Gods for Every Occasion

March 30, 2007

Author: Wieland Wagner



Until the end of World War II, Shinto was the state religion in Japan. Even today, pilgrims still throng to the 80,000 shrines, praying for the fulfillment of their personal dreams. The religion, which has no sacred texts, also venerates trees, mountains and rocks.

In the beginning was the rainbow. According to the Shinto creation story, the divine couple - Izanagi and Izanami - sat atop it stirring the ocean below with their pearl-studded spear. When they withdrew their spear from the primal brew, drops of water fell to earth and created the islands of Japan.

The couple bore children, among them the sun goddess Amaterasu. As legend has it, the lineage of the Japanese imperial family can be traced all the way back to her, making Japan's current emperor, Akihito, a direct descendant. His father, Hirohito (1901-1989), was revered as the emperor god until the end of World War II.

The mythical genesis of the Japanese people has been passed down through the generations in ancient narratives, having been preserved on paper by Japan's rulers in the eighth century when the Chinese writing system was introduced. Nonetheless, Shinto - literally, "the way of the gods" - has no sacred scriptures or formalized teachings. There are no concepts of original sin or salvation; Shinto focuses on life on earth and the uniqueness of the Japanese people.