Shinto in Japan—35-year-old Kit Cox, an American electrical engineer, enjoys bicycling and playing the piano. Although she was reared as a Methodist, Cox practices the Japanese faith known as Shinto, which some may find odd.
Although Cox’s fascination with Japanese pop culture and media initially piqued her interest in Shinto, her devotion to the faith has become more than a passing fancy. For more than a decade, she has been worshiping Inari Ookami, a Shinto deity or kami associated with agriculture, industry, wealth, and success.
After a long period of study, Cox won a high honor from Fushimi Inari Taisha, one of Japan’s most famous Shinto temples. This essential part of Inari Ookami’s spirit was given to her and is now kept in a sacred box on her altar at home as a token of her gratitude.
Shinto practitioners are dispersed worldwide, and Cox has risen as a leader among them. Japan’s “indigenous” religion is what she wants to help spread worldwide.
As an anthropologist of Japanese religion, I met Cox online, as most non-Japanese persons interested in Shinto do — on the Internet. Many people’s tales of why they practice Shinto and how they deal with the difficulties of doing so outside of Japan have been shared with me over several years of researching social media posts, participating in live streams, and conducting surveys and interviews.
There are various facets to the Shinto religion. Some people use it as a repository for local customs and to commemorate significant events in their lives and the course of the year. Others see it as a testament to the emperor’s divine status as a descendant of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, or as a religion that celebrates the beauty of nature.
When it comes down to it, Shinto is all about the practice of worshiping kami.
These gods come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many are related to natural phenomena like lightning and the sun, while others are concerned with heart matters, such as a successful marriage or getting good grades in school.
Managing spiritual impurities is a significant focus of Shinto’s ritual purification practices. In the view of Shintoism, Pollutants can be accumulated merely by being in this world, as well as by coming into contact with impurity-causing events like death and disease and engaging in inappropriate behavior. Shinto priests perform ritual cleansings regularly to avoid offending the kami and jeopardizing social order and human health.
Experts on contemporary Japanese religion Ian Reader and George Tanabe Jr. call the “practical benefits” of Shinto in addition to purification. They include a long life of excellent health, wealth, and security.
People from all walks of life participate in rituals at Shinto shrines and other sacred places to thank the deities for their protection and beg for their continued benefits.
Even though Shinto is commonly referred to as Japan’s “indigenous” religion, it is not.
People from outside Japan have been ordained as Shinto priests, and Shinto shrines can be found in countries such as the Netherlands, Brazil, and San Marino.
Shinto devotees believe the religion has “no founder, philosophy, or sacred books,” unlike many organized religions. The majority of individuals describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” a growing demographic that rejects the hierarchies and dogmas of organized religion in favor of something more “personal, heartfelt, and true.”
Japanese-Canadians of Japanese ancestry commonly uses Shinto practices to keep in touch with family members and their cultural roots. Many reasons have led me to conclude that Shinto appeals to non-Japanese practitioners.
Shinto In Japan: Living the Life
A positive outlook on life, an emphasis on appreciation and peace, a concern for the environment, and compatibility with different traditions are all reflected in Shinto. People of all gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities are welcome in the community.
For the second time, they admire Shinto’s emphasis on ceremony. In a joking manner, Cox says she’d probably be a Catholic if she were a Christian because of the rites involved. Rituals in Shinto are described as a time to reflect, reconnect with the divine, and rejuvenate or refresh one’s spirit by the practitioners.
Third, Shinto is a method for foreigners to know Japanese culture more profoundly. Many Shinto devotees were introduced to the religion through anime, video games, martial arts, and tourism. Shinto priests have performed rituals and delivered talks at cultural events and fan conventions to share their faith’s reverence for popular culture.
When I began my digital study, I discovered that there had been online Shinto groups since the dawn of the Internet.
Over 1,000 people used the “Shinto Mailing List” on Yahoo Groups (now defunct) in 2000 to discuss Shinto with others who shared their interests. The Shinto community has grown significantly in the last 20 years, with up to 10,000 members spread across multiple social media platforms and virtual worlds.
My research findings demonstrate that Shinto priests and lay practitioners use social media to share their own experiences and ask inquiries. Is it acceptable to practice Shinto as a non-Japanese person? And “How do we practice Shinto outside of Japan?” are the most often asked questions by new members. In addition, they produce and disseminate valuable materials, including how-to guides for performing rituals at home, book lists, and contact information for Shinto shrines.
Shinto temples in Japan are reluctant to allow visitors to worship online. Still, certain overseas shrines like Tsubaki Grand Shrine in America and She Inari-jinja-jinja in America have successfully built active online communities for their visitors. They provide updates about forthcoming events and broadcast rituals and festivals live weekly and yearly. Aside from social media, they’re also looking into crowdfunding options like Patreon at the Shinto Shrine of Shusse Inari in the United States.
In the absence of a Shinto shrine in their immediate vicinity, most practitioners execute rituals at home using an altar known as a kamidana or “kami shelf.”
Cox bows and claps his way into the morning with Inari Ookami. Norito’s prayers are recited, and rice, water, and salt offerings are made to the kami as a thank you.
She removes the offerings in the evening and eats them. Sharing a meal is designed to bring humans and gods closer together. As a bonus, it’s a terrific method to avoid food waste.
Outside of Japan, some products may not be available. If rice is unavailable, Shinto practitioners may provide local alternatives like oats. Their altars can also be embellished in a unique way to reflect their own spiritual beliefs and their relationship with the kami.
Ofuda talisman, which must be received from a temple, is the most challenging setting up a Shinto altar for others. They can either create their altars or visit a digital altar to offer their respects within an app.
According to Cox, the most important thing is to respect tradition and act by one’s true feelings and intentions. As Shinto spreads worldwide, practitioners are gradually making it their own.