Shinto Priest Taishi Kato explains the “way of kami.”

As long as human beings have walked the surface of the earth, they have attempted to make sense of their environment and of the cosmos. Religion was one of the foremost attempts of ordinary people to gaze through the looking glass and examine the intricacies of our universe. As a result, there have been many religions with millions of adherents the world over. Shinto is one such religion, and it occupies a special place in the Japanese way of life. To help people understand the basic concepts and principles of Shinto, Taishi Kato has contributed material for a the blog series Pagan Tama at Patheos.

Taishi Kato is a Shinto Priest from Hattori Tenjingu in Osaka, Japan. He is currently studying at the University of London. On graduation, he will have obtained a Master’s degree in the School of Oriental and African Studies.

At a forum meeting for Medway Inter Faith Action (MIFA), Kato began by introducing the basic concepts of Shinto.

“Let me explain the basic characteristics of Shinto. Firstly, there are no sacred scriptures, doctrines or founders in Shinto. That’s a huge difference compared to major world religions such as Christianity or Islam. Secondly, there is no concept of faith and there is no introductory ritual like Baptism. There is no concept of “believers” verses “non-believers.” Absolutely anyone can visit a jinja (Shinto shrine); many Japanese people visit jinja without religious views. Some Western people ask me whether they can convert to Shinto. But the idea of conversion is alien to Shinto as there is no proper definition of what a believer is. Thus, you can visit a jinja even if you follow another religion.

Thirdly, there is no concept of good or evil in Shinto. Everything in the universe is changing based on the principles of nature. Every human being is changing by interacting with the universe. Therefore, one cannot judge what is absolute good or evil.”

Shinto places a huge emphasis on the “way of Kami.” Kami refers to spirits, essence or gods in English. Shinto holds that Kami manifests itself in various ways and can thus be found in animate and inanimate objects. It is also unique amongst the world’s major religions because it has no single founder and no single, sacred scripture that is revered and used as a source of inspiration. Shinto is mainly focused on life in this world and with a special emphasis on man’s essential goodness.

During an interview by the site GreenShinto.com, Kato was asked how he became a priest. He commented, “After graduating from Keio University (business course), I straightly enrolled in Kokugakuin University. I took a one-year course to obtain the license of Shinto priest.”

Kato also shared some thoughts on the future of Shinto in Japan and in the modern world, stating, “Most people assume that it will be hard to manage Jinja in the future. However, from an international perspective, Shinto has infinite possibilities to contribute to Japan as well as the international field. With the advance of global society, all sorts of things will become homogenized. On the other hand, historically speaking, Shinto has been developed by the Japanese aesthetic sense and sensitivity of the general public. In other words, as far as the history of Shinto is concerned, the dependence on Japanese culture is quite high. Therefore, there are some differences from the global context. If Shinto priests can explain the essential aspects of Shinto which have roots deep in Japanese culture, such as Harae (祓え) and Kegare (ケガレ), in a global context, there is a strong possibility that Shinto will develop internationally.”

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