Kami no Michi: The Life and Thought of a Shinto Priest
January 1, 2005 6:13 AM   Subscribe

The book also goes in to some detail describing the essence of Shinto and its mythological basis. This is pretty cool; thanks.
posted by mote at 7:27 AM on January 1, 2005

I cringed a little when I started reading Chapter 9, which attempts to put Shinto on par with other world religions for comparison. Shinto can hardly be called a "World religion" since it pretty much presupposes being (at least ethnically) Japanese and is also geographically pretty much confined to Japan.

I think there has even been some debate whether Shinto is a religion at all. The case against it is its conspicuous lack of values/morals/scripture. Somebody (Dave Barry?) summarized this succinctly by saying that if religions were cars, then Shinto would be a wheel barrow.

Nevertheless, I find this aspect of Shinto almost appealing, because it seems to limit its authority to godly matters and doesn't interfere (or only little) with the way people are supposed to live their lives. Contrast this with religions that try to regulate everything down to such trivialities as what kind of meat we are allowed to eat or what kind of clothes we are supposed to wear, and that are really more elaborate blueprints for society. It seems that Shinto doesn't really bother much with these superficialities and in fact doesn't interfere much at all with people's lives once you leave the temple gates.

Note also the lack of exclusivity in Shinto. I was aware of this (i.e. many Japanese people have a Christian or Shinto wedding ceremony but a Buddhist funeral and see no contradition in this), but I didn't know that this is even encouraged by Shinto, as pointed out by the author.
posted by sour cream at 7:54 AM on January 1, 2005

Shinto is such a big confusing ball of wax, I certainly can't figure out what to call it. It certainly doesn't help that almost no-one in Japan has ever heard of Shinto, despite pretty much everyone going to a shrine at some point or another. The teachings are, at least at layman level, completely non-existent, both in regards to the worldly sphere and the supernatural sphere. But it involves prayer and gods, so I suppose it's a religion by default.
posted by Bugbread at 8:20 AM on January 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

I know a little about a lot of religions, but about Shinto and Zorasterism (see, I can't even spell it) I remain ignorant.

Chapter 9 annoyed me a little bit, too, because of its tendency (shared by many Hindus) to say that all religions are wonderful and equal but then hints quite strongly that this one is the best.

I found Chapter 9's opening paragraphs, helpful, though.

One of the easiest ways to get inside the basic spirit of Shinto is to put it beside other world religions for comparison. This helps to pinpoint the distinctive qualities of Shinto. The core concept is vertical musubi, the vertical musubi of kannagara. This is the attempt to bring the kami, the divine into direct relation with humans. In Shinto rituals, the kami alights on the sakaki, the evergreen tree and so the blessings and benefits are possible. The spirit, mitama, of any kami can be invited to alight on a sacred purified place so that people may commune with the kami.

Shinto grew and developed from these basic insights, none of which can be attributed to any particular historical founder. Shinto grew as a folk way of people seeking to met their kami and consequently, the tradition expanded without particular historical personalities behind it.

I spent a New Year's Eve/Day in Japan many years ago. Still don't know if the rituals I participated in were Buddhist or Shinto or neither or both.

By the way, those who call Shinto "not a religion" remind me of Christians who call Unitarianism "not a religion" or "not a real church." (Not saying they don't have a point.)
posted by kozad at 9:01 AM on January 1, 2005

New Year's Day would in almost all probability be Shinto. The general rule of thumb is that Shinto is involved in happy occassions (New Year's, births, marriage), and Buddhism is for sad occassions (funerals, mainly).

The only Buddhist New Year's aspect I can think of is the ringing of the bell at New Year's, but if you participated in Hatsumode, which is the visiting of the shrine, that is pure Shinto.
posted by Bugbread at 10:40 AM on January 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

Born Shinto, wed Christian, die Buddhist.
posted by aerify at 1:45 PM on January 1, 2005

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