Shintoism. Worshipping the nature and worshiping the ancestors. Japan’s own religion that started with the Emperor Gimmu in BC 600s. Everything has a spirit and humans have a good nature. Evil spirits should be kept away by praying and giving offerings to the higher level spirits. The most important deity is the Sun god Amaterasu. Important values: Ritual purity, sincerity, animism (mountains, rivers have spirits, people become spirits, words have spirits), presence (no life after death), imperial family is sacred, nature should be preserved and worshipped, people with grudge become evil spirits, festivals are important, festivals are must for social harmony and good harvest.
Shinto Shrines are called Jinja, Taisha or Jingu. Shinto shrines tend to have elevated basements X shaped roofs. The most famous Shinto Shrine is Ise Jingu located in the Mie Prefecture housing more than 100 shrines in it. There are about 81,000 Shrines in Japan and about 650 of them are in Kyoto. There are about 30,000 Inari shrines in Japan but Fushimi Inari Taisha is the largest Inari shrine.
Rice Straws and mulberry papers. These thick ropes are put around something purified or something sacred or something that houses a deity (e.g. a tree). The rope represents the straw the sun god Amaterasu hid. The white zig zag papers usually have 3 , 5 or 7 strips and represent the offerings for the deities.
Purification trough. Purification is the most important aspect of Shintoism. The purification ritual 1 – Pour water to your left hand; 2 – Pour water to your right hand; 3 – Pour water to your left hand and cleans your mouth with that water; 4 – Tilt the scoop 90 degrees and let the remain-ing water clean the scoop.
Tori gates separate the secular world and the sacred world. When entering and leaving under the torii gate, one should bow and not occupy the middle point. The middle is reserved for the deity to walk. Torii gates are always the red/vermillion color which keeps evil spirits away and which represents the “purified.” Sometimes there are torii gates but no shrine (e.g. in a lake) that torii gate is for the deity that is inside the lake.
Protective lion dogs. These two dogs are the guardians of the shrines. One of them has an open mouth and the other one has the closed mouth which represents the beginning and ending. In the Fushimi Inari shrine there are foxes instead of dogs.
Sake barrels. Rice wine breweries or wealthy people donate these barrels which weigh around 30 liters and cost around 1000 USD. In certain occasions, weddings and celebrations, these barrels are broken and people drink sake from the square-shaped wooden cups. The ones displayed in shrines tend to be used empty ones.
The 3 commas represent the earth, the sky and human. Often displayed on the roof tiles of shrines or taiko drums. They also represent the Shinto gods. Orange color lanterns. Different from stone lanterns, the orange color lanterns tend to be found mostly at shrines not temples.
Foxes are messengers of gods. Fox statues are often found in Shinto shrines sometimes holding scrolls, keys, gems and rice straws in their mouth. They wear red bib to keep evil spirits away.
Ceremonial noh dance and kagura dance are performed in Shinto shrines.
Rope with a bell
When making a wish, one pulls the rope to call attention of the gods. In buddhist temples there is a relatively thinner rope and the gong bell, a quieter bell compared to the Shinto bell. The ritual: 1 – Throw the coin into the box (as much as you’d like but throwing 5 yen is believed to be good to bring good relationships because 5 yen (go-en) is the same word in Japanese with good relationship.) 2 – Ring the bell a few times 3 – Bow twice (90 degrees) 4 – Clap twice 5 – Remember your wish and thank gods (in your mind) 6 – Bow once Bonsho.
Honden and Haiden
Main hall and offering hall exist in Shrines. The main hall usually houses the deity enshrined. Offering hall is the area where people make wishes.
Shinto priests. Shinto priests are less commonly seen compared to buddhist monks. they usually wear a tall black hat (Heian style) and sometimes carry the sakaki tree leaves.
Maidens serving the shrine. Young girls with vermillion color skirt and white dress. They were originally considered to be shamans who can communicate with deities. Nowadays they do the sacred cleansing, ceremonial dance , etc.
Enshrines a Shinto Kami. Ofuda, papers displaying the names of deities, are usually received from a local shrine and put inside the altar. Deities inside must be offered rice, water, salt and sake, regularly. Shrines and kamidana, must face the east (direction of the rising sun).
Raijin and Fujin
The God of thunder and the god of wind exist in both shrines and temples.The concept is similar to the mythical Greek wind and thunder gods.
Sacred palanquin that carries the enshrined deity from the main shrine to a relatively smaller shrine. People play drums and bells and carry it on their shoulders. Since it is dangerous, every year a number of people die while carrying the omikoshi.
These are white papers that may have good fortune and bad fortune written on them. One picks without seeing the fortune. If it is good fortune it should be kept in the bag, if it is bad fortune it should be tied to a tree to let the bad fortune go away. Nowadays both good and bad fortune papers are tied to the tree in the shrine.
These are small portable amulets that can be purchased at shrines or temples. Omamori means “protection” in Japanese.
Orange color lanterns
Different from stone lanterns, the orange color lanterns tend to be found mostly at shrines not temples
Ema Wooden Plates
Shrines sell these wooden plates. People donate money to buy them and then write their wishes on them. Then they leave the wooden plates on the designated wall at a shrine.
***The Shinto and Buddhist beliefs are different from monotheistic religions, they are more like philosophies rather than religions. Almost all Japanese are Buddhist and Shintoist at the same time. Traditionally, when a Japanese baby is born, the ceremony is almost always in a Shinto shrine and when a Japanese person dies, the ceremony is almost always in a Buddhist temple. Buddhism and Shintoism can coexist because neither one has one “god.” Japanese also don’t see them restrictive religions since about 50% of marriages in Japan takes place in a Christian Church and many temples have shrine features and many shrines look like Buddhist temples. Most temples and Shrines were built together or next to each other up until the Meiji period. During the Meiji period, temples and shrines were separated and Buddhism was temporarily banned in order to promote the national identity as Buddhism came from China. Haibutsuku Kishaku initiated by the Meiji government (the attempt to suppress Buddhism in Japan by destroying Buddhist temples between 1868 ~ 1874) did not reach its goal and eventually Buddhism was treated respectfully again. However, thousands of Buddhist temples disappeared mostly in the southern Satsuma region. Some say this was political as Buddhist temples strongly supported the Tokugawa shogunate and they were naturally against the new imperial government.
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