Shinto Practices

Shinto ceremonies are designed to appeal to the kami for benevolent treatment and protection and consist of abstinence (imi), offerings, prayers and purification (harae). Purification, by washing with water, symbolically removes the dust and impurities that cover one's inner mind.

A traditional Japanese home has two family altars: one, Shinto, for their tutelary kami and the goddess Amaterasu Omikami, and another, Buddhist, for the family ancestors. Pure Shinto families, however, will have all ceremonies and services in Shinto style.

Shinto does not have weekly religious services. Some may go to the shrines on the 1st and 15th of each month and on the occasions of rites or festivals (matsuri), which take place at fixed times during the year (see Holidays, below). Shinto followers visit the shrine at their convenience; though some devotees pay respect to the shrine every morning.

Shinto shrines are regarded as the home of the kami. The most important shrine building is the inner sanctuary (honden), in which a sacred symbol called shintai ("kami body") or mitama-shiro ("divine spirit's symbol") is enshrined. The usual symbol is a mirror, but sometimes it is a wooden image, a sword, or some other object. In any case, it is carefully wrapped and placed in a container. It is forbidden to see it: only the chief priest is allowed to enter inside the inner sanctuary.

A torii (gateway) stands at the entrance of shrine precincts. Proceeding on the main approach, a visitor comes to an ablution basin where the hands are washed and the mouth is rinsed. Usually he or she will make a small offering at the oratory (haiden) and pray. Sometimes a visitor may ask the priest to conduct rites of passage or to offer special prayers.

Various Shinto rites of passage are observed. The first visit of a newborn baby to the tutelary kami, which occurs 30 to 100 days after birth, is to initiate the baby as a new adherent. The Shichi-go-san (Seven-Five-Three) festival on November 15 is the occasion for boys of five years and girls of three and seven years of age to visit the shrine to give thanks for kami's protection and to pray for their healthy growth. January 15 is Adults' Day. Youth in the village used to join the local young men's association on this day. At present it is the commemoration day for those Japanese who have attained their 20th year. The Japanese usually have their wedding ceremonies in Shinto style and pronounce their wedding vows to kami. Shinto funerals, however, are not common, due to Shinto concerns about ritual purity. The majority of the Japanese have their funerals in Buddhist style.

There are other Shinto rites for occupations or daily life, such as a ceremony of purifying a building site or for setting up the framework for a new building, a purifying ceremony for the boilers in a new factory, a completion ceremony for a construction works, or a launching ceremony for a new ship.