While Japan is known for other religious systems like Buddhism, Shinto has the claim of being much older; it’s unknown exactly when this belief system started. Shinto has changed and fluctuated over time, but its core of revering nature and finding peace in the world has remained the same. Japan would not be what it is today without Shinto, and while the religion is scarcely practiced anywhere outside of the island nation, we see its similarities to the beliefs of such people as the Native Americans and ancient Europeans.
We also see a new interest in earth-centered belief today. Shinto may not be widely practiced, but it can touch on something all people appreciate: the world around us. In a time when there has been a resurgence in earth-based spirituality and religions as well as discoveries into renewable resources and other ways to honor the earth while maintaining our modern lives, it is easy to make a connection to Shinto, even for those lacking a Japanese heritage or cultural understanding. While there are several distinct types of Shinto (including Ko Shinto;
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Shrine Shinto; Sect Shinto; and Folk Shinto, which includes practices such as divination and shamanism), the various branches are unified in their belief that all things have a kami, a spiritual essence or soul. There are no binding tenets, no defined set of prayers, and no holiest deity or place of worship. very small portion of world religions can claim a goddess (as opposed to a god) as their central deity. Within Shinto, one of the most important divinities is the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.
While she is not worshipped directly, she is said to be the ruler of Takamagahara, the elestial home of the gods, which is connected to earth by the floating bridge of heaven. The very fact that that Shinto is centered on a female deity can be very empowering to women. Amaterasu is frequently symbolized by a mirror; this is to signify that when people see their reflections, they are also seeing the reflections of the kami and of Amaterasu herself, and that all are interconnected. Shrines to Amaterasu are often noticeably empty; this illustrates that decorations are unnecessary: Amaterasu is found everywhere, not Just in a shrine.
Like most eligions, earth-based and otherwise, Shinto is based heavily on ritual. These prescribed rites and behaviors have in turn shaped Japan. Even sumo, often known simply as a sport to the Western world, is steeped with Shinto practices, including purification with salt. Ceremonies are very popular. Jichinsai, for instance, is the purification of a new building. Part of Jichinsai is honoring the land-kami over which the particular building is being made. There are rituals and ceremonies for many instances, including birth and marriage. Shinto By tabnod