and such? I know that there are at least three if not more active Shinto people here. It is a bit tough being so far removed from other practitioners, but we know it is doable.

LunarHarvest
03 Sep 2014, 18:21
Sorry for the delay in the publishing this. I have been suffering from writer’s block and General-Distraction Syndrome. :p

Shinto Explained 03 – Ritual Purification

Shinto has no concept of original sin, or even karma for that matter, nor are human beings seen as being of a nature that is intrinsically evil or sinful. Instead, Shinto holds to the concept of impurity. Impurity differs significantly from the concept of sin, in many Abrahamic religions. For one thing, impurity does not necessarily arise from human actions directly. Rather, impurity exists within the world as a part of natural occurrences, and we regularly are exposed to impurity in our daily lives.

The concept of impurity can be divided into two distinct categories. The first of these is called Kagare and tends to be associated with pollution and impurity naturally occurring in nature, and our natural interactions with them. Notable things that are attributed to kagare impurity are such things as coming into contact with the dead, disease and blood.

The other form of pollution or impurity is called Tsumi, and is associated with actions that bring impurity upon a person. Tsumi impurity tend to be those actions which bring about impurity that is present in nature. To cause someone’s death, or to shed blood, or coming in contact with disease, et cetera, all bring tsumi impurity upon the person committing the action, as these things have a natural exposure to said impurity.

Unlike many other religions there is no divinity that a Shinto practitioner must appease, or appeal to, in order to be properly rid of impurity. Rather it is only required that an individual perform a ritual of purification. In this way, ritual purification holds a high importance in the practice of Shinto. For example, it is considered imperative that a person purify themselves before entering a shrine, as shrines are seen as being pure and sacred areas which serve as ‘hotspots’ for the Kami enshrined, for lack of a better term. Performing ritual purification removes the impurity from a person entering the shrine, and keeps the shrine grounds free of impurity.

Purification Rituals
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​(Remember to read the sign from right to left, as that is how the Japanese write.)

There are two common methods for ritual purification - both involving water. These are the rituals of Temizu and Misogi, and both rituals cleanse the practitioner of impurity.

The ritual of Temizu is especially common, and usually takes place at the front of a Shinto shrine, as one approaches the entrance. In Temizu, one uses water to rinse their left hand, then their right hand, then using the left hand to rinse the mouth, then rinsing the left hand again, as pictured above. This purifies the individual from impurity, and keeps them from accidentally bringing impurity into the shrine grounds.

Similar to Temizu, but more extensive, is the practice of Misogi, in which the practitioner purifies themselves through the washing of their entire body in water. This can also be done by bathing within a body of moving water, or more notably a waterfall. By cleaning and washing the body, the practitioner cleanses themselves of the impurity which they are carrying.

Shrines also often perform rituals to remove impurity, and the exact ritual varies greatly from region to region, and even from shrine to shrine, but the point remains the same in seeking to purify the community. Below, in the spoiler tags, are two videos that show just how radically different these shrine purification rituals can be. Both serve the same spiritual function, but operate very differently.


Grand Purification Ceremony at Yasukuni Shrine

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNmrd2I5WZI
Shishimai (Lion Dance) Annual Purification Ritual in a Japanese village

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DbaVzTBHfI

I personally prefer the second one. :p
I hope that you have enjoyed this publication of 'Shinto Explained', and I hope I was able to accurately and informatively explain the process of ritual purification in Shinto.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post them on the thread, or PM me. :^^:


I came in to ask, now that I have moved and am in college, do you want to form a Shinto group to discuss our practices and such? I know that there are at least three if not more active Shinto people here. It is a bit tough being so far removed from other practitioners, but we know it is doable.
Sure! That sounds like a really awesome idea! :^^:

Heka
03 Sep 2014, 21:34
Interesting. It holds similar with muslim purification rites. Cheers :)