Ancient Japan

        The major religions in Ancient Japan were Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism.  Shinto is a religion that began as a belief that all living things and natural phenomenon contained kami or divine power.  Buddhism is spiritual belief system, while Confucianism is a philosophy about how to live life.  Today, Shinto is the major religion, practiced by about 80% of the Japanese population.

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        The term “Shinto” means “Way of the gods”.  Shintoism has ancient roots in Japanese Culture.  Shintoism’s written records date back to the kojiki (ancient records).  Shinto establishes the Emperial Family as the foundation of Japanese Culture.  There is also a creation story that tells about how the world came to be.

        Shintoism’s core beliefs are found in the Four Affirmations.  These are:

  1. Tradition and Family, which preserve tradition.
  2. Cleanliness, provide a clean physical appearance (purification)
  3. Love of Nature- Shinto believes nature is a pure element on earth.  Kami (divine spirit) is related to all nature so the love of nature is essential in life.
  4. Matsuri- the festivals where Kami is celebrated.

         Another important Shinto belief is the idea of Makoto.  Makoto means ‘sincerity’ and is the overall basis of the Shintoism. It is not rules or codes, but simply the importance of the heart.  Specifically the sincerity of a good heart.

It is this emphasis on ethics and morality that enable Shinto to have things in common with the other major religions.  This concept of Makoto is important to the core beliefs of Shintoism. It is the understanding that even with all the rules, regulations, commandments and orders consuming other religions, if goodness and sincerity is not in your heart, all of those acts are pointless. 

Shinto Shrines: Shinto beliefs are reflected by their Shrines.  They provide Shinto followers with a home of celebration, devotion and praise, to give back to the deities that provide them with the life they’re given or the life they wish to have.

When entering a Shinto shrine, majority of buildings are constructed with a Torii (the arch-like symbol on the front of this sheet).  The Torii is an archway symbolizing the difference between the human into the Kami world.  Torii is translated as ‘To pass through or enter’. They’re very much constructed in the same way throughout all shrines, and also some also have two guardian animals sitting either side.

            Before entering a shrine, it is a customary practice to perform a simple 
purification process. You must wash your hands and mouth before entering; a sign of cleansing and renewal. Inside most shrines, traditional Japanese architecture is present.  The experience within the shrine is peaceful and independent. Many festivals in Ancient Japan were celebrated in Shinto Shrines. 

Life and Death

When certain deeds are committed, or states of mind are held, they require ceremonies of purification to cleanse the doer or thinker.  If a person pays respect to their ancestors, makes offerings and dedications to shrines, and undergoes the correct rituals, they have done all they can to perfect their karma so they can be strong and honorable in the ancestor world after they die.

A few decades after death, the custom is to throw away the memorial tablet of the deceased and replace it with a pebble; the resulting pile of pebbles after many generations symbolizes the guardian of the family.  In Shintoism, the primary goal of religious life is to join with ancestors after death and become immortal, protecting your family that comes after you.

Although a soul or kami is eternal and able to connect with the Divine, souls have other qualities as well– they can change shape, move around or even split so that two or more elements can exist in different places.  In Shintoism, there isn’t a strong concept of sin – but rather showing disrespect and a lack of humility.