Life is everywhere, say the followers of Shinto. The sanctified and blessed may be found in animals, in plants, as well as in things that appear to have no life in them at all, such as a pebble or a waterfall.

Shintoism, Japan’s indigenous religion, has been dated as far back the neolithic age. Artifacts suggest that some form of the faith was practiced centuries before Buddhism made its entrance on the world stage. Shintoism posits no creator, prophet, sacred lore or commandments, or moral principle save reverence for the sacred all around us.

Shinto followers believe in an eternal spiritual power that communicates through kami—living spirits that exist in plants, animals, inanimate objects and in those who have died—spirits that can be summoned through rituals and given offerings in exchange for good fortune and wisdom. In fact, the word itself—Shinto—translates roughly as the way of kami. The Shinto reverence for grace and life in all things manifests itself in the beautiful natural settings of its shrines.The familiar gateway to a Shinto holy place, known as a torii, iconic in design, is as universally a symbol of Japan as Mt. Fujiyama in the springtime.

The five million-plus adherents of the Shinto faith, many of whom also identify as Buddhists, largely reside in Japan, but the gifts of Shintoism are reflected around the globe in every lovingly tended garden, every wildlife refuge, and every effort to contribute to the beauty of the world. Shinto’s origins pre-date history, but they don’t pre-date the human need for grace and beauty and the very human inclination to revere and commune with life wherever it may be found.

 For more articles in this series, visit The Gifts of IslamThe Gifts of Wicca or The Gifts of Scientology.

Photo credits: Gate Shinto Shrine At Yashima Ji Kagawa Japan by Ggpen (CC BY 3.0)

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