|Posted on December 19, 2011 at 9:00 AM|
Shinto is the devotion to spiritual beings called kami and to the associated rituals and shrines. Kami are not a god or group of gods, they are spirits that are aware of humans and our interest in them. If the kami are treated well they will treat humans well in return, granting favors such as a job promotion or good health. Shinto is not a religion in the typical sense, it is considered more of an aspect of Japanese life then a religion. The focus in on the rituals that allow the followers to communicate with the kami. Shinto is a locally based tradition. Practitioners are more likely concerned with their own local shrine rather than the religion as a whole. Along with Buddhism, it is an official national religion in Japan. It is often blended, rather seamlessly, with Buddhism and/or Confucian thought, as Shinto itself is not thought to be a complete system.
Shinto has no founder, no written law or dogma. It is the amalgamation of various nature religions, fertility cults, shamanism and ancestral worship under the umbrella of one name. It is unique in its exclusive focus on Japan. The creation story consists of a divine couple giving birth to the islands of Japan. Their other children became the sun and the various deities/spirits of the different Japanese clans.
Ritual is more important then belief in Shinto. It's practice is very difficult to define as rituals vary greatly from one locale to the next, based on the kami they choose to honor. Each town and city have various Shinto shrines devoted to one or more kami. These shrines are often amazingly ornate and beautiful and some are the most famous tourist attractions in all of Japan. Many Japanese will also have a small shrine in their homes devoted to the kami of their choice. It is so integrated into Japanese culture and worldview that the Vatican decreed in the 1930's that it was acceptable for Japanese Catholics to participate in certain Shinto rituals.
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