Shinto is a Japanese religious practice characterized by rites and based on the polytheistic idea of Kami. Jinja Shinto is the institutional form while the Jinja Honcho in Tokyo is the administering office for over eight thousand shrines in Japan. The Ise Jingu in Ise which is believed to enshrine the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is considered to be the most sacred of the Shinto shrines. The Emperor is considered the highest Shinto priest and the divine descendant of Amaterasu Omikami. It is widely practiced religion in Japan besides Buddhism and as a religion, Shinto concerns with prosperity and happiness in this world (Ozawa-de Silva, 2014).
The grounds of Shinto shrines are most commonly marked by a grove of evergreen trees that surrounds a gateway, the torii. The main building enshrines the spirit of a particular kami. Most people will go to Shinto shrines on certain occasions especially on the New Year’s Day which is normally done to pray for Kami’s blessings. During the New Year, the home is thoroughly cleaned to make it very attractive to the spirits and the main gate is decorated with a kadomofsu. The family gathers to celebrate by eating a special soup called ozone which is believed to promote health. The tradition dictates that those performing the prayer first wash their mouth and hands at the fountain usually located at the gateway. They should then proceed to the front of the main building, cast some coins into the offertory box, ring the bells, bow twice, clap their hands twice, and then bow one more time (Bernstein, 2009).
There are also several rites and a major festival that are held each year at each of the Shinto shrines. During the festival, the priest will solemnly offer prayers and food to the Kami as thanksgiving and as a way of seeking blessings. Dances and music are also performed for the Kami while the people enjoy together. The prime of the festival happens when portable shrines are energetically paraded through the parish. Also, a very special ritual known as jichinsai is always performed by the Shinto priests before commencing construction on a new building (Ozawa-de Silva, 2014). This is based on the belief that lack of such a ritual would lead to accidents because deities that dwell on that construction site become angry. Shinto marks some seasons with special practices such as planting and harvesting rice.
Respect for nature is a key aspect of Shinto and is characterised by reverential objects placed in the midst of fields, forests, or mountains. Respect for spirits is practices by pouring water over gravestones and leaving offerings of flowers and food. Another notable practice involves the purification of water. There is also the climbing of the sacred mountain to gain favour and union with the spirit of the mountain (Bernstein, 2009). Climbing Mount Fuji is particularly one thing that most Japanese wish to accomplish during their lifetime. Other practices involve daily worship and the maintenance of a small shrine called kamidana done in the home.
Shinto worships for beauty and its tradition on figurative art are also fundamental. The defining features of the Shinto art are openness, deliberate simplicity, and the use of natural elements. Shinto places little emphasis on ethical demands and doctrines (Bernstein, 2009). It focuses on beauty of ritual, an aspect that gives it an important affiliation with the arts. Shinto’s
high regard for art is also believed to have inspired today’s Japanese art and architecture.
- Bernstein, A. (2009).Shinto Beliefs and Traditions. Sage Publications, Inc.
- Ozawa-de Silva, C. (2014).Hatsumōde, the Visitation of Shinto Shrines: Religion and Culture in the Japanese Context. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199362202.003.0008