The Indigenous Tradition of Japan


Prior to the influx of cultural influences from China and Korea in the sixth century, the Japanese worshiped “nature” kami directly. Mount Fuji (the tallest mountain in Japan) is one of the earliest pilgrimage sites — and remains one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in contemporary Japan.

Originally, people worshiped at sites in which spiritually charged entities called kami were believed to dwell, such as sacred waterfalls or forests.


Over time, natural objects such as a large tree or an unusual rock came to serve as yorishiro — a kind of spiritual lightning rod that was believed to attract the kami to a particular location so that the villagers could worship and/or commune with the deity.

In early spring, the mountain kami was welcomed to the fields in the form of water, an abudance of which was required to grow rice, which is still a sacred crop in Japan today. In the fall, the choicest rice was offered to thank the kami before it returned to the mountain for the winter.

Eventually, shrine buildings came to provide the focal point for the worship of particular kami, especially those associated with the tutelary kami of a particular clan, such as the progenitor and principal kami of the Yamato clan, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu ...

... or her (sometimes) nasty brother Susanoo, tutelary kami of the Izumo clan.


Myths of these kami were first recorded in the Kojiki and Nihonshoki at the beginning of the eight century (712 and 720, respectively). These myths were woven into a national narrative that legitimated the imperial family’s position as the rulers of a unified Japan, who possessed the sacred imperial regalia that was bequethed by Amaterasu to ...

Jimmu (traditionally believed to have become the first “emperor” of Japan in 660 BCE) ...

 ... and ultimately to the current emperor Akihito (and his wife Michiko).