Shinto's View of Nature
Japan has been blessed with a rich natural climate, and it enjoys clearly demarcated seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter. This continuous cycle of four seasons has provided a richness and bounty to the lives of the Japanese people.
Deeply indebted to the blessing of nature, the Japanese people came to acknowledge spiritual powers which brought about life, fertility, and prosperity. The natural life-power which gave birth to things was called Musubi (divine power of growth), and this divine musubi - namely, a divine nature and power - was perceived in the manifold workings and phenomena of nature. At the same time, the Japanese people have long revered their ancestors who enormously contributed to the goodness of a society by enthronement of their spirits as the divine.
These deities are classified by individual names in accordance with the specific nature of their spiritual powers. No hierarchy is found among most of the Japanese deities, but they form a single divine realm centered on Amaterasu Omikami, a representation of the sun, and revered as ancestor of the Japanese people including the Imperial Family.
Since the Japanese people felt the blessings and workings of the divine within such a broad variety of natural phenomena, they came to hold the ideal of a life which was in harmony with and united with nature.
Mountains with heroic peaks, deep valleys, and the wide ocean were also viewed as dwellings for the divine, and other natural objects such as evergreen trees and huge rocks were considered to be media or symbols of divine spirits.
The divine spirit dwells in all of nature, and brings joy and bounty to our lives. Through intimate contact with nature, the Japanese people have continued to imbibe its breath of life.
Shinto and Agriculture
Until the present day, the Japanese people have maintained their way of life on the basis of rice cultivation, the form of agriculture best suited to the Japanese climate.
Hydraulic rice agriculture had already been introduced to Japan in the prehistoric period, and the rice thus produced was from an early period treated as a sacred food indispensable to the Japanese way of life.
In spring rice shoots were transplanted to paddies, and in fall the harvest is taken in. A variety of festivals (Matsuri) were held seasonally in each region for the purpose of making invocation for the successful maturation of the rice.
In this way, the yearly repetition of the life cycle of the rice came to the form the basic rhythm of the Japanese way of life as seen up to the present day.
In turn, the gradual formalization and systematization of such rice-agriculture rituals and festivals produced the religion of Shinto. Shinto is both the indigenous folk religion of Japan, and the history of the Japanese people's way of life. And as the basis of Japanese culture, Shinto has supported the way of life of the Japanese people to the present day.
Japanese Mythology and Shinto
The Japanese mythology collected in the Japanese classics such as Kojiki (The Record of Ancient Matters), Nihonshoki ( The Chronicles of Japan), Kogo Shuki (The Commentaries on Ancient Words) and Fudoki (Local Gazetteers) transmit a dynamic portrayal of the birth of the land, the genealogy of the deities, and the establishment of the nation and its subjection to peaceful rule. Within the myths can be found deified are nature spirits, noble heroes, and ancestral deities, including numerous deities of both male and female gender. From within epic dramas woven around those deities, the Japanese people have learned how to live as human beings, and thus been entrusted with a core of faith.
The festivals offered in thanks to the deities for their bounty, and within which people share their joy with others, have also provided an excellent source of edification for the lives of the Japanese people.
In Shinto, human beings are believed to be born pure, with a gentle and clear disposition. To be pure is to approach godliness; indeed it is to become one with the state of the divine. It is Shinto's prayer, Shinto's heart, to return to that original human state, and live a daily life which is at one with Kami (deities).