Land of the Rising Sun Goddess
Amaterasu and the Way of the Kami
Amaterasu Emerging from the Cave
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Kanji for Shinto
 
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.
 
The "wedded rocks" of Futami Okitama Jinja
 
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)
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Kojiki
Image of Amaterasu as a "tutelary kami"
Nihongi (a.k.a. Nihonshoki)
The Kami of the Classics
When the first unified Japanese state was firmly established, the new “imperial” clan (Yamato) commissioned two “official” histories that wove together the myths of the various clans that they had conquered. These two texts, the Kojiki  and the Nihonshoki (a.k.a. Nihongi)both written in the early 8th centuryprovide the first written records of Shinto mythology. As noted by Kasulis:
 
Kojiki is rich in detail about the mythic preliterate period from the origins of Japan to the imperial rulers of the sixth century. In comparison, Nihonshoki has much more detail about the emperors from the sixth century up to the date of its writing. In this respect, the two narratives complement each other. Furthermore, on most points of overlap the two chronicles either agree or at least do not blatantly contradict one another. And, finally, both texts offer a mytho-historical justification for the Japanese imperial system: both trace the lineage of the emperors back to the celestial kami at the time of creation. Whatever their commonalities, however, the differences between the two texts are equally important for understanding Shinto spirituality and its institutional history. The most obvious difference is that the chroniclers wrote Kojiki mostly in Japanese, Nihonshoki totally in Chinese. This suggests different intended audiences. (SWH, 80-1)
 
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Izanagi and Izanami on the Bridge of Heaven
 
Mythical Foundations
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. (SJT,14 [Nihonshoki 1])
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Amaterasu with a Fan
 
Version 1 (Nihonshoki): 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 [a.k.a. Amaterasu]. ... 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.” (SJT, 20-1 [Nihonshoki 1])
 
Amaterasu as a child
 
Version 2 (Kojiki): [After giving birth to the Japanese islands and various other deities, Izanagi and Izanami produce the Fire-Burning-Swift-Male.] Through giving birth to this child her august private parts were burned, and she sickened and lay down. … So he buried the divinely retired deity the Female-Who-Invites on Mount Hiba, at the boundary of the Land of Idzumo and the Land of Hahaki. ... Thereupon His Augustness the Male-Who-Invites [Izanagi], wishing to meet and see his younger sister Her Augustness the FemaleWho-Invites [Izanami], followed after her to the Land of Hades [Yomi]. So when from the palace she raised the door and came out to meet him, His Augustness the Male-Who-Invites spoke, saying: “Thine Augustness, my lovelv younger sister! the lands that I and thou made are not yet finished making; so come back!” Then Her Augustness the Female-Who-Invites answered, saying: “Lamentable indeed that thou camest not sooner! I have eaten of the furnace of Hades.” …
 
Izanami in the underworld (Yomi)
 
Maggots were swarming, and she was rotting, and in her head dwelt the Great-Thunder, in her breast dwelt the Fire-Thunder, in her left hand dwelt the Young-Thunder, in her right hand dwelt the Earth-Thunder, in her left foot dwelt the Rumbling-Thunder, in her right foot dwelt the Couchant-Thunder — altogether eight Thunder-deities had been born and dwelt there. Hereupon His Augustness the Male-Who-Invites, overawed at the sight, fled back, whereupon his younger sister, “Her Augustness the Female-Who-Invites, said: “Thou hast put me to shame,” and at once sent the Ugly-Female-of-Hades to pursue him. … So he drew a thousand-draught rock, and with it blocked up the Even-Pass-of-Hades, and placed the rock in the middle; and they stood opposite to one another and exchanged leave-takings. …
 
Entrance to Yomi (the underworld)
 
Therefore the great deity the Male-Who-Invites said: “Nay! hideous! I have come to a hideous and polluted land I have! So I will perform the purification of my august person.” So he went out to a plain covered with altagi, at a small river-mouth near Tachibana in Himuka in the island of Tsukushi, and purified and cleansed himself. … The name of the deity that was born as he thereupon washed his left august eye was the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity [Amaterasu]. … At this time His Augustness the Male-Who-Invites greatly rejoiced, saying: “I, begetting child after child, have at my final begetting gotten three illustrious children.” With which words, at once jinglingly taking off and shaking the jewel-string forming his august necklace, be bestowed it on Amaterasu, the Heaven-Shining-Great-August deity, saying: “Do Thine Augustness rule the Plain-of-High-Heaven.” With this charge he bestowed it on her. (sacred-texts.com [Kojiki 1-3])
 
Misogi: Ritual Purification with Water
 
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Susanoo the Storm God
 
[Izanagi and Izanami’s] next child was Susa no o no Mikoto. … This god had a fierce temper and was given to cruel acts. Moreover he made a practice of continually weeping and wailing. So he brought many of the people of the land to an untimely end. Again he caused green mountains to become withered. Therefore the two gods, his parents, addressed Susa-no-o no Mikoto, saying, “Thou art exceedingly wicked, and it is not meet that thou shouldst reign over the world. Certainly thou must depart far away to the Nether-land.” So they at length expelled him. (SJT, 20-1)
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Sakaki Tree with Mirror and Jewels
 
The Eight-Hand Mirror and Yasaka Jewels
After this Susa-no-o no Mikoto’s behavior was exceedingly rude. ... [For example,] when he saw that Amaterasu was in her sacred weaving hall, engaged in weaving garments of the gods, he flayed a piebald colt of Heaven and, breaking a hold in the roof tiles of the hall, flung it in. Then Amaterasu started with alarm and wounded herself with the shuttle. Indignant of this, she straightway entered the Rock-cave of Heaven and, having fastened the Rock-door, dwelt there in seclusion. Therefore constant darkness prevailed on all sides, and the alternation of night and day was unknown.
Yasaka Jewel Sakaki Branch
Sun Mirror
Then the eighty myriad gods met on the bank of the Tranquil River of Heaven and considered in what manner they should supplicate her. ... Then Ame no Koyane no Mikoto ... and Futo-dama no Mikoto ... dug up a five-hundred branched True Sakaki tree of the Heavenly Mount Kagu. On its upper branches they hung an august five-hundred string of Yasaka [Magatama] jewels. On the middle branches they hung an eight-hand mirror. ... Moreover Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, ancestress of the Sarume chieftain, took in her hand a spear wreathed with Eulalia grass and, standing before the door of the Rock-cave of Heaven, skillfully performed a mimic dance. She took, moreover, the true Sakaki tree of the Heavenly Mount of Kagu and made of it a head-dress; she took club-moss and made of it braces; she kindled fires; she placed a tub bottom upwards and gave forth a divinely inspired utterance.
 
Amaterasu Emerging from the Cave
 
Now Amaterasu heard this and said, “Since I have shut myself up in the Rock-cave, there ought surely to be continual night in the Central Land of fertile reed-plains. How then can Ame no Uzume no Mikoto be so jolly? So with her august hand, she opened for a narrow space the Rock-door and peeped out. Then Ta-jikara-o no kami forthwith took Amaterasu by the hand and led her out. Upon this the gods Nakatomi no Kami and Imibe no Kami at once drew a limit by means of a bottom-tied rope ... and begged her not to return again [into the cave]. (SJT, 24-5)
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Susanoo Slays the Eight-Headed Serpant (Yamata no Orochi)
 
Susanoo Slays Yamata no Orochi
So, having been expelled, Susa-no-o descended to a place [called] Torikami at the head-waters of the River Hi in the land of Izumo. [Susa-no o met an old male and an old female deity who were weeping because they had lost seven daughters to a serpent, which was now about to take their eighth daughter. Susa-no o then set out eight pots of sake (rice alcohol); when the serpent arrived, each of its eight heads drank a pot of sake so that it became intoxicated.] Then Susa-no o drew the ten-grasp saber that was augustly girded on him and cut the serpent in pieces, so that the River Hi flowed on changed into a river of blood.
Kusanagi (Grass-Cutting Sword)
So when he cut the middle tail, the edge of his august sword broke. Then, thinking it strange, he thrust into and split [the flesh] with the point of his august sword and looked, and there was a sharp great sword [within]. So he took this great sword, and thinking it a strange thing, he respectfully informed Amaterasu. This is the Herb-quelling Great Sword [Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, usually translated as the Grass-Cutting Sword, though the sword was originally called Ame-no-Murakumo-no-Tsurugi (Heavenly Sword of Gathering Clouds)]. (SJT, 25-7)
The Imperial Regalia: Mirror, Sword and Yasaka Jewel
Ninigi & Jimmu Receive the Imperial Regalia
The Establishment of Imperial Japan

After “all the Central Land of Reed-Plains” was completely “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 thy dynasty, and may it, like Heaven and Earth, endure for ever.” (SJT, 28)
 
Ninigi (Amaterasu's Grandson)
Emperor Jimmu (Ninigi's Great Grandson)
According to tradition, Ninigi’s Great Grandson, Jimmu, went on to become the first “emperor” of Japan in 660 B.C.E. The present emperor of Japan is said to be a direct descendent of this lineage, which is ultimately traced back to the kami Amaterasu.
 
Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako
 
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The Practice of Shinto
Rituals for the Life of the Community
Pleasing the kami and expressing gratitude for its continued support enable the priest and community to enter into a symbolic communion with the kami which reaffirms social cohesion and unity, expressing the desire that this may continue for the benefit of the living community. The ultimate goal, then, is based not so much in the veneration of the kami as in positive maintainance of a harmonious relationship that will benefit the community and provide further help in this world, genze riyaku, for future growth and prosperity. (RCJ, 68-9)
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Miyamairi: Family taking baby for "First Shrine Visit"
 
The ritual of miyamairi, in which the baby is taken shortly after birth to the local shrine to receive the blessing and be placed under the protection of the kami, who is the guardian of the local community and area, integrates the child into the local community and also, because of Shinto’s ethnic themes, into the wider community of Japan. (RCJ, 60)
 

 
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Purification Rituals
The Great Exorcism of the Last Day of the Sixth Month
This norito is of special interest because it details the sins to be exorcised, some of them in the nature of moral faults but others simply baneful occurrences — misfortuntes or things that have just gone wrong and need to be remedied. Notice again that the gods act in concert; also notice the means of purification that they use: washing away, blowing away, and ‘losing’ them (keeping away).
 
By the command of the Sovereign Ancestral Gods and Goddesses,
Who divinely remain in the High Heavenly Plain,
The eight myriad deities were convoked in a divine consultation, 
Consulted in a divine consultation,
And spoke these words of entrusting:
“Our sovereign Grandchild is to rule
“The Land of the Plentiful Reed Plains of the Fresh Ears of Grain
“Tranquilly as a peaceful land.”
Having thus entrusted the land,
They inquired with a divine inquiry
Of the unruly deities in the land,
And expelled them with a divine expulsion ...
 
The various sins perpetrated and committed
By the heavenly ever-increasing people to come into existence.
In this land which he is to rule tranquilly as a peaceful land.
First the heavenly sins:
Breaking down the ridges,
Covering up the ditches,
Releasing the irrigation ditches,
Double Planting,
Setting up stakes.
Skinning alive, skinning backwards,
Defecation —
Many sins [such as these] are distinguished and called the heavenly sins.
The earthly sins:
Cutting living flesh, cutting dead flesh,
White leprosy, skin excrescences,
The sin of violating one’s own mother,
The sin of violating one’s own child,
The sin of violating a mother and her child.
The sin of transgression with animals.
Woes from creeping insects,
Woes from the birds on high,
Killing animals, the sin of witchcraft —
Many sins [such as these] shall appear.
 
When they thus appear,
By the heavenly shrine usage ....
Pronounce the heavenly ritual, the solemn ritual words.
When he thus pronounces them ... the heavenly deities
Will hear and receive [these words].
 
When they thus hear and receive,
Then, beginning with the court of the Sovereign Grandchild,
In the lands of the four quarters under the heavens,
Each and every sin will be gone.
As the gusty wind blows apart the myriad layers of heavenly clouds ...
They will be taken into the great ocean ...
They will be swallowed with a gulp ...
When she thus loses them ...
Each and every sin will be gone. (SJT, 34-6)
 

 For a detailed description and interpretation of the Yutate Kagura ritual, see RCJ, 67-9.
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Matsuri
Shrine Festivals
The annual festival ... very much resembled most other festivals that take place throughout the year in Japan: at the same time, though, it was clearly a local, community affair specific to that area, its people and shrine. The shrine grounds became an evening market with stalls selling snacks, drinks and toys or offering the chance to win small prizes at various games while, amidst the general entertainment, people found time to ring the shrine bell and pray to the kami. A stall manned by helpers dispensed sake liberally and with a little more abandon than at New Year, and on one evening a community film show of children’s cartoons took place. At one point during the festival a mikoshi or portable shrine into which the kami is temporarily transferred was carried around the area by local men. This activity, in which the kami passes by the houses of those in the district that uphold the shrine and venerate the kami, is a common feature of such festivals and emphasizes the kami’s continuing protection of the community. To carry or draw the mikoshi along requires that the men pull together and in harmony, and is thus also a symbolic reminder to all in the community of the necessity to co-operate and work together for the communal good. (RCJ, 66-7)
 

 
These shifting [social] patterns are seen clearly within the contemporary world of urban festivals, many of which have been strongly promoted in recent years in order to develop local community feeling anew, and many newly developed areas and housing estates have instituted their own festivals in order to create a sense of belonging and co-operation where previously there was none. More commonly still, many city, town and regional authorities have inaugurated festivals with little or no religious content in order to stimulate the local economy, trade and tourism, often with the co-operation and assistance of local chambers of commerce and tourist boards. Traditionally a festival involved both social mobilisation (drawing the ujiko and neighbourhood associations together in a spirit of co-operation) and religious action: modern festivals in emphasizing economic motivations have focused on the former while playing down the latter. ...
 

 
As festivals marginalise or even omit religious symbols and themes it could be argued that they become less overtly relevant to discussions of the contemporary religious situation, yet it is worth noting that many of the traditional themes of the matsuri continue to be important even in this apparently more secularised form. Modern urban matsuri provide, as did traditional shrine matsuri, the means of stepping temporarily outside the everyday routines of life to regenerate energies as well as offering the legitimation to do so.These are themes that are particularly underlined by the association of modern festivals with the imagery of tradition and nostalgia which affirms their identification, in a modern setting, with the festivals of the past. Their use in building community consciousness is a direct continuation of the traditional role of the matsuri while the economic motivations behind contemporary festivals show close parallels to the ways in which the shrine and kami have been harnessed to generate the cycles of production and renewal. One might even suggest that civil authorities and tourist boards seeking to strengthen or create a local economic infrastructure or counteract a lack of community feeling have, in their assimilation of the framework of the matsuri, in their own way ‘turned to the gods’, even if, simultaneously, they have had to keep them out of the picture. (RCJ, 72-3)
 

Click here for a detailed description of the Nada Kenka Matsuri
 
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