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About Shrines

Shinto Shrines and Japanese People

Centering on the Grand Shrine of Ise in Mie prefecture, dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami, there are many Shinto shrines throughout Japan. Each shrine has been revered by the inhabitants of the area since its establishment, and has kept close contacts with the local community through its religious activities and festivals.

Deeply indebted to the blessings of nature, the Japanese people came to acknowledge its spiritual powers that brought forth life, fertility, and prosperity. Divine spirits dwell in all of nature, and bring joy and bounty to our lives. Mountains, deep valleys, and the wide ocean are viewed as dwellings for the divine. Other natural objects such as majestic trees and special rocks are considered to be symbols of divine spirits as well. Through this intimate contact with nature and the divine, the Japanese people have continued to respect and draw inspiration from its spiritual beauty. At the same time, the Japanese people have long revered their ancestors who contributed enormously to the goodness of society.

In ancient times, rites were primarily performed outdoors and it was rather rare to have a house-style building as a place for performing rites. In those days, a plot of purified land was chosen and roped off in a square. Following the ceremony a stand of trees was erected as an object to which kami were invited. However, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan, people began worshipping images of Buddha placed in buildings. It is thought that Shinto, being influenced by this style, began to enshrine the kami spirit in a building and this became the popular custom as time went on.

At various turning points in an individual Japanese person’s life, visits are made to a shrine to pray for divine protection and to give thanks for the deities’ blessings. These rites of passage for the Japanese begin with hatsumiya mode. This is a ceremony celebrating the first visit of a new born baby to a shrine to be recognized by the local deity as a new member of the community. The next is a festival called shichi-go-san. Boys at their fifth year, and girls at their third and seventh year, visit a shrine in order to report their healthy growth and to receive divine blessings.

Special rites of purification and blessing are also sought at the time a young person reaches his or her maturity The most radiant occasion in life, however, is the marriage ceremony, when the bride and groom exchange ritual toasts of sake in front of the deity and pledge their vows as husband and wife. Rites of purification and prayer are held on many other occasions as well. Through the repetition of such life-cycle rites, Japanese people seek a way of life full of peace and joy in communion with the divine.

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