Shintoism is the native religion of Japan. Its place in Japanese society is apparent to anyone travelling in the country. Shinto temples and shrines can be seen in every region, town and neighborhood in the country, and are some of the most impressive landmarks there. These are sacred places and sites of worship for those who practice Shintoism.
The gods of the Shinto religion, kami, are the primary focus of worship for practitioners of Shinto. There are many gods in the Shinto religion, and the gods that are worshipped can vary from sect to sect and from temple to temple. Many Shinto temples are built on sites that are revered as sacred for a particular god, and represent the connection of the gods to the natural world. Many kami also represent forces of nature, such as wind and rain. The most important Shinto god is Amaterasu, one of the gods believed to be responsible for the creation of the universe, and the god representing Japan. She was believed to be the ancestor of the Japanese emperor.
The Auspicious Dead
Another focus of worship is the deified “auspicious dead,” those soldiers who died for Japan. Many of those worshipped died in the Second World War, and some were deemed war criminals by the allied powers. Some of the largest Shinto shrines in Japan honor the war dead.
Another form of worship in the Shinto religion is the worship of clan ancestors. This practice is rooted in ancient Japan, but was also supported by the introduction of Confucianism from China and its influence on Shinto practitioners. Ancestors may be enshrined in a community temple or may be worshipped at a personal shrine.
Public Shrines and Temples
There are public Shinto shrines and temples throughout Japan, and they vary from large historic temples to small neighborhood shrines. Worshippers visit these shrines and temples, burn incense, and bow down in worship to the Shinto deities or clan ancestors.
Many who practice Shintoism will have a shrine in their home. This is sometimes referred to as a “Kami Shelf” and is a shrine in an area where family members can leave offerings and bow in worship to ancestors or the kami.
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