How Shintoists worship
Shintoists worship in shrines. There are around 80,000 shrines across Japan, many in areas of great natural beauty. Each shrine is dedicated to a specific kami who has a divine personality and responds to sincere prayers of the faithful.
To enter their shrine, worshippers pass through a torii. This is a ceremonial gateway comprising two wooden columns crossed by two beams and often painted red. The torii divides the shrine’s interior from the secular world.
All holy areas are marked off by plaited straw ropes, symbols of the divine presence.
As part of the Shinto prayer ritual, worshipers bow twice, clap their hands twice to make sure the kami is listening, bow once again and then, before praying, throw coins into a wooden box as offerings.
Music and dance
Kagura (kah-goo-rah), is a ritual dance accompanied by music called gagaku (gah-gah-koo). Gagaku is the traditional music of the Japanese imperial court. Together, kagura and gagaku help to provide a link between the kami and their worshipers.
For Shinto worshipers, purification is essential before offering a prayer and it is performed through an exorcism ritual called harai (ha-rah-e) – cleaning one’s body with water. In larger shrines, there are stone washbasins and visitors are required to rinse their mouth and hands before approaching the deity.
The term kami can refer to gods, goddesses, great ancestors, and all variety of spirits that inhabit the water, rocks, trees, grass, and other natural objects.
These objects are not symbols of the spirits. Rather, they are places where the spirits live. These places are regarded as sacred, and are usually encircled with a shimenawa – rope festooned with sacred white paper.
Shintoists believe the world is inhabited by numerous kami, a concept summed up in the Japanese phrase yaoyorozu no kami – ‘the eight million kami’.
The well-known Japanese scholar Motoori Norinaga defined kami as anything that is ‘superlatively awe inspiring’. As such, a kami can be good or evil, rough or gentle, strong or weak – and so on.
There are numerous Shinto demons (oni) and spirits (kappa) that must be appeased to avoid disasters and calamities. But there is no absolute split between good and evil. According to Shinto belief, all things have good and bad aspects.
In Shinto, there is no definitive standard of good and evil, no moral code. Things are as they are. Even the evil, bloodsucking kappa have some redeeming qualities. For example, the kappa is a skilled teacher in the art of bone setting and other medical practices.
Kojiki Record of Ancient Matters
Rokkokushi Six National Histories
Shoku Nihongi and its Nihon Shoki Continuing Chronicles of Japan
Jinno Shotoki A study of Shinto and Japanese politics and history, written in the 14th century.