Shintoism: How it Influenced the Lives of the Japanese

Photo: hans-johnson on Flickr

Shintoism: How it Influenced the Lives of the Japanese

Saki Yoshida

"There is something spiritual about Japan."

Everyone who has been to Shinto shrines might have thought this way. However, have you ever thought about what that means?

I love to go to the shrines. For Japanese people, the Shinto religion has been a big part of our lives. In the past, people used to go there on a daily basis. I have even heard that the number of shrines is larger than that of convenience stores in Japan today.


However, I can't answer the question asked by people, “What's your religion?” This question seems easy, but it’s not for many Japanese people.  In fact, many of us don't believe in any specific religion. However, it doesn't mean that we all are atheists. The closest answer I could say is - “We are Shintoists".


J3SSL33 on Flickr

So what is Shintoism? Shintoism is so unique that some people don't even think of it as a religion. I personally don't know if I could say I believe in Shintoism in the same way as Christians believe in Christianity. Shintoism does not have a specific guide equivalent to the Bible.

Here is how Shintoism was made in the past according to Jinja Honcho which is the association of Shinto shrines. I'll make it short. Since the past, we’ve had a close relationship with nature by doing rice farming, or fishing. Nature has had such a huge impact on our lives. There were times where it brought us blessings, on the other hand, there were also times where people suffered from the violence of it. Basically, nature toyed with our lives, which led us to believe that this has something to do with Kami () (divine beings in Japanese). We thought that every part of nature has spirits. Naturally, we started to make buildings for them to show respect, which is–what we call jinja or 'shrines'.  This idea was very popular long before the ideas adopted from Buddhism, which came later.


There are so many kinds of divine beings in Shintoism. Beings for the sea, mountains, wind, trees and many more. Other than that, for our life in general, we call them '八百万の神々' (Yaoyorozu no kamigami). Yaoyorozu literally means 8,000,000–which shows the large amount of gods that were considered to exist among Japanese people at that time.


Guilhem Vellut on Flickr

Festivals are a visual part of our belief and are often accompanied by crowds of people dancing and carrying large shrines. In spring, we pray for great harvests (祈年祭 or Kinen sai). In fall, we show appreciation for our great harvests that year (新嘗祭 Niiname sai). There are countless Shinto festivals all over Japan today.

Shintoism shaped ancient Japanese people's way of thinking, perspectives, and life. Its morals included human beings getting along with nature, the harmony between communities through festivals, appreciation for everyday life, and gratitude for meals (we say 'itadakimasu' before starting each meal which is the equivalent of The Lord's Prayer in Japanese).


Kalandrakas (カランドラカス) from Kanagawa, Japan on Wikimedia Commons

There is a Japanese word, かがみ (Kagami), which we commonly use for the word ‘mirror’ in Japanese but it actually has more than one meaning. かがみ = 神が身 which means deify ourselves. Have you ever noticed that every shrine has mirrors? They are trying to tell us that you, yourself are your own god. Shrines are telling us to remember to believe in yourself. How about visiting a shrine to clean your mind today?