A religion native to Japan, characterized by veneration of nature spirits and ancestors and by a lack of formal dogma. Shinto is actually from the Chinese word for Japanese religion, shen-dao, the Way of the Higher Gods. The Japanese term for traditional religion is kami-no-michi, the Way of the Kami. Kami are spirits, gods, sacred powers and so on. It is very animistic. All things derive from the power of the kami. Once, Japan was only inhabited by kami. As all things derive from the kami, so do human beings derive from the kami and may become kami upon death. This belief forms the traditional history of the origins of Japan and its people. In the beginning the kami were generated on the Plain of High Heaven. The most important were Izanagi and Izanami. Their creative power brought about the land of Japan and the people. Izanagi and Izanami descended to the Floating Bridge of Heaven and stirred the salt water to create an island to which they descended to give birth to the kami of the world. The universe is interpreted in terms of the power of the kami. The myths discuss 800 myriads of kami on the Plain of High Heaven, much less the kami of Earth, the Central Land of Reed Plains. The myths set the pattern for Japanese concerns for purity, the veneration of the sun kami, the festivals and rituals, and the traditions that provide the distinctive Japanese identity.
Izanami died after giving birth to Kaga-Tsuchi, the kami of fire and went to Yomi, the underworld. Izanagi tried to break in and bring her back. He was horrified at her appearance in death and repelled. Even more, she was angry that he had broken in to see her polluted by death and she pursued him to destroy him. Izanagi escaped and blocked the hole to the Underworld with a huge rock to prevent Izanami from being unleashed on the world. She threatened to bring death to all things. He responded that he would make sure that things were born faster than she could destroy them. He escaped but was now polluted by the experience and so washed in the ocean to purify himself and exorcise the evil. This set the pattern for purification rituals. Ritually unclean, Izanagi bathed in the ocean. When Izanagi washed his left eye, Amaterasu (the Heavenly Illuminating Kami, or Sun Kami) was born. In washing his right eye, Tsukiyomi (the Moon Kami) was born and in washing his nose Susanoo (Valiant Raging Male Kami, or Storm Kami) was born. Izanagi was pleased by these kami of sun, moon and storm. He placed Amaterasu to rule the Plain of High Heaven and gave her his sacred necklace. So she came to rule all the kami. Tsukiyomi was to rule the night and Susanoo the sea. Purification inside and out becomes important in Shinto and the model is Izanagi’s bath. Pollution comes from the darkness and the kami help take it back to the darkness.
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