Origin Myth of Shinto. Shinto! The Birth of Fire. Izanami & Izanagi. The Kami and Shinto Mythology

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1 Origin Myth of Shinto Shinto! The Kami and Shinto Mythology There are many myths in Shinto, but the most important one is that of the creation of Japan and the imperial family. According to the Kojiki, when the Japanese islands were created, there were already several kami, including the gods of birth and growth. Two kami in particular, Izanami, the female who invite, and Izanagi, the male of invites, brought Japan into being. Izanami & Izanagi It is said that, standing on the floating bridge of heaven, Izanami and Izanagi stirred the ocean with a jeweled spear. The drops of water that fell from this spear built up the Japanese islands. An extremely fertile period followed, during which Izanami and Izanagi gave birth to just about everything in the world, as well as to many additional kami. The Birth of Fire The creation of the world proceeded beautifully until Izanami gave birth to the kami of fire. During this birth, Izanami was badly burned and died. She went to the underworld. Izanagi came working for her and found Izanami hideously decayed. Izanagi tied to bring Izanami out of the underworld, but Izanami could not leave the underworld since she had already eaten of the food there.

2 Izanagi s Return The Birth of Amaterasu Deeply grieved by Izanami s death, Izanagi cried as he washed himself. Izanagi told Izanami that life was greater than death. To prove it, he left the underworld. The first thing he did upon his return to the world was to purify himself in the ocean, washing away the ugliness and death he had encountered in the underworld. His tears and washings gave birth to three of the most important kami. Amaterasu- the sun goddess Susanowo- the god of the wind Tsukiyomi- the moon god At first, each of these three kami ruled over different levels. Amaterasu ruled over the high plain of heaven Susanowo ruled over the earth Tsukiyomi ruled over the realm of darkness Amaterasu The Heavenly Rock Cave Amaterasu s Descendants Susanowo did not manage affairs on earth well. Furious at her brother s incompetence and carelessness, Amaterasu retreated into her heavenly rock cave. With Amaterasu hidden, both earth and heaven were cast into darkness. The other kami tried to lure Amaterasu out of her cave by making loud drumming noises. Amaterasu opened the door to her cave and, when the kami danced for her and entertained her, she came out once more. Eventually, Amaterasu instructed her grandson Ninigi to go to earth and rule Japan. He went to earth and negotiated with the kami there until he finally appointed his great-grandson, Jimmu, to be the first human emperor of Japan. Until the end of WWII, all Japanese emperors were seen as descendants of Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

3 Kami Kami is usually translated as gods and goddesses or as spirits. There are actually a variety of objects, spirits, and natural forces in Shinto that are all called kami. Figures like Amaterasu are just one example of the kami. There are other sorts of kami as well. Unlike in other religions, there are no books that explain exactly who and what the kami are. Most practitioners of Shinto cannot give a clear explantation of either. Types of Kami In general, kami can be described as powers that are in and near the world. They fall into three major categories: natural objects personifications of the forces of nature, and important ancestors. Natural Objects as Kami Forces of Nature Natural objects, such as a mountain, island, or rock formation can be a kami. It is not natural as a whole that is regarded as sacred in Shinto (unlike what we see in Taoism), rather specific natural objects or elements are seen as sacred. The sun, the moon, and fire are all regarded as kami. This makes Shinto highly polytheistic. There is no one sublime force or deity.

4 Ancestors as Kami Traits of Kami Historically, the kami have included important ancestors. In ancient times, the Japanese people were organized into clans, each one of which had a human or mythical founder who was given the status of a kami. These sorts of kami are less frequently worshipped in Shinto today. The kami are generally good, guarding people from harm and blessing them as they are requested to do so. Kami can also do bad things. Like human beings, kami are not always good. One of the reasons practitioners of Shinto believe it is important to worship the kami is to appease them, so they remain friendly and act well toward humans. Location of Kami The Kami and Humans It is not always clear where the kami live. As shown in the origin myth of Shinto, personified kami have been able to travel freely between heaven, earth and an underworld. In the past, the kami have intermarried with humans (usually a male kami with a female human) to produce important clan leaders and cultural heros. Just as the kami interact with humans, they also interact with one another, working cooperatively to keep the world running harmoniously.

5 The Waving Cat The Waving Cat There is one story that illustrates how something can come to be recognized as a kami. Once an emperor was traveling in a rainstorm. As he passed a house, he saw a cat standing on the porch waving to him. Curious to know what could cause a cat to wave, the emperor dismounted from this horse and walked to the porch. At just that moment, a lightening bolt struck his horse and killed it. Following the encounter between the emperor and the cat, cats came to be seen in Shinto as protective kami. Porcelain statues of waving cats are sometimes displayed in Japanese restaurants to protect them from harm. Iconography of Kami The waving cat is an exception that proves the rule: kami are rarely shown in any kind of embodied form. Though there are illustrations of myths showing figures such as Izanami or Amaterasu, most kami are never depicted in any way. When they have been represented, it has usually been due to the influence of Buddhism (and we had a whole lecture that showed how important iconography in Buddhism is!). Rather than making images of the kami, Shinto priests and practitioners have been more included to create shrines where the can invite the kami to come and be worshipped. In shrines, the kami are generally worshipped in the form of symbols like mirrors or inscriptions on paper rather than through representational art. We will look more at shrines and worship tomorrow.

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