The Way of the Kami
Shinto Then & Now
 

Born Shinto
Miyamairi (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)



Shinto Prayer
Norito for the Festival of the Sixth Month
This prayer was offered in the sixth month by a priest of the Nakatomi clan to pray for the well-being of the emperor and imperial house. It is similar to one offered at Ise for the success of the grain-growing season. Although much of it is addressed to the Sovereign Deities in general, the following excerpts focus on a prayer to Amaterasu on behalf of the reigning emperor, spoken of here as the Sovereign Grandchild.
 
Hear me, all of you assembled priests (kamu-nusi) and exorcists (hafuri). Thus I speak.
 
I humbly speak before you,
   The Sovereign Deities whose praises are fulfilled as
      Heavenly Shrines and Earthly Shrines
   By the command of the Sovereign Ancestral Gods and Goddesses
      Who divinely remain in the High Heavenly Plain ...
 
I humbly speak with special words in the solemn presence
   Of the deity Ama-terasu-oho-mi-kami,
      Who dwells at Ise:
The lands of the four quarters, upon which you gaze out,
   As far as the heavens stand as partitions,
   As far as the land extends in the distance,
   As far as the bluish clouds trail across the sky,
   As far as the white clouds hang down on the horizon ...
 
The narrow land is made wide,
   The steep land is made level;
And you entrust the distant lands [to the Sovereign Grandchild]
   As if casting myriad ropes about them and drawing them hither.
[If you vouchsafe to do all this], then in your presence
   The first fruits of the tribute will be piled up
   Like a mountain range,
   And of the rest [the Sovereign Grandchild] will partake tranquilly.
Also because you bless the reign of the Sovereign Grandchild
As a long reign, eternal and unmoving,
And prosper it as an abundant reign,
As my Sovereign, Ancestral Gods and Goddesses,
Like a cormorant bending my neck low,
I present to you the noble offerings of the Sovereign Grandchild
And fulfill your priases. Thus I speak. (SJT, 31-2)

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 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, 34-36)
 

 
Ian Reader provides a thorough description and interpretation of the above ritual (RCJ, 67-69), at the end of which he concludes:
 
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, 68-69)

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, 66-67)
 



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, et 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, 72-73)