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More than a hundred people in Tokyo celebrated the New Year in a very unusual way by taking an ice cold bath.
Dressed in traditional white clothing, the men and women jogged around a shrine and chanted before lowering themselves into the freezing cold water.
This purification ritual is a central tenet of Shinto, a Japanese religion that is as old as the country itself.
So what exactly is Shinto?
Well, it's the largest religion in Japan, practiced by an estimated 80 percent of the population.
Back in the 6th century, indigenous Japanese people invented the word Shinto to distinguish their already existing faith from Buddhism, which was spreading throughout the region.
Over time, Shinto and Buddhism came to coexist peacefully.
Shinto is considered more of a way of life, rather than a specific set of beliefs or worship of a central deity.
Most Japanese people identify as both Buddhist and Shinto.
So, how can someone follow two religions at once?
Well, Shinto doesn't have many of the characteristics associated with religion.
Unlike Christianity or Buddhism, it has no official founder or sacred text.
Shinto does not try to explain the world in a sense of right and wrong, and thus, there are no Shinto preachers or missionaries.
The only goal of Shinto is to be in touch with Kamil, or spiritual energy, through sacred rituals.
These include weddings, funerals, worship at a Shrine or at home, and huge festivals.
The word 'Shinto' means "way of Kami."
Kami is extremely complex, but basically they are sacred spirits that exist in earthy objects, like mountains and trees, and in concepts, like fertility.
Kami also has an ancestral form, as humans become Kami after they die.
The Sun Goddess "Amaterasu" is the most important Kami.
In Japanese mythology, the royal family is thought to be descended from Amaterasu, beginning with the first emperor, Jimmu.
It is thought that prayers and offerings to Kami spirits at Shinto shrines and festivals will wash away evil spirits and thus purify a person or object.
This process is the lifeblood of the Shinto practice, happening on a daily, weekly, seasonal, lunar, and annual basis.
In fact, taking part in ritualistic worship and purification is the entirety of the faith.
This has garnered criticism, as some liken Shinto worship to a performance rather than an act of devotion based on values and beliefs.
Adherents to Shinto, however, think of rituals as a religious experience, one that binds a community together even more so than shared beliefs.
Although Shinto is thousands of years old, it still has an active presence in Japanese life.
For instance, new buildings are 'purified' by a Shinto priest, and many Japanese-made cars are blessed during the assembly process.
Japan's national sport, Sumo, is directly derived from Shinto rituals, and symbols of purity can be found on the ring and on sumo garments.
Many Japanese people keep a tiny shrine-altar in their homes, and local shrines play a huge role in communities, bringing people together for festivals, and hosting weddings and funerals.
Whether or not they identify as religious, virtually everyone in Japan is, in some sense, a part of Shinto.
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Shinto is a peaceful and generally positive religion, as it regards all humans as inherently good.
Still, it doesn't hold the title of the World's Most Peaceful Religion.
So what does?
Find out in this video.
Even within the religion, violence may be used to protect oneself or one's country.
One Hindu god states that violence is necessary in the defense of justice and does not conflict with a spiritual life.
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What Is The Ancient Japanese Religion Shinto?

287 Folder Collection
ayami published on October 14, 2019
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