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Shamanism and Shinto – Some interesting information.

Exerpt from: Article written by Paul Watt for the Asia Society's Focus on Asian Studies,
Vol. II, No. 1, Asian Religions, pp. 21-23, Fall 1982. Copyright AskAsia, 1996.

Shinto
Shinto was the earliest Japanese religion, its obscure beginnings dating back at least to
the middle of the first millennium B.C. Until approximately the sixth century A.D., when
the Japanese began a period of rapid adoption of continental civilization, it existed as an
amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and
shamanism. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, it had no founder and it did not
develop sacred scriptures, an explicit religious philosophy, or a specific moral code.
Indeed, so unself-conscious were the early Japanese about their religious life that they
had no single term by which they could refer to it. The word Shinto, or "the Way of the
kami (gods or spirits)," came into use only after the sixth century, when the Japanese
sought to distinguish their own tradition from the foreign religions of Buddhism and
Confucianism that they were then encountering. Thus, in its origins, Shinto was the
religion of a pristine people who, above all, were sensitive to the spiritual forces that
pervaded the world of nature in which they lived. As one ancient chronicle reports: in
their world myriad spirits shone like fireflies and every tree and bush could speak.

Remarkably, neither Shinto's relatively primitive original character nor the introduction
of more sophisticated religions, such as Buddhism and Confucianism, caused the religion
to wane in importance. In part its continued existence can be explained by pointing to
changes that took place within Shinto, for after the sixth century, it was gradually
transformed into a religion of shrines, both grand and small, with set festivals and rituals
that were overseen by a distinct priestly class. However, such developments have had
little effect on basic Shinto attitudes and values. More crucial to Shinto's survival,
therefore, have been its deep roots in the daily and national life of the Japanese people
and a strong conservative strain in Japanese culture.

The Shinto world view is fundamentally bright and optimistic, as befits a religion in
which the main deity is a sun goddess. While it is not unaware of the darker aspects of
human existence, Shinto's chief raison d'etre is the celebration and enrichment of life.

Creation Myth showing Mood Goddess – Thought to be the Goddess of the


Shammanistic ways that were forgotten by the Yamato clan.

“According to the Kojiki the Kami of the Center of Heaven (Ame-no-minaka-nushi-no-kami)


appeared first and then the kami of birth and growth (Taka-mimusubi-no-mikoto and Jami-
musubi-no-mikoto). However, it is not until the creative couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-
no-mikoto, appears that the mythology really begins.
These two, descending from the High Plain of Heaven, gave birth to the Great Eight Islands, that
is, Japan and all things, including many kami. Three of the kami where the most august: The Sun
Goddess (Ama-terasu-o-mikami), the kami of the High Plain of Heaven; her brother (Susa-no-o-
no-mikoto), who was in charge of the earth; and the Moon Goddess, (Tsuki-yomi-no-mikoto),
who was the kami of the realm of darkness.
The brother, however, according to the Kojiki, behaved so very badly and committed so many
outrages that the Sun Goddess became angry and hid herself in a celestial cave, which caused the
heavens and earth to become darkened. Astonished at this turn of events, the heavenly kami put
on an entertainment including dancing, which brought her out of the cave; and thus light returned
to the world. For his misdemeanor the brother was banished to the lower world, where by his
good behavior he returned to the favor of the other kami, and a descendant of his, the Kami of the
Izumo (Okuni-nushi-no-kami), became a very benevolent kami, who ruled over the Great Eight
Islands and blessed the people. Little is said in the mythology of the Moon Kami.
Subsequently, the grandson of the Sun Goddess, Ninigi-no-mikoto, received instructions to
descend and rule Japan. To symbolize his authority he was given three divine treasures: a mirror,
a sword, and a string of jewels. Moreover, he was accompanied on his journey by the kami that
had participated in the entertainment outside the celestial cave. However, to accomplish his
mission it was necessary to negotiate with the Kami of Izumo, who after some discussion agreed
to hand over the visible world, while retaining the invisible. At the same time, the Kami of
Izumo pledged to protect the heavenly grandson. Ninigi-no-mikoto’s great grandson, Emperor
Jimmu, became the first human ruler of Japan.
This, in very simple form, is the basic myth which explained for primitive Japanese their origin
and the basis of their social structure. In a sense, the myth amounts to something like a simple
constitution for the country. However, in the
ancient records the account is not uniform.
Shinto recognizes today that its beliefs are a continuation of those of this mythological age. In its
ritual forms and paraphernalia, this faith fully retains much that is ancient. Shinto has outgrown
much of its historical mythology. The buds of truth have appeared and have been refined for the
people of modern Japan.”1

There is a branch of creaton mythology that was the shamanistic


and moon goddess sections of the religion, including Queen Pimiko
or Himiko, from the Chinese account from the 3rd century that
mentions she was occupied with magic and sorcery, bewitching the
people in the kingdom of Wa.2 Parts that are not spoken of or
explored that much and may pass away with the older generations
that pass these things on by word of mouth and story.

Bibliography –
1. Ono, Sokyo, “Shinto the Kami Way”, Professor, Kokugakuin University Lecturer,
Association of Shinto Shrines in collaboration with William P. Woodard, sketches by
Sadao Sakamoto, Priest, Yasukuni Shrine, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont
& Tokyo, Japan, 1962 twenty-ninth printing.
2. Nelson, John K., “A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine”, University of Washington
Press, Seattle & London, 1996.

For Further Reference


de Bary, Wm. Theodore. "Japanese Religion" in Arthur E. Tiedemann, ed., An
Introduction to Japanese Civilization, Lexington, Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and
Company, 1974. Available in paperback. Discusses Shinto and Buddhism along with
other religions that are part of the Japanese religious tradition.

Japanese Religion: A Survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Tokyo: Kodansha
International, 1972. Available in paperback. See "Introduction" and chapters on Shinto
and Buddhism.

Picken, Stuart D. B. Shinto: Japan's Spiritual Roots, Tokyo: Kodansha International,


1980. Illustrated with photographs.

Shinto: Nature, Gods and Man in Japan, a film presentation by the Japan Society. Except
for the undue stress given to the distinction between the sacred and the secular and the
place of images in Shinto, a useful and beautiful film. Available from the Japan Society,
333 East 47th Street, New York, N.Y. 10017; also available from the Audio Visual
Library of the East Asian Studies Program at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana
47374.

Sokyo, Ono. Shinto: The Kami Way, Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company,
1962.