posted on August, 24, 2013

When you walk around Japanese towns, you’ll sometimes find shrines in rows of ordinary houses or surrounded by trees. In local towns or villages, shrines are near rice-paddy fields or in small forests. Shinto shrines are where Shinto gods are enshrined. Though several Japanese shrines are large like Meiji Shrine or Ise Shrine, many of them are local shrines taken care of by the local people; quite a few have no regular Shinto priests there. There is a local shrine in our area, where we go for our New Year’s visit and are entertained by the shrine parishioners’ “Ohayashi”performances(traditional music and dances for New Year). The shrine is surrounded by trees, which creates an eco-friendly environment.

chinjyu-no-mori 2

Shinto is the oldest and indigenous religion of Japan. It has no founder or scriptures; it was created and developed in ancient people’s daily lives.

People in ancient times had fear of nature — nature causes typhoons, earthquakes or thunder. They felt helpless against the overwhelming power of nature. So as to ease their fear, they revered natural phenomena and things related to nature as “kami(gods).” They hoped they’d get rid of damage by doing so. Their awe of nature created quite a lot of Shinto gods, which are generally described as myriads of gods.
These myriads of gods still exist in our life today. When thunder rumbles, we say that’s the anger of the thunder god. When spring comes, farmers say, “The mountain god has come down from the mountain. He’ll protect our paddy fields till the harvest as a paddy-field god.” Mt. Fuji has been worshipped as a holy mountain and has been an object of pilgrimage since ancient times.

These gods are thought to be living in shrine forests surrounding the shrines and protecting the environment of the shrines. Generally shinto shrines are surrounded by evergreen forests called “chinju-no-mori. “

 

When you find a Torii gate, you are in a Shinto shrine.

shinto shrine

Torii gate

At the Torii, the gate, it’s polite to bow once when entering and leaving the shrine. A Torii is said to be separating the ordinary world and the sacred world.

At the main shrine hall, or the shrine sanctuary, it’s desirable to pray according to the traditional way. First, bow slightly. You may put some coin into the offertory box. Then, bow twice, clap your hands twice, say your name and address and make a wish. Lastly, bow once again.

 

 

Shinto has no scriptures or teachings. What Shinto asks us for is purification to get rid of and ward off evil spirits.

Temizuya

Temizuya

There are several ways of purification in Shinto.

When you are in a shinto shrine, generally you walk on a path laid with gravel to the shrine’s main hall. The purpose of this gravel path is to purify yourself. It is said that gravel represents a riverbed and gravel in riverbeds purify many things. You walk on the gravel path and purify yourself, and then you get to the main hall.

 

 

In shinto shrines, there is also a purification place called “Temizuya,” where you purify yourself by rinsing your hands and mouth by water.

Another interesting way of purification is seen in sumo. Sumo is a national sport in Japan and originated in a kind of Shinto ritual, and used to be performed to pray for good harvests. Traditionally, before each match, sumo wrestlers throw a handful of salt across the sumo ring to purify the ring. In Japan, salt is a symbol of purification. It’s partly because salt has power to kill germs, which is regarded as the power to ward off evil spirits.

Purification by using salt is also performed customarily when we come home from funerals. We throw salt before entering a house to ward off evil spirits. In shintoism, death is regarded as impure.