Jinja-Honcho -The Association of Shinto Shrines-


Japanese in New Window

Shinto is a general term for the activities of the Japanese people to worship all the deities of heaven and earth, and its origin is as old as the history of the Japanese. It was towards the end of the 6th century when the Japanese were conscious of these activities and called them 'Way of Kami (the deity or the deities)'. It coincides the time when the 31st Emperor Yomei prayed before an image of Buddha for the first time as an emperor for recovery of his illness. Thus accepting Buddhism, a foreign religion, the Japanese realized the existence of a tradition of their own faith.

After having gone through a long history since then, this indigenous faith, Shinto, has been developed into four main forms: the Koshitsu Shinto (Shinto of the Imperial House), the Jinja Shinto (the Shrine Shinto), the Shuha Shinto (the Sect Shinto), and the Minzoku Shinto (the Folk Shinto).

Japanese in New WindowThe Koshitsu Shinto (Shinto of the Imperial House)

The Koshitsu Shinto is a general term for conclave rites performed by the emperor, (who is now 'the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people' under the Japanese Constitution,) in order to pray myriad deities centering Amaterasu Ohmikami (a goddess who is the ancestral deity of the emperor according to the Japanese myth) and the imperial ancestral deities for a long continuation of the state, for happiness of the people and for world peace, and it has an independent system. Daijosai, or Great Festival of Thanksgiving, is the first Niinamesai (a rite of Thanksgiving) performed by the newly crowned emperor of Japan in a palace called Daijokyu which is temporarily built inside the Imperial Palace. Besides this rite, rites performed at the Grand Shrine of ise are to be included in this category, since Amaterasu Ohmikami is enshrined in there.

Niinamesai is the most important Shinto rite which is performed in order to make an offering of the first fruits of a year's grain harvest thanking the deities for their blessing and also sharing the food produced by these first grains with the deities. According to the Japanese myth, it was Amaterasu Ohmikami who performed this rite for the first time.

When the capital of Japan was transferred from Kyoto to Tokyo in 1869, three imperial shrines were erected inside the Imperial Palace. Kashikodokoro, which enshrines the imperial ancestral deity, Amaterasu Ohmikami is centered among the three, and on the east side, there is Shinden which enshrines the deities of heaven and earth, and on the west side, Koreiden which enshrines the spirits of successive emperors. In addition to them, Shinkaden was built in order to perform Niinamesai there. These shrines are connected by corridors, and all the rites of the Koshitsu (Imperial House) Shinto are performed in these shrines.

In connection with Niinamesai, Emperor Showa, (the 124th Emperor and the father of the present Emperor) started to cultivate rice in the water-field inside the Palace, doing all the procedures by himself including seeding, bedding young plants, harvesting, in order to make an offering of the harvest produced by himself to the deities.

There are clergy men and women called Shoten (men) and Nai-Shoten (women) are serving in order to assist the emperor to perform the rites. The number of rites performed by the emperor reaches several tens a year including Genshisai, the first rite of a year. There are scholars who call the emperor the king of the ritual. It is considered that the true nature of the emperor is to be always with Kami (the deities).

Japanese in New WindowThe Shuha Shinto (The Sect Shinto)

The Shuha Shinto (the Secto Shinto) can be classified into two categories: the Sect Shinto and the New Sect Shinto. The Sect Shinto is the groups of the Shinto believers that started individual religious activities before 1868 and after 1882 when Shinto Shrines were secluded from other religious institutions as the place for rites and festivals conducted by the State (the beginning of so-called State Shinto); they are Kurozumikyo, Shinto Shuseiha, Izumo Oyashirokyo, Fusokyo, Jikkokyo, Shinshukyo, Shinto Taiseikyo, Ontakekyo, Shintotaikyo, Misogikyo, Shirikyo, Konkokyo, and Tenrikyo* according to the date of establishment. Each group has a founder and its own doctrines. Although they worship traditional deities of heaven and earth, following traditional forms of rites and festivals of Shinto, they often have the central figure of divinity to revere. In the case of the New Sect Shinto, they have a notable tendency to make a compromise among Buddhism, Confucianism, and folk faiths such as the Yin Yang school. There are some groups which even show characteristics of monotheism as the extreme case.

*Tenrikyo withdrew its membership from the Federation of the Sect Shinto in 1970 and announced that they are not Shinto.

Japanese in New WindowThe Folk Shinto

The Folk Shinto is a Shinto faith which was customarily practiced by common people without being systematized. Thus it is inseparable from the Shrine Shinto. However, in the time of the 40th Emperor Tenmu (673-686), it was segregated from the Shrine Shinto when the government of the time set up a certain system relating to the Japanese traditional rituals and festivals, which had been long practiced in parallel with rituals of Buddhism, the state religion of Japan at that time. After that, the Folk Shinto gradually developed by itself forming an complexed form of rituals and festivals which sometimes amalgamating even with Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Among them, those which have not lost traditional forms of Shinto are considered now to be the Folk Shinto.

In an agricultural community, for instance, there is a custom that rituals are performed by a lay-man without involving a priest. A member of the community (often a young boy) is nominated as "Toya", and he performs rites to worship the deity of the locality for one year under the rotation system.

Another examples of the Folk Shinto are rites of passages of life and the year-round observances. They are all closely related to rites and festivals performed at the Shinto Shrines.

Japanese in New WindowA. The Yearly Round of Observances:

1) New Year's Festival:

The Yearly Round of Observances starts with the New Year's Festival. In an urban society, people visit a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple during the first three days of a year as the first thing to do. In a rural society based on agriculture, however, each house executes a ceremony by themselves to invite the deity of a year, or the communal body does it on behalf of each household, and a family or the community share with the ancestral spirits the specially prepared meal and the rice wine.

Even in an urban society, people place a new amulet received at a tutelary shrine of the locality or a new Taima (a special amulet purified and distributed by the Grand Shrines of Ise) in an altar of one's own house. After that, a family drinks Toso (the special sake for a new year7s ceremony) and enjoys the New Year's meal.

2) Bon Festival:

Bon Festival held in July or in August as an ancestral souls' day is said to be a Buddhist festival related to Chinese Urabon sutra. However, it is also considered to be a folk Shinto faith with following reasons: people visit grave yards in order to recall the souls of ancestors which had been once sent to the Pure Land, being free from all the agonies of this world; all the members of a family or a clan get together to enjoy the specially prepared meal for the occasion. From these points, Bon Festival is considered to be one form of the amalgamated folk faith which has been customarily performed in Japan for a long time. It is even clear when we consider a fact that Buddhism originally does not say the continuous existence of individual soul after death.

3) Other Festivals:

There are many other festivals including those which are related to various kinds of professions, such as agricultural works, industrial works, or commercial activities. There are also many festivals to wish an individual happiness and prosperity avoiding any troubles and misfortunes, or those which have been influenced by Buddhism, Taoism, and Yin-Yang thought. There are seasonal festivals, too. On the last day of a year, the Japanese cleans a house and the surrounding area, and takes a bath to clean themselves, then eat Soba noodle to wait for a New year. This is undoubtedly a custom based on Oharae (purification) that Shinto has been practiced since ancient times.

Japanese in New WindowB. Rites of Passages:

  1. Rites of passages begin with Hatsumiya Mode. It is the first visit of a new born baby to a shrine. Visiting Ubusuna shrine (a local tutelary shrine) together with fully dressed family members, the baby is recognized by the local deity as a new member of the community.
  2. Next comes a festival called Shich-Go-San. Boys at their fifth year, and girls at the third and the seventh year, visit a shrine in order to report their healthy growth and to receive divine blessings.
  3. Then Coming-Age festival. The youth reached 20 years old are nowadays celebrated officially by public institutions such as a local government office. However, after non-religious ceremony, many of them visit a shrine to receive divine blessings.
  4. Marriage ceremony was originally a rite of passage. It was a tradition that a family reports a marriage to the ancestors in front of the household Shinto altar or the Buddhism altar, and then introduce the newly wed couple to their community as new members, inviting relatives and neighbors to a banquet held at the household. Since the Meiji ear (1868-1912), however, it has become a new custom to hold a marriage ceremony at a shrine. In these days, there are people who have it in a Buddhist temple or a Christian church. There are some, though not many, who have a civil marriage.

Japanese in New WindowThe Jinja Shinto (The Shrine Shinto)

This is a general term for all the rites and other activities performed by a local community or a kin community mainly in a building called Jinja (or a shrine). Together with the Koshitsu Shinto (Shinto of the Imperial HouseÅjÅAthis is considered to form the core of the Shinto tradition.

In February 1946, responding to the issuance of so called the Shinto Directive by the occupation authorities in the previous year (1945), the world of Shinto Shrines formed an organization known as the Association of Shinto Shrines with an aim to uphold the Japanese cultural tradition. Presently it includes about eighty thousand shrines throughout Japan.

A long tradition worshipping Kami (the deities), however, it is not, by itself, a religious institution which is organized by followers under a particular spiritual leader. Each shrine has an individual historical background for its establishment. So, it has no fixed doctrine nor holy scripture. Although the Association of Shinto Shrines formed as a unifying body of these shrines putting its base on reverence for the Grand Shrine of Ise, it has no standardized fixed doctrine but just the constitution for the organization which describes its aim and spirit and the 'General Characteristics of a Life lived in Reverence of Kami (the deities)' which describes the guidance for Shinto followers. The main points are as follows:

  1. To be grateful for the blessings of Kami and the benefits of the ancestors, and to be diligent in the observance of the Shinto rites, applying oneself to them with sincerity, brightness, and purity of heart.
  2. To be helpful to others and in the world at large through deeds of service without thought of rewards, and to seek the advancement of the world as one whose life meditates the will of Kami.
  3. To bind oneself with others in harmonious acknowledgment of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish and that other peoples too may live in peace and prosperity.

The expression, "uprightness, righteousness and purity of heart", was originally used in the Imperial Edict of Senmyo in the Nara period (724-780). It describes the royal mind of people towards the emperor and the state. "The will of Kami" expressed in (2) is understood as a divine mission for the Japanese to realize what Amaterasu Ohmikami commanded to her grandchild. According to the Japanese myth, she sent her grandchild to the land of Japan and blessed him saying "Do thou, my grandchild, proceed thithe and accept it. Go! and may prosperity attend thy dynasty, and may it, with heaven and Earth, endure for ever."

Japanese in New WindowJinja (or Shrine)

The term, Jinja (or a shrine), is originated in the word, Yashiro which means the place for a some type of building. In the ancient times, rites were performed outdoor. At that time, it was rather rare to have a housestyle building such as Izumo Taisha as a place for performing rites. In those days, a piece of unpolluted land was chosen and roped off in square and a stand of tree was erected as an object on which Kami was to be invited. This place including the tree was called Himorogi. When a piece of rock was chosen instead of a tree, the place was called Iwasaka. Rites were performed inside either Himorogi or Iwasaka.

However, when Buddhism was brought into Japan and worshipped by the Soga clan, they worshipped an image of Buddha placed in a building. It is considered that Shinto, being influenced by this style, started to enshrine the Kami spirit in a building and it became more popular as the time went. The ancient style of rituals can be seen now in jichinsai, a rite performed before constructing a building to show people's reverence towards the Kami of a locality and to pray for safety during the process of construction.

Shinto was thus influenced by Buddhistic way of worship, yet, it has never used any image of Kami as the object of worship with a rare exception in the medieval time (1192-1603) during which shrines enshrined an image of Kami which resembled to Buddha's image.

The building of Shinto shrines used to take up the style of a high-floor warehouse or that of a dwelling house, like the Grand Shrine of Ise, whose material were mainly plain wood and thatch for the roof. But in a long history since then, many different styles were developed under the influence of Buddhism and Yin-Yang though, and they started to use painted materials, and sculptures were added to buildings. Nowadays ferroconcrete is used as materials for shrine buildings to prevent fire.

Presently the word Jinja is translated into an English world 'shrine'. It seems, however, to have delicate shades of meaning between the two. In English a shrine is considered to be a building in which the ashes or personal belongings or an image of a dead is contained. It is similar to Byo in Chinese. Jinja, however, enshrines, in fact, only the spirit of Kami, and religious services are performed in the form of worshipping an object in which the spirit of Kami is believed to reside. It is generally located in natural environment, and its architectural style is to be simple so that it gives an impression of 'purity' or 'simplicity'. These points make some difference between Jinja and a shrine.

The object of worshipping is, in most cases, a mirror or Heihaku, paper or cloth strips attached to a stand. Jinja has a shrine grove and a tree-lined path which leads to the main shrine building. Even those shrines that became to situate in urban areas in consequence of urbanization still maintain a grove and a path though in a smaller scale. Each shrine has its own status according to various reasons such as the hierarchical status of the enshrined Kami, or the historical background of a shrine, or relationship of Kami with a community or the state, or popularity of the enshrined Kami among people. This status of a shrine reflects in the architecture and the size of the precinct.

Japanese in New WindowShinto Priesthood

After the Meiji era, when Japan opened the door to the west in order to exchange with them officially, the hereditary system of the Shinto priesthood was abolished, although there still exist some shrines for which priests who have a certain family background can exclusively serve. There are six grades for the priesthood: the Superior, the First, the Second, the Semi-Second, the Third, the Fourth grades. There are also five ranks for priesthood called Johkai, Meikai, Seikai, Gon-Seikai, Chokkai. As to grades above the semi-second, they are given only to those who have served in shrines for more than twenty years as priests, though they are some exceptional cases according to educational background and the rank of each priest. To become Guji (or the chief priests), it is required to obtain ranks higher than Meikai in the case of serving for certain eminent shrines, and in the case of serving for ordinary shrines, to obtain those ranks which are higher than Gon-Seikai.

There are several institutions to give education and examinations to those who wish to become priests or to prepare for obtaining higher grades and status as priests. After the Second World War, the priesthood has been opened to women, and presently there are about two thousand female priests among twenty thousand priests in total. Even those shrines served only by men priests, the dance of kaguramai (sacred dance offered to Kami) is always performed by women. This is a tradition followed in Japan from the mythological time. In some agricultural areas, we can see festivals or rites which are performed by a community member who has no education as a professional priest, but just rotating annually a religious obligation among the community members, as mentioned in the section of the Folk Shinto.

Japanese in New WindowThe Concept of Kami

In order to understand the concept of Kami of the Japanese, it is important to wipe off a preconception caused by the word, god, an English translation which is often used for the word Kami. In Shinto, there is no faith in the concept of the absolute on god who is the creator of both nature andhuman beings. The ancient Japanese had never divided material and spiritual existence, but considered that the both were inseparable, seeing everything to be spiritual. In other word, they did not draw a border between a certain object and the work of that object. According to the Shinto myth, there was one thing in the beginning of this universe. Later that thing was divided into two things: Heaven and Earth. From heaven, Kami appeared and a couple of Kami who were male and female appeared last gave birth to the various Kami, the land of Japan and her nature as well as people. The Shinto faith starts with a belief in this mythology. Therefore, Shinto does not acknowledge the existence of the substantial difference or discontinuation between Kami and man, nature and human beings. It can be said that Shinto is basically the faith in the life-giving power.

However, Shinto is not pantheism which sees all the existence on this world as Kami itself. If it is necessary to define its concept, it might be the best to refer to the opinion of Motoori Norinaga, a scholar in the late 18th century, which is now widely accepted. He wrote, "Whatever seemed strikingly impressive, possessed the quality of excellence and virtue, and inspired a feeling of awe was called Kami". Here "the quality of excellence" means an enormous power which gives great influence on many things. It is beyond the human power or human works. It brings a good luck and happiness to man but at the same time it could bring a misfortune or an evil as well. On the other hand, both natural elements (or phenomenon) and man are given a possibility to become Kami, because both the land and the people of Japan were given birth by Kami. So, they are all children of Kami.

Nevertheless, all of them are not Kami by themselves. The principle of the polytheism is reflecting here that the only thing that has a great influence on human life could be Kami. For instance, relating to natural phenomenon, Kami of Rain, Kami of Wind, Kami of Mountains, Kami of Seas, Kami of Rivers, Kami of Thunders are worshipped. Thus, objects of worship are limited to those which are closely associated and have great influences on human life. In the case of human beings, all people are revered after their death at their home as ancestral Kami. However, people whose spirits are enshrined after death are limited to those who have had a great contribution to a community or the state. People who are enshrined during their lifetime are especially limited to those who have enormous spiritual power over human life.

Occidental theologians have long regarded the human attitude of having an awe towards the mystical power of nature as 'Nature Worship'. Shinto, however, does not impersonate nor divinize nature itself, which is the physical existence that works according to its own system. Shinto considers that people feel awe to some natural elements which have especially great influence on human life, and worship their spirituality and pray for their blessing. In the case of animals, their spirits are called 'mono', a kind of spirit. Because they were considered sometimes to do mischievous to human beings, people performed rites in order to console animal spirits. This faith is still observed nowadays. In a medical faculties of some universities, for instance, Shinto or Buddhism rites are performed in order to console the spirits of animals which were killed for experimental purposes. There are another cases for performing a rite: to console the spirits of some tools which were made and utilized by men in everyday life such as needles, knives, shoes; or to purify buildings before inaugurating them including even nuclear power stations or factories of computer machines, whishing that all the labor works and productions involved in there would be done properly and safely. The same attitude is applied to Shinrei (or divine spirits). Since people worship divine spirits as they have great influence on their life, the spirit which brings evils to human beings called 'Magatsuhi Kami' is also awed as Kami. According to Shinto, Kami in general also gets angry and brings some misfortunes to people although Kami usually guards and blesses people. Accordingly, it is very important to practice the faith by performing rites for Kami.

It is necessary to call attention to a fact that Shinto is polytheism in order to understand the concept of Kami. At the same time, it might be useful to shift the question of the Kami concept to the question of the Japanese value system, so that we could be able to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding. In the case of Monotheism, which worships one absolute god, it seems that the concept of the absolute truth is dominating. If there is any conflict between two people or groups, one of them is considered to be right and the other is wring and untrue. On the other hand, polytheism which is based on pluralism does not consider the existence of the absolute truth, and accordingly there is distinctive difference between the two. If there are two things which contradict each other or cause a conflict between the two, both of them are wrong and right at the same time. Any quarrels or disputes are not judged by the one-value orientation. As the result, both sides will be punished equally. Also it can be said that people who believe the absolute truth tend to think that coexistence is possible only among those who share the same value. People who stand on the pluralism, on the other hand, consider that coexistence is possible even among those who have different opinions or ideas because each individual has a truth in its individuality, so they have to give tribute to each other. It is coexistence by harmony. Shinto based on the pluralism takes up the plural-value orientation. It can be said that Shinto - in this case, the Japanese - had accepted foreign religions such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Yin-Yang thought, as the Japanese always have followed according to this plural-value orientation. In fact, the Shinto mythology does not mention about the omniscient and omnipotent Kami. Kami who gave birth to this land had failed at first, and they requested other Kami in heaven to show them the right way. Then, Kami in heaven responded that one may search the answer through practicing divination. Even the supreme Kami, Amaterasu Ohmikami, once failed at judging her brother's inner mind. In the case of Kami called Kuebiko who is believed to have an exceptionally great power, for example, he knows everything happening in the world, yet, he can not move even a step because he has no leg. Thus, according to Shinto, there is no Kami who has no defect.

Japanese in New WindowProcedures of a Worshipping Rite

Shinto is not a religion which controls behaviors of believers according to a doctrine or commandments, but a faith that let people have direct contacts with Kami (the deity or the deities) through worship and thus let to try to keep their way of life rightfully and pray for a blessing of Kami. Accordingly, worshipping and ritual ceremonies are regarded to be especially important. There are various kinds of rites of Shinto, and they are divided into four categories: Taisai (the grand festival), Chusai (the medium scale festival), Shosai (the small scale festival) and Zassai (other miscellaneous festivals). The Grand Festivals include the annual festival to revere the enshrined deity, Spring Festival to pray for good harvest, Shinto Thanksgiving to appreciate the harvest and to share the first harvest with Kami. The medium scale festivals include a ceremony to celebrate the Japan's Foundation Day and New Year's Day, the small scale festivals include all the rest of festivals. The miscellaneous festivals include Jichinsai (a rite before constructing a building to worship the deities of a locality and the land), Jotosai (a rite performed during construction of a building), Shinsosai (a funeral ceremony) and Shichi-Go-san which is mentioned in the section of the Folk Shinto. The scale of these festivals differ from each other according to the nature of each festival.

In the case of an eminent festival, the Emperor send his special messenger in order to present his special messenger in order to present his offerings to the enshrined Kami. A priest who is serving a shrine observes abstinence of a certain period of time before a rite in order to purify oneself. Representatives of adherents who should attend a rite are also required to observe abstinence at least one night before the rite. Then, on the day of the rite, purification with water is to be done before the commencement of the rite. It is to rinse the hands, the mouth and again the hands, which symbolizes purification of the whole body. It is a simplified form which was originally done in the sea or a river. It was believed that the sea is broad and deep so that it swallows all sorts of impurity which contaminated human beings and transform them again into original pure existences. For example, salt is sprayed before a Sumo match in order to take out impurity and evils out of a Sumo ground. Another example is also seen at a Japanese restaurant. In front of its entrance, a small mount of salt is place. This is to show cleanliness of the restaurant. Purification done in a river is based on a belief that a river also washes away all the impurity.

At a shrine, Shubatsu, a rite of purification, is performed after purification at the ablution basin which is placed in front of a shrine building. This is originated in the Shinto myth that Izanagi-no Mikoto, Kami who gave birth to Japan, performed Misogi (a rite of purification), after visiting the land of dead, in order to remove negative elements of the dead against life. This is performed inviting all the deities of Harae appear in the myth. This is performed to let a person stand in front of the enshrined Kami with a clean and pure body and pure mind after driving out all the sins and impurity which might have been committed by them unconsciously. According to Shinto, people believe that there exists Kami who brings disasters, and works upon people to let them all into evil ways, or people themselves commit sins by mistake. So, it was always very important for people to observe rites based on a faith believed since the mythological time that Kami graces people and wipes of all the sins committed by people. Only going through this rite of purification, people have been allowed to stand in front of a shrine, a divine sanctuary.

A rite in a shrine usually starts with beating a drum which announces its commencement. The chief priest bows in front of the alter together with other assistant ritualists, musicians, representatives of their Worshippers' Association as well as ordinary worshippers. Then the chief priest opens the door of the inner sanctuary. While this rite, the other attendants keep bowing listening to Keihitsu (voicing a long sound of 'Oh' by a ritualist) in order to make themselves feel tense in front of Kami. After all the attendants sit, the ritualists present food offerings including rice cake and sake. While this presentation, a music is played with ancient instruments such as Fue (the Japanese flute), Hichiriki (the flageolet-like flute) and Sho (the panpipe-like instrument).

Food offerings consist of rice (and rice cake), sake and other seasonal products of seas, mountains and fields which are basically in the same style of a Japanese traditional banquet offered to important guests. Then Norito (prayers) is recited by the chief priest. In the case of the grand festival, ancient prayers compiled in the 7th century are recited, but in the case of a contemporary rite, prayers are recited in the style which is close to the modern Japanese. After that, Kagura (a sacred dance and music by women performers) originated in those which performed for Amaterasu Ohmikami in the Japanese myth follows. Then, following the chief priest, attendants make Tamagushi Reihai (symbolic offerings using little branches of the evergreen sacred tree). With this Tamagushi Reihai, the rite is over. The door of the inner sanctuary is closed again by the chief priest, food offerings are withdrew and all the participants make a bow following the chief priest. After that, a feast called Naorai follows in the case of a formal festival. This is a communion of Kami and people to share the same food and the same sake offered to Kami. In the case of a festival of a smaller scale, people have a communion with Kami by drinking the sake which has been offered to the deity, as a simplified way.

In the case of an individual worship at a shrine, purification a the ablution basin rinsing the hands and the mouse is substituted for Misogi and Harae (ceremonies of purification). After this one proceeds towards the alter in order to make sound the bell hang in front of the alter. This is an action to let Kami know the presence of a worshipper. Then presenting offerings or throwing coins into an offering box placed in front of the alter, one bows twice deeply, then claps the hands twice. To make sound is considered in Shinto tradition one way of communication with Kami. After that, one more bow should be followed, and a ritual of showing reverence to Kami is over. Repetition of bowing and clapping is an expression of deep reverence and sincere mind of the worshipper. At Izumo Taisha, clapping is repeated four times, and at grand ceremonies of the Grand Shrine of Ise clapping and bowing are repeated eight times.

Japanese in New WindowFestivals

On a day (or days) of Taisai (the major festival), not only a shrine but also its surrounding area is prevailed by a joyous atmosphere. Hanging Shime (a sacred rope) at the door of a house, people wait for a visit of Mikoshi (a portable shrine). At a shrine, on the other hand, the spirit of Kami or a symbolic object where Kami is dwelling is placed into Mikoshi in order to make a parade into the center of a community. The community members march following their representatives, and after them, the chief priest on horseback aheads Mikoshi which is carried by many carriers, priests or the community members. After them, divine treasures, children in traditional festival clothes and other worshippers follow. In the community center, there are some stops prepared for Mikoshi so that the community members can worship Kami and receive a divine blessing. In many cases this festivity lasts two or three days, and during that period, Mikoshi lodges at Otabisho (or a lodging place) after from the main shrine.

These are festivals of large scale. In such cases, tours of Dashi (or an ornamented festival float) are prepared by groups of the community members. These Dashi are quite large. Some of them have two or three storeys, which are taller than an ordinary house. They are gorgeously decorated by fine brocade and curtains. The carriage for Dashi is often decorated by various curbings. In the evening, the center of a community is brightly lit by lanterns hang at the eaves of each house, and on Dashi which is also lit by many lanterns, musicians and dancers make their performances. At this moment, the festivity reaches its climax. This can be similar to the atmosphere of a carnival in the Christian society. Since Dashi is carried by many people, they shout time and the crowd also respond with the encouraging shout. The festivity becoming an orgy, it happens some quarrels and some wounds as a result. At this time, people are in an extraordinary stage. A common idea in a everyday life is discarded there. Emotion pent up in a daily life is burst up. Energy preserved through a year is spent up. In a sense, busting up emotion and spending up all the energy ensure peace in the ordinary life which comes after the festival. At each household a festival banquet is prepared and thus a day of a festivity becomes the most joyful day of the community.

Japanese in New WindowThe Authentic Shinto Faith

Having an awe to Kami and revering it as their guardian, the majority of the Japanese has also a warm and close feeling to Kami, and they always wish Kami's protection against any disasters and its grace with divine blessings.

However, according to the authentic Shinto faith based on the Japanese myth, Japanese are originally given birth by the couple of deities Izanagi and Izanami, they have Kami nature in themselves. So, it is the utmost importance for every individual Japanese that one should endeavor oneself to help and assist the emperor, the ascendant of Amaterasu Ohmikami, whose mission is to make this land prosperous and stabilize and to make the land where the human life meaningful and joyful. Accordingly, to live means to work, and basically working is the source of joy. This is considered to be the base of the Japanese vocational ethics as well as their philosophy of life. This is because the individual life is, of course, given by the parents, yet, the root of the life is imbedded in Kami.

Shinto has no eschatology and thus no appeal for the spiritual relief before it by God, nor belief in Mappo that tells about the arrival of the time of no hope and no relief, which is the source of human agonies. Shinto believes in that the human life will be prosperous as far as one keeps one's endeavor in this world following the divine words, even if there was a time of ups and downs in life. Yet, there is no idea of a utopia in Shinto.

Japanese in New WindowOn Afterdeath

According to the Shinto faith, a human spirit is believed to remain forever like the spirit of Kami does. The spirit, however, is not conceived as a substantial existence. It is believed because of its work, and the places where the spirit dwells are often mentioned as the other world in the classics such as Kojiki (The Ancient Matters), Nihonshoki (the Chronicles of Japan), Manyoshu (Anthology of Poems), etc. In each other world, there live Kami. The most well known other world is 'the other world of Heaven' where the most venerable deities live, and then it comes to 'the other world of Yomi' where divine female parent who gave birth to the land of Japan live. This world is long considered to be underground, and it is believed to have the connection with the habit of burial of the dead. (But nowadays it is regarded that there is no academic base for this). The third other world is called 'Tokoyo; which is believed to exist somewhere beyond the sea. According to the folk faith which originates in agricultural culture, there is a belief of 'the other world in the mountains'. This faith has the connection with a fact that grave yards were on a hill which has a panoramic view over a village and also a fact that people often expressed their wish to watch their descendants even after their death. These other worlds, however, are not described a utopia nor as a hell. There is no difference at all from this world. It reflects a faith in the spirit of the dead who can visit this world if people make a ritual to revere the spirit, like the divine spirits visits this world whenever people show their reverence holding festivals. There is also a faith in that Kami and ancestral spirits protect their descendants as far as the descendants continue to hold festivals. It can be said that Shinto is not a religion which centralized its interests in the life after death, but in this world.

Japanese in New WindowSins and the Concept of Shinto Ethics

Shinto was originally a natural religion which became into existence in a village community. So, the concept of a sin or of ethics is also formed according to the value system of the community: that is to wish prosperous continuation and development of the community. It is the same consciousness to hold rites and festivals.

Accordingly the Shinto concept of the sin and also the concept of the Shinto ethics have no identical difference from the secular sin or social ethics which is taught through the social education in order to support the continuous development of the community.

Historically, it was the time of Emperor Suiko, the 33rd Emperor (593-628) when Japan started to rise as a nation, forming its administrative structure from the stage of a united clans under the emperorship. It was between the eras of the 38th Emperor Tenchi and the 40th Emperor Tenmu (661-686) when Japan could proceed a step farther to become a state with the centralized government. The form of the Shinto rituals is considered to be established at this time including Haraekotoba. In this Haraekotoba, which was chanted for a purification ceremony at that time and is still chanted, the sins are listed and they are categorized into two: Amatsu-Tsumi and Kunitsu-Tsumi. At this time, Ritsu (or the criminal law) and Ryo (or the administrative law) were established under the influence of the Chinese Law of the Tang Age. It is convenient to see these laws in order to look at the Shinto concept of the sin and those sins which were prohibited by the secular laws. The most grave sin called Amatsu-Tsumi described in the Oharae is those deeds which were committed by Susanowo-no Mikoto, the brother deity of Amaterasu Ohmikami, the supreme Kami. According to the mythe, he was so rejoiced by being able to prove that he had no ill feeling against his sister deity, Amaterasu Ohmikami, that he committed vulgarity such as destroying the paddy fields of Amaterasu Ohmikami to have crop for Niinamesai (Rice-crop rite), the weaving shop where the cloths for the deities were woven and also several other violent mischievous. It means that all these deeds were against divine festivals. It is described in the myth that because of these vulgarity, a part of Susanowo's assets was taken away from him and purged from Heaven. According to the Ritsu, these deeds correspond to the sixth sin which is described as one of the grave eight sins: the sin to destroy a shrine and to steel divine object. Steeling of the symbolic object of the divine spirit was ruled to be condemned to the capital punishment and other destructive deeds were ruled to be condemned to exile. These punishment almost correspond to those which was given to Susanowo-no Mikoto.

The other sins described as Kunitsu Tsumi include injury, murder including infant murder, incest, poisoning, cursing. At the same time, natural hazard brought by a thunder, the birds, and the reptiles (creeping things) are included in Kunitsu Tsumi. It means that all the human deeds and natural hazard which endanger continuity of a community are considered to be Kunitsu Tsumi. These human deeds were punished by the law as crimes at the time of Ritsu (the criminal laws). In the case of natural hazards, people tried to wipe off the evil elements by holding religious rites. Traditionally in Japan, a religion has never had its own commandments which are different from the secular laws mentioned before. The religion has always put its main value on the continuity and development of a community. It is a historical fact that, since the secular laws were established, Shinto has performed as a religion which believes in the rites of purification in order to pacify negative forces both man and nature have, and to strengthen positive forces for constructing a better community.

The ethical nature of religion in the Japanese society has not been changed basically even by the Meiji Restoration (1868) when Japan started to have the contact with the western world in order to modernize the country. The secular statutes provides with sins and regulate punishments against them. On the other hand, Shinto does not have any prescriptions expressed in the negative form of 'Should not ...', but the teachings by the emperor who is the central figure to execute divine rites have been considered to be the base of the ethics. The Imperial Rescript on Education written by Emperor Meiji was its concrete expression. The virtues listed in the Imperial Rescript were firstly the loyalty towards the country, then, the ethics which should be observed in a family, that means, appreciation and respects for parents, to have an amicable relation with brothers and sisters, to have harmonious relationship of a couple. Then it goes with harmonious relationship in a society. Trust in friends, discretion and modesty, fraternity, intellectual development and to contribute in a society with this intellectual ability. It can be safely said that Shinto is a religion to believe that man should directly succeed the activities of Kami.