In Japan Shintoism beliefs are based on the world, being surrounded by the kami (kah-me). Kami are spirits which are said to be ever present in all things, Kami are also regarded as deities, they can even take whatever form or shape they desire.
Unlike most religions, Shinto beliefs do not adhere to original sin but it mainly supports the improvement and development of the human soul, gearing it towards a better society.
In Shintoism, there is no form of written word for daily guidance, such as the bible for Christians or Koran for Muslims but there are Shinto Priests, who are tasked with the responsibility of keeping the Shinto faith and practices, as well as traditions. These Priests also perform all the necessary Shinto rituals, for connection with the Kami.
Shintoism believes that the earth, is inhabited by spirits and humans, who live side by side. Like most religions the Shinto faith, also have their special days in which to celebrate, as well as give thanks to the Kami, be it for good health, multiple harvests, or for any occasion such as weddings, the priests start by ringing the great Shinto ritual bells, to call the aid of the Kami, to bless the occasion as well as the people.
Reverence for family is an integral part, of Japanese Culture and this inturn is reflected in Shinto beliefs, when a member of the family dies, its believed that they live on as Kami, they can also take whatever shape or form.
Kami can either be creational spirits, ancestral or regional spirits. Kami can also be good or bad, they can be vengeful to the living or act as guardian angels.
Amaterasu-o-no-Kami means glorious goddess who shines in the heavens. She is one of the most popular, as well as famous deities in Japan, Amaterasu is also the sun goddess.
Legend has it that Amaterasu, was once ashamed of her brother Susano-o and hid herself in a cave. One day she heard melodious singing and laughter, she came out and noticed her reflection in a mirror, which had being placed there by a Kami, she also noticed some jewels on a tree because of this, she vowed never to go back in the cave again and that is how light returned to the world.
It is from this story of Amateratsu, that we have the three symbols of Shintoism and they are:
• Mirror: with a mirror we see our reflection but a mirror also reflects our true nature, a mirror is also a symbol of Amateratsu and it is only when we are clean or pure in nature, that the reflection of the higher level or deity will appear.
• Sword: legend has it that the sword, was taken away from the eight headed dragon that
• Jewel: A jewel represents one’s influence over others, the mirror and jewel were both used, to lure Amateratsu out from the cave, thus allowing light to re-enter the world. The mirror caught Amateratsu’s reflection, while the jewels hanging from the tree, lured her farther out from the cave.
Jinja is the Japanese word for shrines, Amateratsu is revered at the Ise Jinja, with two festivals annually held in July and December. The Ise Jinja is also the oldest shrine in Japan, every twenty years the Ise Jinja is taken down and rebuilt, thus ensuring that today’s Ise Jinjas are modernly equipped and inline with modernity some shrine even built on the roof tops of some offices! Since its so close, its very usual to see businessmen and women in their suits, visiting the Jinjas during the week.
Animals linked to the Kami:
It isn’t unusual to see statues of animals, such as the fox or horse at the various Jinjas because most of these animals, serve as messengers for the Kami.
Nature is an integral part of Kami worship, caring for nature is very important because the Kami resides in nature, so its paramount to keep the environment clean, so as not to anger the Kami. If you visit any of the Jinjas, I bet you would see many of these statues as well as the beautiful gardens.
Torii - Famous Japanese Gateways
Passing under the torii is a very important ritual towards purification, it is also a sign that you have entered sacred ground. The torii is vermillion colored and has many beautiful symbols of Japan adorning it.
Shimenawa are straw ropes, that are tied either between two trees or two large rocks, they represent the sacred site which is inhabited by the kami.
There is so much to learn about Shintoism and Kami as well as the various changes to it over the years, its still a bit difficult though to find much written about this indigenous religion of Japan.
If you're interested and want to know more, a good reference point would be the International Shinto Foundation in Tokyo and New York. http://www.shinto.org