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Shinto Shrines and Major Japanese Kami (gods)

Centering on the Grand Shrine of Ise in Mie prefecture, dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami, there are many Shinto shrines throughout Japan. Each shrine has been revered by the inhabitants of the area since its establishment, and has kept close contacts with the local community through its religious activities and festivals.

Deeply indebted to the blessings of nature, the Japanese people came to acknowledge its spiritual powers that brought forth life, fertility, and prosperity. Divine spirits dwell in all of nature, and bring joy and bounty to our lives. Mountains, deep valleys, and the wide ocean are viewed as dwellings for the divine. Other natural objects such as majestic trees and special rocks are considered to be symbols of divine spirits as well. Through this intimate contact with nature and the divine, the Japanese people have continued to respect and draw inspiration from its spiritual beauty. At the same time, the Japanese people have long revered their ancestors who contributed enormously to the goodness of society.

In ancient times, rites were primarily performed outdoors and it was rather rare to have a house-style building as a place for performing rites. In those days, a plot of purified land was chosen and roped off in a square. Following the ceremony a stand of trees was erected as an object to which kami were invited. However, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan, people began worshipping images of Buddha placed in buildings. It is thought that Shinto, being influenced by this style, began to enshrine the kami spirit in a building and this became the popular custom as time went on.

At various turning points in an individual Japanese person’s life, visits are made to a shrine to pray for divine protection and to give thanks for the deities’ blessings. These rites of passage for the Japanese begin with hatsumiya mode. This is a ceremony celebrating the first visit of a new born baby to a shrine to be recognized by the local deity as a new member of the community. The next is a festival called shichi-go-san. Boys at their fifth year, and girls at their third and seventh year, visit a shrine in order to report their healthy growth and to receive divine blessings.

Special rites of purification and blessing are also sought at the time a young person reaches his or her maturity. The most radiant occasion in life, however, is the marriage ceremony, when the bride and groom exchange ritual toasts of sake in front of the deity and pledge their vows as husband and wife. Rites of purification and prayer are held on many other occasions as well. Through the repetition of such life-cycle rites, Japanese people seek a way of life full of peace and joy in communion with the divine.

The Shintō pantheon of kami 神 (spirits)

The Shintō pantheon of kami 神 (spirits) includes countless deities and innumerable supernatural creatures. The term KAMI can refer to gods, goddesses, ancestors, and all variety of spirits that inhabit the water, rocks, trees, grass, and other natural objects. These objects are not symbols of the spirits. Rather, they are the abodes in which the spirits reside. The abode of the kami is considered sacred and is usually encircled with a shimenawa (rope festooned with sacred white paper). The Japanese believe this world is inhabited by these myriad kami -- spirits that can do either good or evil. These spirits are constantly increasing in number, as expressed in the Japanese phrase Yaoyorozu no Kami 八百万神 -- literally "the eight million kami."


Kami (神) are the spirits or phenomena that are worshipped in the religion of Shinto. They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can also be the spirits of venerated dead persons. Many kami are considered the ancient ancestors of entire clans (some ancestors became kami upon their death if they were able to embody the values and virtues of kami in life). Traditionally, great or sensational leaders like the Emperor could be or became kami.

In Shinto, kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, and good and evil characteristics. They are manifestations of musubi (結び), the interconnecting energy of the universe, and are considered exemplary of what humanity should strive towards. Kami are believed to be "hidden" from this world, and inhabit a complementary existence that mirrors our own: shinkai (神界, "the world of the kami").
To be in harmony with the awe-inspiring aspects of nature is to be conscious of kannagara no michi (随神の道 or 惟神の道, "the way of the kami").

Major Japanese Kami (gods)

◆Amaterasu-Ō-Mi-Kami (天照大神 or 天照大御神)
Commonly called Amaterasu, she is the goddess of the sun as well as the purported ancestress of the Imperial Household of Japan. Her full name means "Great Goddess" or "Great Spirit Who Shines in the Heavens"; she may also be referred to as Ōhiru-menomuchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神). For many reasons, one among them being her ties to the Imperial family, she is often considered (though not officially) to be the "primary god" of Shinto.

◆Ame-no-Uzume (天宇受売命 or 天鈿女命)
Commonly called Uzume, she is the goddess of dawn and revelry, instrumental to the "missing sun motif" in Shinto.[citation needed] She is also known as The Great Persuader and The Heavenly Alarming Female.

◆Fūjin (風神)
Also known as Kami-no-Kaze, he is the Japanese god of the wind and one of the eldest Shinto gods, said to have been present at the creation of the world. He is often depicted as an oni with a bag slung over his back.

◆Hachiman (八幡神)
Also known as Hachiman-shin or Yawata no Kami, he is the god of war and the divine protector of Japan and its people. Originally an agricultural deity, he later became the guardian of the Minamoto clan. His symbolic animal and messenger is the dove.

◆Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神)
The god or goddess of rice and fertility. Their messengers and symbolic animal are foxes. They are often identified with the Ukanomitama and Buddhist deity Dakiniten.

◆Izanagi (伊弊諾 or 伊邪那岐)
The forefather of the gods, he is the first male as well as the god of creation and life. He and his wife, Izanami, were responsible for the birth of the islands of Japan and many kami, though she died in childbirth. Later, after his failed attempt to retrieve her from the underworld, he sired Amaterasu, Susanoo and Tsukuyomi.

◆Izanami (伊弉冉 or 伊邪那美)
Izanagi's wife and sister, she is the first female as well as the goddess of creation and death. She died shortly after the birth of Kagu-tsuchi, and Izanagi followed her to the underworld, but failed to bring her back to the living world. A marital spat between the pair caused the cycle of life and death for all living beings.

◆Kuninotokotachi (国之常立神, Kuninotokotachi-no-Kami, in Kojiki)
(国常立尊, Kuninotokotachi-no-Mikoto, in Nihonshoki) is one of the two gods born from "something like a reed that arose from the soil" when the earth was chaotic. In the Nihon Shoki, he is the first of the first three divinities born after heaven and earth were born out of chaos, and is born from something looking like a reed-shoot growing between heaven and earth. He is known by mythology to reside on top of Mount Fuji (富士山). Kuninotokotachi is described as a hitorigami and genderless in Kojiki, while as a male god in Nihon Shoki. Yoshida Kanetomo, the founder of the Yoshida Shintō sect, identified Kuninotokotachi with Amenominakanushi and regarded him as the primordial god of the Universe.

◆Ninigi-no-Mikoto (瓊瓊杵尊)
Commonly called Ninigi, he was the grandson of Amaterasu. His great-grandson was Kan'yamato Iwarebiko, later to be known as Emperor Jimmu, first emperor of Japan.

◆Ōkuninushi (大国主)
A god of nation-building, farming, business, and medicine.

◆Omoikane (思兼)
The deity of wisdom and intelligence, who is always called upon to "ponder" and give good counsel in the deliberations of the heavenly deities.

◆Raijin (雷神)
Commonly called Raiden (雷電), he is the god of thunder and lightning, and is often paired with Fūjin. As with the latter, Raijin is usually depicted as an oni.

◆Ryūjin (龍神)
Also known as Ōwatatsumi, he is a dragon, as well as god of the sea. He resides in Ryūgū-jō, his palace under the sea built out of red and white coral, from where he controls the tides with magical tide jewels. His great-grandson would become Emperor Jimmu.

◆Suijin (水神)
The God of Water.

◆Susanoo-no-Mikoto (須佐之男尊)
Alternately romanized as Susano-o, Susa-no-o, and Susanowo. Reportedly called "Futsushi". He is the god of storms as well as in some cases the god of the sea. He is also somewhat of a trickster god, as Japanese mythology extensively documents the "sibling rivalry" between him and Amaterasu. Susanoo also was responsible for the slaying of the monster Yamata no Orochi and the subsequent discovery of the sacred sword Kusanagi.

◆Tenjin (天神)
The god of scholarship, he is the deified Sugawara no Michizane (845–c903), who was elevated to his position after dying in exile. Subsequent disasters in Heiankyo were attributed to his angered spirit.

Sugawara no Michizane (菅原 道真/菅原 道眞, August 1, 845 – March 26, 903), also known as Kan Shōjō (菅丞相) or Kanke (菅家), was a scholar, poet, and politician of the Heian Period of Japan. He is regarded as an excellent poet, particularly in Kanshi poetry, and is today revered in Shinto as the god of learning, Tenman-Tenjin (天満天神, often shortened to Tenjin).

Osaka Tenmangu

Osaka Tenjin Festival