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Shinto as the cultural phenomenon of Japan

The Acient origin of Shinto

Knowing Japan as world’s one of the most progressive countries, it is hard to relate it to the most ancient way of belief such as Shinto. The first mentioning about it was given in VII century, but that was referring to the Yomei Emperor who lived in VI-VII. Thereby we can say that most probably Shinto has even more ancient origin.

The main idea of it, indeed, is the same with the idea of paganism – Shinto worships nature and a multitude of gods, called kami, which are from the nature and exist everywhere. According to this, spirits live in plants, animals, even objects and there are also the spirits of our ancestors surrounding us. So to live in a harmony with the world you need to live in a harmony with kami as far as they are blessing and protective.

Shinto itself has not become a religion and actually does not have a ground for it. There is no main god or messiah as all the ideas of it were gathered from the ancient myths. Moreover, the concept of good and evil has never been a borderline for the ethics – those who act evil are treated as temporary sick, because the matter of kami is always pure. Still, in those times when it had started developing as an official religion in Japan, the raise of Buddhism played a great role. The integration of both beliefs was inevitable, thus it could be understood that kami could only be reached when all the material world is left behind, which is essentially specific for Buddhism.

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The downfall of Shinto

Nevertheless, the separation of competing doctrines had been being supported by different schools during all the time until its Renascence after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when Shinto was recognized as the obligatory official religion and the Emperor was sacrificed as the god. That time, the tradition of the Imperial Shinto was reaching its best highs. But things had changed in 1947 – religion and government were finally separated by new constitution.

Today Shinto manifests itself in traditional shrines, folk customs and the mindset of modern Japanese. There are around 80 thousands shrines located all over Japan, some of them have got sign of Buddhism in decorating. Still, Shinto shrines are very often being reconstructed and renewed that enable them being transformed in an up-to-date shape for the society. But not only they remain a significant manifest of Shinto in Japanese culture – local festivals, matsuri, are still widely spread all around Japan and usually relate to the special season. There is also a belief that even food we eat has a kami living into it taking place, so many Japanese pay a gratitude to the spirit of a meal.

As long as Japan was becoming more open at the international scene, the more Shinto was getting more interesting for the foreign community. Since the middle of twenties century it has got a lot of followers around the globe. The growth of such contacts may lead to the fact of recognizing Shinto as the religion in a row with all other ones, which is unfavorable for Japanese. The phenomenon of it has built a strong basis of their mentality and will ever remain the unique way of perceiving the world.

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Active traveller with a love for Asian food and Japanese anime.