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Shinto Deities In Japan

  • The Shinto pantheon of kami (spirits) includes numerous deities and incalculable mystical creatures. The word KAMI can mean ancestors, goddesses, gods, and all sort of spirits which reside in grass, trees, rocks, water, and other natural things. These things aren’t signs of the spirits. Instead, they are the homes in which the spirits live. The home of the kami is believed sacrosanct and is typically surrounded with a shimenawa (cord decorated with sacrosanct white paper).
  • The Japanese trust this world is populated by these innumerable kami -- spirits which can do either evil or good. These spirits are continuously rising in quantity.
  • Kami aren’t necessarily kind. There are many Shinto demons and spirits which should be appeased in order to evade disaster, however there is no absolute clash between evil and good. All occurrences show “gentle" and "rough" features. The famous Japanese intellectual Motoori Norinaga described kami as anything which was "superlatively awe-inspiring," either base or noble, evil or good, gentle or rough, weak or strong, submerged or lofty. There is no decisive standard of evil and good, there isn’t any moral code. Things are as they are. Even the wicked parasitical Kappa has some good qualities -- i.e., when kind, the Kappa is an experienced instructor in the skill of bone setting as well as other medical practices. 
  • Contrasting Buddhism, whose deities are usually male or genderless, the Shinto custom has long worshipped the female element. Even today, the emperor of Japan declares direct lineage from the Shinto Sun Goddess Amaterasu. To a lot of Japanese, Buddhist and Shinto faith is mainly involved with requests and prayers for painless child birth, success in school entrance exams, the safety of the family, business profits, and other rewards in this life. Shinto deities are known as KAMI, SHIN, JIN, SAMA, TENJIN, GONGEN, and MYŌJIN.
Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Sun Goddess
  • Aka Taiyōsama Amaterasu, Sun Goddess, Queen of Kami, the Supreme Shinto Deity illuminates the Heavens. Amaterasu is the baby of Izanami and Izanagi. Japan’s royal family declares direct descent from her line. Japan’s flag represents the sun, and country’s name (Nihon) translates as “Land of the Rising Sun.” Shrines related with the royal family are known as Jingū -- the most prestigious is devoted to Amaterasu. Ise Jingū is demolished every 20 years and reconstructed in its original shape.
  • According to Encyclopedia Mythica she was so radiant and bright that her parents sent her to heaven. When her brother, Susano-o no Mikoto, the storm god ruined the earth, she returned to a cave. Later she shut the cave with a big stone. The world was deprived of life and light due to her disappearance and consequently demons ruled the earth. The other gods tried to pull her out, but failed. Finally Uzume danced in front of the cave and brought her out. The gods laughed when they saw obscene and comical dances of Uzume and this aroused curiosity of Amaterasu. She emerged from the cave and a splash of light appeared. After that the goddess watched her own bright image in a mirror that Uzume had suspended in a nearby tree with attractive gems. When she came close to the mirror, the gods seized her and dragged her out of the cave. She revisited to the sky, and carried back light into the world. Later, she made and nurtured rice fields of Japan. She also devised the skill of weaving with the loom and trained the people to nurture silkworms and wheat. A number of Shinto shrines have a revered mirror, believed to be the mirror in which Amaterasu viewed her image. Festivals in her honour take place each year on July 17. Amaterasu is also revered on December 21, the winter solstice, to point out her part in getting light back to the world.
Imperial Family and Amaterasu
  • The present emperor Akihito is believed to be the 125th direct descendant Japan's renowned first emperor Jinmu and a legendary descendent of Amaterasu.
  • In modern Japan, Sun images are still very important. Japanese flag, the Hinomaru symbolizes the sun. The precise origin of the Hinomaru is not clear, however many point out to the 12th century, when it emerged in a military operation. In history the Hinomaru is a sign of the rule of the “divine” king. Japan’s name Nihon or Nippon is translated as “Source of the Sun” or “Land of the Rising Sun”. National anthem of Japan is a song of admiration to the emperor. The chrysanthemum, the imperial family's crest, is on the cover of Japanese passports.
Ancestral Spirits
  • Shinto declares that all people are gifted with a spirit or soul. After death, these souls might not or might rest in peace. Those who die well surrounded by their family become sacred ancestors. After that ancestral spirits defend the family, and are greeted back to the family home every summer, during Japan’s Obon festival. Those who die without the proper funeral and post-funeral rituals, or without a family to take care for their departed spirit, or died violently or unhappily turn into ghosts who roam about creating trouble; they are called yūrei and they should be calmed down. In Japan, graveyards and funerals are controlled completely by the Buddhist temples, not by the shrines.
Animal Spirits
  • A lot of shrines are protected by a pair of mystic lion-dogs called Shishi or Koma-inu. In order to ward off evil spirits, the pair stands outside the Shinto compound. There are many magical beings in the Shinto pantheon. For example, the birdman Tengu, the Tanuki, and the Fox are famous Shinto cheats. As a group they are known as shape-shifters, or Henge, because they can change into human beings or nonliving shapes to cheat human beings. There are hundreds of stories and legends concerning human interactions with these mystic creatures, which can do both evil and good.
Deceased People or Ujigami

  • Deceased people are sometimes worshipped and after that deified as Tenjin (heavenly spirits). The two most important examples are shrines dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Sugawara Michizane. Michizane was deified after his demise, because of a plague in Kyoto soon after his death, believed to be his avenge for being displaced. He is venerated in the religious festival Gion Matsuri. Michizane is revered as the god of learning and calligraphy, and students go to his shrine every year on the 2nd of January, to request for help to offer their first calligraphy of the year or in the school entry examinations.
  • Occasionally 2 human guards attired in ancient courtly robes stand or sit at opposite ends of the doorway to the main Shinto offertory room. They are called Sadaijin (Minister of the Left) and Udaijin (Minister of the Right). Once Michizane himself was Udaijin (Minister of the Right), among the highest ranking posts in Japanese government.
  • There are also the Ujigami (village or clan deities). These kami are in charge of a specific locality or community, and in several areas they represent the descendants who established the village (For example, Umemiya Shrine, Tachibana Shrine, Kasuga Shrine, and Fujiwara Shrine). The protecting deity of one’s place of birth is called ubusunagami, and all those residing in one area worshipping the local deity are called ujiko. These families choose a temple depending on their own individual beliefs, and after that they depend on the temple for memorial and funeral services in exchange for donations to the temple.