Before Buddhism – Shinto
Shinto is the oldest religion of Japan. On our third day here, it was really special to receive a personal greeting from this Shinto priest, Mr Yangagita, at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine in Kamakura. He is standing in front of the shrine’s supply of sake, which is used in ceremonies. Our group was privileged to be led by by him onto the main altar, usually closed to the public, and partake in a blessing ceremony conducted by a high priest.
Shinto shrines are the places where deities called ‘kami’ are worshipped. A kami can be an element of nature, (such as rock, wind air, mountains, rain etc), an animal, the spirit of a deceased person. They are believed to be the interconnecting energy of the universe. They are hidden from the world, but inhabit an existence mirroring our own , and have human qualities, both good and bad. Offerings are made to them daily – including the all important sake.
Shinto does not have a founder or sacred scriptures. One of its highest priorities is the coexistence with nature. It’s a very open religion. There is no absolute right or wrong. Humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. So the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami.