A Brief History of Japanese Religion Essay

3970 Words 16 Pages
A Brief History of Japanese Religion


The Buddha is said to have been born in India around 500 BCE. During his life time, he preached the benefits of the Middle Path, the road between the two extremes of a decadent life style and severe austerities. Soon after the death of the founder, Buddhist missionaries began to travel through out Asia, finding their way along the Silk Roads to China, first arriving around 100 CE. The climate there was hospitable to the teaching of the Buddha, and soon Buddhism was counted along with Taoism and Confucianism as one of the major religions of the period. The Chinese interpreted the Buddhist texts in a new light, and Chinese Buddhism began to take on its own distinctive character. Around 600 CE, Chinese
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Thus an ancient hero could become a kami, as could a venerable ancestor, or a mountain, or a natural phenomenon. In fact, to the ancient Japanese, the entire universe was animated and alive with kami. These kami were generally described in ambiguous terms, taking on a super-natural aura. Kami who were once people lost their human qualities. Many of their actions were strictly "context based"-they laid no hard and fast moral code that humans should emulate or strive to follow. They were thought to live on some sort of heavenly plane, above the world we live in. One popular myth of creation involved two kami (Izanagi and Izanami) coming down from the plane of heaven and creating Japan, along with all of its people, plants, and animals. Another prominent kami was Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess and founder of the line of Emperors. The kami were usually neither all good nor all evil; depending on the situation, the kami could help or hinder human progress. The early Japanese did not attempt to unify the worship of kami; in fact, it was not until the introduction of Buddhism to Japan that the Japanese used the word Shinto as a sort of umbrella term to distinguish their indigenous religion from the foreign ideal of Buddhism.

So how did the Japanese worship these kami? There were two main rituals (that can still be found in Japan today). The first is a shamanic ritual, where one would…