Shinto
The Indigenous Religion of Japan

 
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]
 
The Birth of Amaterasu
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]
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.
 
 
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.
 
 
The relationship between Buddhism and Shinto, the indigenous faith of Japan, has varied over time, but for a considerable part of Japanese history a syncretic connection existed between the two faiths. One expression of this link lay in the theory of honji-suijaku, a doctrine of assimilation whereby certain Shinto divinities (kami) were said to be “manifestations” (suijaku) of the “original nature” (honji) of certain Buddhas and bodhisattvas. But the relationship between Shinto and Buddhism could be more complex than this, as the following story of the Buddhist priest Myoe (1173-1232) testifies. Myoe was a prominent monk of the Kegon (Chinese: Hua-yen) sect who developed the ambition to travel from Japan across China to India in search of the Dharma. He was also, however, a devotee of the god of the great Kasuga Shinto shrine in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, where the Kegon sect had its headquarters. According to a famous legend, Myoe visited the Kasuga shrine to take his leave of the deity there, only to be told that he should not leave Japan, that there was nothing Buddhist in India that he could not find at home. Thus, we have a Shinto divinity (who is a manifestation of the Buddha) looking out for the interests of Japanese Buddhism by forbidding a Buddhist monk to go on a pilgrimage to the land of the Buddha, arguing that he is needed at home, where, in any case, the sacred sites of India and China could be found, some of them in the Kasuga shrine itself. (In this connection the well-known Deer Park of the Kasuga shrine at Nara is equated with the Deer Park at Samath in India, where the Buddha preached his first sermon.) [The Experience of Buddhism, 316-7]