Shintō beliefs comprise indigenous Japanese religious beliefs and practices, and the word Shintō was brought into use to create separation between indigenous beliefs from those of Buddhism. In this post, we explore some of Shintōism’s basic beliefs and how they are still practised today.
Shintōism Basic Teachings
Shintōism doesn’t follow a single god or religious text. Shintōism’s basic beliefs are focused on kami – although kami loosely translates as ‘god’ or ‘deity’, it encompasses many forces of nature worthy of reverence and respect. Spirits, ancestors, animals and plants can all be examples of kami.
Physical representations of kami are called shintai. These can include places where the presence of kami was discovered or objects made and devoted to it. Shintōism didn’t originally worship icons like paintings or sculptures, such as statues of the seven lucky gods, but this became more common with Buddhism’s introduction.
Shintōism’s basic beliefs emphasise the importance of being true of heart, with honest prayers and sincerity. Kami are believed to respond to truthful prayers and offer makoto, their truthful way, to believers. Shintō beliefs put forward that a life lived in respect and accordance with kami principles of truth and harmony will be blessed by all kami.
Some of the core beliefs of Samurai were that violence should be tempered by wisdom, patience and serenity. Bushido, or ‘the way of the warrior’, was the code of honour and moral principles the samurai lived by and was heavily influenced by Shintō beliefs.
Places of Worship
The place of worship for those following the Shintō religion is a shrine called a jinja. Although they are very popular tourist attractions across Japan, a jinja is a sacred place and is expected to be treated with respect by all who enter it.
A torii is built purposefully to highlight to visitors the beginning of the sacred space of the jinja. Everyone must enter and exit through the torii too when visiting a jinja. The torii is more than just a symbol of where the sacred ground starts and ends; it is widely believed that the gods enter and leave through a torii, which is why it is such an important symbol in Shintō beliefs.
Matsuri are known as celebrations in Shintōism’s basic beliefs that centre around the notion of rejoicing in being alive! The majority of these festivals are local and honour a historical event or day celebrated nationally. Alternatively, they can be dedicated to the nearest shrine or jinja‘s represented deity. The main objective of these celebrations is to show gratitude for all the positive things in life and overall happiness.
Shintō Beliefs in Modern Day Japan
Shintō’s presence in Japan can be seen in architecture and Japanese social culture. You can still buy omamori (good luck charms from traditions in Shintōism) from Shintō temples in Japan. If you’d like a bit of good luck, but you can’t quite travel to Japan, we’ve added a range of omamori to our online shop.
One of the best examples of this can be seen in Sumo wrestling, Japan’s national sport. Before the match begins, the wrestlers throw down a handful of salt to purify the arena, and the symbolism behind kicking one another is to crush forces of evil. These acts originate from Shintō beliefs and have remained a part of the sport since it first began thousands of years ago, as a performance to entertain the Shintō deities. For more information on Sumo wrestling and other popular Japanese sports, read our recent blog post.
Interestingly, a large majority of Japanese weddings are celebrated in accordance with Shintōism’s basic teachings too. The main symbol of marriage between the two parties consists of them drinking Sake from the same cup, originating from the Shintō wedding symbolism of each drinking Sake for purification. The traditional bridalwear (a classic white kimono) also originates from Shintōism’s basic beliefs. Many couples now like to fuse traditional elements with modern westernised aspects. However, these subtle Shintō rituals have remained in the majority of services in some way.
If you are attending a Japanese wedding and are looking for gift ideas, discover our handpicked collection of Japanese wedding gifts!
We hope you now have a basic knowledge of Shintōism’s basic beliefs and can see how present they remain in Japan to this day! To learn more about Japanese culture, please check out our blog, or see our shop for a range of Japanese gifts, art, tableware and more.