Shinto is a nature focused religion of Japan, the origins of this belief system are unknown, it dates back to prehistory. . Shinto stresses the harmony of natural beauty and the appreciation of perceived reality. Today’s Shinto practitioners place a great emphasis on tradition and ceremonial custom, rather than on religious or metaphysical doctrines.
Shinto has many rituals which are performed to celebrate purity, clarity and contact with the diverse forces of nature. Traditionally, the rituals were closely linked with the seasons.
Kami is a term that is central to Shinto beliefs. Kami the word used to describe something that possesses a power that the individual believer does not. This Kami can be present in anything. People, animals, spirits and inanimate objects may possess Kami.
Fundamental beliefs in Shinto are called affirmations. There are four Affirmations for the Shinto follower, they are:
- There is a large importance placed on the central family unit. Major life events are revered as well (for example birth and marriage).
- A closeness to nature.
- Physical cleanliness.
- Matsuri – festivals to honour individual or group Kami.
A few additional, notable aspects of Shinto beliefs are:
- There is no written scripture for the Shinto believer
- There is no “founder” of the movement.
- It is permissible to practice another religion/philosophy along side Shinto.
- There are no rigid dogmas (moral codes)
- There is no strict formal doctrine or body of religious law.
Shinto beliefs do not hold that there is one Supreme Being, however, there is an emphasis placed on the sun goddess Amaterasu. The Shinto belief is that the Japanese Emperor is a direct descendant of Amaterasu.
Historically, Shinto has been practiced by some Japanese people in conjunction with Buddhism.
Shinto shrines are made of wood and usually near a sacred tree and flowing water. When a visitor enters the shrine, he/she is regarded as having left the world of finite things and entered the world of the infinite and immeasurable. The shrine is the place where the powerful Kami may be called upon for the purpose of the ceremony to be performed. Each shrine would be dedicated to a particular Kami.
Most Shinto homes would have a Kami-dana, a shelf in the home with a small depiction of the holy central section of a real-life shrine. There will also be a small mirror in its centre to allow Kami a way to enter and exit.
Matsuri (festivals) are another way in which Shinto followers practice their beliefs. There are several types of Shinto matsuri in Japan: matsuri of supplication to the gods(for a successful harvest), there are some for thanksgiving., and others festivals to drive away pestilence and natural disasters.
There are somber matsuri and lively occasions featuring games and entertainment. Some matsuri are performed in a very traditional way and some have been considerably adapted to modern times
There are two major purposes of matsuri. The first is communion between gods and people. This comprises purificatory rites, offerings and communal banquets between gods and humans. The second aspect of matsuri is communion among people.
There are many Matsuri during the year, often they coincide with important seasonal changes and agricultural tasks.