East -Shinto / Japan
Japan is an island system populated mainly by immigrants from Central Asia and Indonesia, who tookover the country in the early years of the Common era. The earlier inhabitants, the shamanic Ainu,have been pushed to a small area of the northernmost island. The people we consider Japanese areof this Chinese, Korean, Indonesian population. The religions compromising Shinto mainly moved toJapan from this mainland population.The land is not very arable, being a composite of beaches and old volcanic mountains. Although hardto work, rice and other crops have been grown in Japan since before the Common Era. The people of this area mainly lived off the harvest from the sea.As a series of volcanic islands, Japan is a magnet for natural disaster. Earthquakes are common. Theword Tsunami is actually the Japanese word for harbor wave. Typhoons, which are Pacific hurricanes;landslides and flooding are not uncommon. Occasionally Japan gets almost its entire compliment of rain in typhoons. Need to propitiate the spirits that cause these disasters is a part of Shintoism.Shinto is a form of animism. As such, it is considered that all things have spirit. Shintoism also believesthat abstract ideas, ancestors and locations have spirits. These spirits are called Kami or shin. I usethe term kami. They are everywhere and there are complex rituals involved in calling the attention of these eternal beings to a particular place and time. They do not so much call the spirits, but remindpeople that the spirits are there and ask the spirit’s particular attention.There are minor kami, of particular rocks or trees or rooms; and major kami where, in translation, thekami involved is called a Goddess or God. The God and Goddess level kami are of things like the sunand moon and creation.Formal temples and shrines were practically unknown before the 6
century CE, when Buddhism andits ornate temples entered Japanese culture. Previously, artificiality and construction of “holy places”was discouraged due to its tendency to hinder viewing and being part of natural beauty. To be incontact with nature is to be in contact with the divine. Natural objects resonate with spiritual energy. Inthe more ancient texts, some of which date to the 700s CE, kami are known to interact with and speakto their human believers, but they rarely interact in a personalized way with each other.There are practically no images of the kami or stories of the type called myth, where the kami interactwith each other in humanized form, although all of the sects seem to have created creation mythology.These myths seem to be ways of proving each clan’s descent from the divine which emphasizes thatfamily’s superiority over all other clans and people.Ritual includes propitiation of the kami of storms, earthquakes and the like; invocations of dead kin for aid to the family; and simple recognition of the Kami’s being. Ritual purification by wind or water are aspecial part of all Shinto ritual, and in fact of the whole lives of the Japanese, whatever their beliefs.