Tradition and Modernity
Shinto...and Buddhism!

 


The first unified Japanese state was established in the late 5th or early 6th century by a clan (uji) that claimed descent from Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. In order to legitimate its authority, the new imperial clan commissioned two “official” histories that wove together the myths of the various clans that they had conquered. These two texts, the Kojiki  and the Nihongi (a.k.a. Nihonshoki)both written in the 8th centuryprovide the first written records of Shinto mythology:
 
The Birth of Japan
Izanagi and Izanami stood on the floating bridge of Heaven and held counsel together, saying, “Is there not a country beneath?” Thereupon they thrust down the jewel-spear of Heaven and, groping about therewith, found the ocean. The brine which dripped from the point of the spear coagulated and became an island which received the name of Ono-goro-jima. The two deities thereupon descended and dwelt in this island. (Sources of Japanese Tradition, 14)
Version 1: Izanagi no Mikoto and Izanami no Mikoto consulted together saying, “We have now produced the great-eight-island country, with the mountains, rivers, herbs, and trees. Why should we not produce someone who shall be lord of the universe? They then together produced the Sun Goddess, who was called O-hiru-me no muchi. (Called in one writing Amaterasu no O-hiru-me no muchi.) The resplendent luster of this child shone throughout all the six quarters. Therefore the two deities rejoiced saying, “We have had many children, but none of them have been equal to this wondrous infant. She ought not to be kept long in this land, but we ought of our own accord to send her at once to Heaven and entrust to her the affairs of Heaven.” (Sources of Japanese Tradition, 20-1)
 
 
Version 2: Yomi in Japanese mythology is comparable to Hell or Sheol and is most commonly known for Izanami’s retreat to that place after her death. Izanagi followed her there and upon his return he washed himself, creating Amaterasu, Susanoo, and Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto in the process. (Wikipedia/Yomi)
 

 
Ninigi & Jimmu
The Bestowing of the Imperial Regalia
After “all the Central Land of Reed-Plains” had been “tranquilized,” Amaterasu gave her grandson, Ninigi, the Three Treasures (a curved jewel, a mirror, and a sword) and sent him down to rule the earth, saying: “This Reed-plain-1500-autumns-fair-rice-ear-Land is the region which my descendants shall be lords of. Do thou, my August Grandchild, proceed thither and govern it. Go! And may prosperity attend they dynasty, and may it, like Heaven and Earth, endure for ever.” (Sources of Japanese Tradition, 28)
 
 
According to tradition, Ninigi’s Great Grandson, Jimmu, went on to become the first “emperor” of Japan in 660 BCE. The present emperor of Japan is said to be a direct descendant of this lineage, which is ultimately traced back to the kami Amaterasu.
 

Naruhito ascended the throne on May 1, 2019 after his father, Akihito, abdicated on April 30, 2019
 

What are Kami?
Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801)

The word kami refers, in the most general sense, to all divine beings of heaven and earth that appear in the classics. More particularly, the kami are the spirits that abide in and are worshipped at the shrines. In principle human beings, birds, animals, trees, plants, mountains, oceans — all may be kami. According to ancient usage, whatever seemed strikingly impressive, possessed the quality of excellence, or inspired a feeling of awe was called kami. (The Sacred Paths of the East, 247)
 
 
Tree surrounded by a shimenawa (a sacred rope made from rice stalks that identifies a sacred space and wards off evil spirits) with zigzag shaped shide.

 
The “Wedded Rocks” (representing Izanagi and Izanami) at Futami no Ura are linked by a shimenawa.
 
The perfectly conical shape of Mt. Fuji has made it one of the most venerated “nature” kami throughout Japanese history.

 
Nachi waterfall is a sacred space for Shinto.The falls were originally devoted to kami veneration. Today they are also associated with the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy, Kannon. Note the shimenawa at the top of the waterfall.

Kegare (impurity/defilement)

Impurity/Defilement
& Purification

Misogi (waterfall purification ritual)
 
Kanji: tsumi (defilement)In the traditions collectively referred to as Shinto or kannagara, the world is beautiful and full of helpful spirits. ... However, ritual impurity is a serious problem that obscures our originally pristine nature; it may offend the kami and bring about calamities, such as drought, famine, or war. The quality of impurity or misfortune is called tsumi or kegare. It can arise through contact with low-level spirits, negative energy from corpses, negative vibrations from wicked minds, hostility toward others or the environment, or natural catastrophes. In contrast to repentance required by religions that emphasize the idea of human sinfulness, tsumi requires purification. The body and mind must be purified so that the person can be connected with kami that are clearn, bright, right, and straight. (Living Religions, 231)
 
The Western idea of sin generally involves intent; sin usually cannot be accidental. The Shinto idea of defilement, by contrast, is more akin to what we find in taboo cultures — that is, the contact itself is the polluting factor regardless of whether the person knew about the offense or undertook the action voluntarily. ... In the symbolic language introduced in the previous chapter, we could say the mirrorlike mindful heart is soiled (perhaps through no fault of its own) and cannot reflect the kami-filled world. Things will not go right from this point forward — the only solution is a purification ritual to eradicate the pollution or defilement. (SWH, 47-8)