Shinto 神道 is one of the most popular religions in Japan, accompanied by Buddhism.
It is rooted in humans’ connection with nature as the Shinto Gods (kami) are represented by natural forces, including: rain, wind, waterfalls, mountains and more. Although it is a formal religion, many who practice Shintoism feel it is more so a lifestyle or a way of perceiving life in relation to kami. It has no scripture, unlike the Bible or Quran, rather it’s mostly a string of traditions and folklore that discuss the importance of kami and the innate goodness of humankind. Embedded within the Japanese culture, Shintoism has woven itself into everyday life and manifested into the country’s behavioral structure.
Connection to nature
Kami, or Gods, are said to inhabit everything so nature is incredibly sacred. An appreciation for our environment and an acceptance for all that it brings is important in Shinto. Therefore, Japanese Shinto shrines, such as: Toshuga Shrine or Ise Grand Shrine, are surrounded by greenery. Japanese locals visit these shrines during special occasions, simply to honor kami.
It’s common to say itadakimasu before eating a meal. This expression loosely translates to “I humbly receive” and is similar to a prayer for kami before starting the meal. Its deeper purpose is the recognition and appreciation of sacrifice made by those who allowed the meal possible. You’ll also hear gochisosama after a meal is done. This phrase thanks the people who prepared the meal for effort. Just in these simple phrases, the appreciation of living things in Shintoism is evident.
Mirrors as a symbol of divinity
In Shintoism, mirrors are a symbol of divinity and honesty. They are associated with the sun goddess, Amaterasu who is also the main goddess in Shintoism. One of the four histories of Shintoism, Jinno Shotoki, proclaims that “the mirror hides nothing” and what you bring to it, you will see reflected back. In this way, it encourages all to put their best self forward and reflect out in the world what you wish to receive back. But it goes beyond the self. This belief is also a powerful way to view at the world and all that is right and wrong with it. Mirrors are common household items and also intentionally placed in Shinto shrines for this belief.
Respect for those who have passed
An important note of Shinto funerals is the focus on purifying the soul and connecting with kami. The Buddhist influence asks the living to think deeply about the dead and the afterlife as a way of accepting that life is short and must be lived. The afterlife in Shintoism is a world where spirits live and where the spirits reside. All of these beliefs transcend into Japanese culture. For example, because of the negative feeling associated with death, many who practice Shintoism may not be very expressive after someone has passed as a way to respect his/her life. It is normal to mourn the death of a person for a long time as well.
Community in festivals
Festivals are a significant sector of Shintoism. When done correctly, they are a connection to kami and a way for spirits to visit the world. Shintoism holds a high regard for family and preserving traditions, which plays into Japan’s collectivist culture. Japan may be considered individualistic in comparison to other Asian countries, including: Korea and China, for the culture is often described as competitive and reserved. Yet, compared to Western standards, Japan is collectivist in often weighing the benefit of society over individual opinions. Shinto festivals are a testament to the power of community and togetherness that the culture thrives on.