Japanese Language Blog

Shintooism Posted by on Sep 21, 2009 in Culture

The word Shintoo (神道) means “way of the gods”. Some people refer to Shintooism as a religion, but others prefer to call it a “belief system”. The problem with calling Shintoo a religion is that in some ways many Japanese people follow Shintoo practices, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are active “members” of the Shintoo way of life. In fact, it’s not unusual to see a Japanese person dabble both in Shintoo and Buddhist practices at the same time. For public events like sumo wrestling matches, whether or not the audience members are Shintoo followers, Shintoo rituals are performed before the match. Therefore, it’s difficult to say which part of shintooism is actually culture and which part is religion.

In some ways, it’s difficult to express a central theology of Shintoo ideas. There are different types of Shintoo beliefs, including minzoku shintoo (民俗神道), a kind of folk Shintoo, with cultural beliefs mixed in with Shintoo elements. Then there’s jinja shintoo (神社神道), or shrine Shintoo, which is the most predominant among the Shintoo sects. Generally, the common factor within all sects of Shintooism is the respect for kami () or spirits. These kami () can be forces of nature or a deceased ancestor or, a mythological god.

There is a heavy emphasis on rituals; especially rituals of purification. Oharai (おはらい) is a general term for Shintoo purification rites. Shintoo purification rites can be performed daily, seasonally or yearly, depending on the rite. In business, new buildings are blessed by a Shintoo priest in a ceremony called Jichinsai (地鎮祭). The ceremony is performed to keep impurities or kegare (穢れ) to a minimum. The term “impurity” can imply bad spirits, bad auras or anything negative that can bring bad luck, in this case, to a new company or factory.  

Shintoo beliefs are apparant in the daily life of Japanese people. Before eating, you’ll notice that Japanese people tend to say itadakimasu (いただきます) before putting any food in their mouth. There is not set phrase in English for itadakimasu (いただきます), but it can mean, “I give thanks to this meal” or “I will humbly receive”. This phrase is said not just for politeness. It goes back to a Shintoo belief that the spirits of the plants and animals that died to be a part of the meal may hold a grudge or urami (怨み), against the person eating the meal. Therefore itadakimasu (戴きます) is a way of acknowledging the sacrifice of the killed spirit.

This is all the time we have for today. There will be more about Shintooism next time. Mata ne (また ね) See you next time!

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  1. Tatiana:

    Awesome! Thank you! I have often wondered about the reason behind “戴きます”! Arigatou gozaimasu for this post! I can’t wait to see the next one!