Still now, many foreign people may mistakenly believe that Shinto is a cult-like dangerous religion, recalling "banzai" charges or "kamikaze" suicidal attacks by Japanese military forces during WWII. Even Japanese people who have been taught in the postwar education system may also understand Shinto in the same way and they tend to connect Shinto to the right wing. This is, however, a big mistake and a large hurdle to understanding Japan and Japanese people.
In this sixth chapter, I would like to write about the way of thinking and behavior of Japanese people, which seem mysterious to foreign people. To understand these, it is necessary to understand the relationship between Japanese people and Nature, which has been continuing since the earliest times, and also the real character of Shinto, which has its origin in the relationship between people and Nature. What I want to emphasize is that original Shinto is not a faith or religion. Unlike other religions that aim to help human beings or bring peace and security to believers, Shinto's essence is not related to interests of the nation or of any individual person. Shinto in Japan from ancient times has merely been that part of Japanese life that expresses gratitude for safe and peaceful everyday
People who came to this island, which is miraculously blessed with beautiful nature and clear water, paid respect to the gods that govern the climate and convulsions of nature, and offered thanks to the land which produced daily bread. These activities or rituals led to Shinto. In other words, Japanese people felt in awe of the absolute existence ruling the Cosmos and Nature. They felt gratitude to mountains, forests, rivers and oceans for continually producing foods, and thought every phenomenon and existence was a manifestation of the gods. In Shinto, people revered land, forests, mountains, rocks, oceans, lakes, springs, and rivers as well as the vast Cosmos itself. They thought there were multitudinous deities and spirits, some manifested as powerful forces of nature, others dwelling in humbler forms in homes or even toilets, and all to be acknowledged and respected.
People of this island nation asked each deity for permission for humans to gather produce of the sea and land fully, to cut trees of forests, and to inhabit the land. They set aside a certain place and made offerings to quell the anger of deities of storms and earthquakes. Later such places became shrines and experts who communicated with deities there came to be called Shinto priests.
Thus a shrine, which is misunderstood as a narrowly religious place now, was originally a place to welcome various deities and spirits. By the same token, priests were originally shamans whose role was to consult deities and convey people's appreciation to them, and not that of political leaders or rulers. Ancient Shinto did not have personified saviors, leaders, founders, or charisma, which monotheistic and other religions usually have.
An additional feature of Shinto is respect for and gratitude to ancestors. We have parents and our parents also have parents, and this goes back to many ancestors. People respect and feel grateful for the life that has been handed down to them from ancient times. Japanese people think the origin of all these lives traces back to the Creator of All and they themselves are currently one small dwelling place of that creative spirit. Therefore, when they offer worship to mirrors of shrines, they also see a reflection of their own inner spirit. Moreover, they feel gratitude for the land where their ancestors have lived and their descendants will also live. This too is Shinto.
In this way, original Shinto of Japan is not a religion. It is, rather, rituals of awe and gratitude in daily life. It pre-exists humanfs concerns with personal interests and love of money. It is a mindset of Japanese people. Understanding what original Shinto has been since the dawn of history is necessary to understand the way of thinking and feeling of Japanese people even today. It is totally different from state-sanctioned Shinto that the Meiji government, which was established after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, developed and later politically used.
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