What's@Shinto?

Shinto is a general term for the activities of the Japanese people to worship all the deities of heaven and earth, and its origin is as old as the history of the Japanese. It was towards the end of the 6th century when the Japanese were conscious of these activities and called them 'Way of Kami(the deity or the deities )'. It coincides the time when the 31st Emperor Yomei prayed before an image of Buddha for the first time as an emperor for recovery of his illness. Thus accepting Buddhism, a foreign religion, the Japanese realized existence of a tradition of their own faith.

After having gone through a long history since then, this indigenous faith, Shinto, has been developed into four main forms: the Koshitsu Shinto ( Shinto of the Imperial House), the Jinja Shinto (the Shrine Shinto), the Shuha Shinto (the Sect Shinto), and the Minzoku Shinto (the Folk Shinto).

What's@Jinja?

Shinto was thus influenced by Buddhistic way of worship,yet, it has never used any image of Kami as the object of worship with a rare exception in medieval time(1192-1603) during which shrines enshrined an image of Kami which resembled the Buddah's image.

The building of Shinto shrines used to take up the style of a high-floorwarehouse or that of a dwelling house, like the Grand Shrine of Ise, whosematerials were mainly plain wood and thatch for the roof. Since then, many different styles were developed under the influence of Buddhism and Yin-Yang thought, and they started to use painted materials,and sculptures were added to buildings. Nowadays ferroconcrete is used as materials for shrine buildings to prevent fire.

Presently the word Jinja is translated into an Englishworld 'shrine'. It seems, however, to have delicate shades of meaning between the two. In English a shrine is considered to be a building in which the ashes or personal belongings or an image of the dead is contained. It is similar to Byo in Chinese. Jinja, however, enshrines, in fact, only the spirit of Kami, and religious servicesare performed in the

form of worshipping an object in which the spirit of Kami is believed to reside. It is generally located in natural environment, and its architectural style is to be simple so that it giving an impression of 'purity' of 'simplicity'. These points make some differences between Jinja and a shrine.

The object of worship is, in most cases, a mirror or Heihaku, paperor cloth strips attached to a stand. Jinja has a shrine grove and a tree-lined path which leads to the main shrine building.Even those shrines that became to situate in urban areas in consequence of urbanization still maintaina grove and a path though in a smaller scale. Each shrine has its own statusaccording to various reasons such as the hierarchical status of the enshrinedKami, or the historical background of a shrine, or relationship of Kamiwith a community or the state, or popularity of the enshrined Kami amongpeople. This status of a shrine is reflected reflect in the architecture and the sizeof the precinct.

What's@Festival?

On a day (or days) of Taisai (the major festival),not only a shrine but also its surrounding area is prevailed by a joyousatmosphere. Hanging Shime (a sacred rope) at the door of a house, peoplewait for a visit of Mikoshi (a portable shrine). At a shrine, on the otherhand, the spirit of Kami or a symbolic object where Kami is dwelling is placed into Mikoshi in order to make a parade into the centre of a community.The community members march following their representatives, and after them,the chief priest on horseback aheads Mikoshi which is carried by many carriers,priests or the community members. After them, divine treasures, children in traditional festival clothes and other worshippers follow. In the community center, there are some stops prepared for Mikoshi so that the communitymembers can worship Kami and receive a divine blessing. In many cases thisfestivity lasts two or three days, and during that period, Mikoshi lodges at Otabisho (or a lodging place) afar from the main shrine.

There are festivals of a large scale. In such cases, tours of Dashi (oran ornamented festival float) are prepared by groups of the community members.These Dashi are quite large. Some of them have two or three storeys, whichare taller than an ordinary house. They are gorgeously decorated by fine brocade and curtains. The carriage for Dashi is often decorated by various curbings. In the evening, the center of a community is brightly lit by lanterns hanging at the eaves of each house, and on Dashi which is also lit by many lanterns, musicians and dancers make their performances.At thismoment, the festivity reaches its climax. This can be similar to the atmosphere of a carnival in the Christian society.Since Dashi is carried by many people,they shout time and the crowd also respond with the encouraging shout.Thefestivity becoming an orgy, it happens some quarrels and some wounds asa result. At this time, peopleare in an extraordinary stage.

A common ideain a everyday life is discarded there. Emotion pent up in a daily life isburst up. Energy preserved through a year is spent up. In a sense, bustingup emotion and spending up all the energy ensure peace in the ordinary lifewhich comes after the festival. At each household a festival banquet is prepared and thus a day of a festivity becomes the most joyful day of thecommunity.

The term, Jinja (or a shrine), is originated in a word Yashiro whichmeans the place for a some type of building. In the ancient times, riteswere performed outdoor. At that time, it was rather rare to have a house style building such as Izumo Taisha as a place for performing rites. In those days, a piece of unpolluted land was chosen and roped off in square and a tree stand was erected as an object on which Kami was to be invited.This place including the tree was called Himorogi. When a piece of rock was chosen instead of a tree, the place was called Iwasaka. Rites were performed inside either Himorogi or Iwasaka.

However, when Buddhism was brought into Japan and worshipped by the Sogaclan, they worshipped an image of Buddha placed in a building. It is considered that Shinto, being influenced by this style, started to enshrine the Kami spirit in a building and it became more popular as the time went. The ancient style of rituals can be seen now in Jichinsai, a rite performed before constructing a building to show people's reverence towards the Kami of a locality andto pray for safety during the process of construction.

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