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What do Shintos believe?

Steps leading to one of the shrines at Ise, Japan’s most important centre of worship

Shinto mythology

Early Japanese myths emphasise harmony with nature and maintaining the balance between the human and natural world. The most popular deity in Japan is the Goddess Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. She is protector of Japan and is worshipped at Ise, the most important shrine in Japan. From her are descended all the gods, the emperor and the Japanese people.

The divine state

Within Japanese myths are found nature spirits, noble heroes, and ancestral deities, both male and female. From the epic dramas woven around those deities, the Japanese people have learned how to live. In Shinto, human beings are believed to be born pure, with a gentle and clear disposition. To be pure is to approach godliness; indeed it is to become one with the state of the divine. It is Shinto's prayer, Shinto's heart, to return to that original human state, and live a daily life which is at one with the kami, indigenous folk deities of Japan.

Shinto shrines and festivals

Shinto shrines are regarded as the spiritual home of the Japanese. They are dedicated to the kami. A Shintu shrines is usually within a sacred grove, as reverence for Nature forms an important part of the Shinto tradition. The shrine is approached through a gateway called a torii, signifying entrance to a sacred space. Festivals to honour the folk deities, called ‘matsuri’, take place at the shrines, involving young and old.

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