Basic Terms of Shinto

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Ceremonial court music and dancing, preserved from antiquity in the Music Department (see gakubu) of the imperial household and at certain shrines and temples. Gagaku contains many elements from Chinese and Indian performing arts. The accompaniment includes reed and percussion instruments, and the dancers wear prescribed costumes and masks and hold prescribed objects. A performance of instrumental music without dancing is called kangen. A dance performance with musical accompaniment is called bugaku. Representative pieces include Ranryôô, Nasori, and Gejôraku.


Music Department. Special department in the Board of Ceremonies of the imperial household for the performance of traditional sacred music and dance.

Gion[Glossary: gion]

A term referring to the deities (chiefly Susanoo no mikoto) enshrined in the Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto, and worshiped for their abilities to cast out and purify evil. The shrine's festival, Gion-e (Gion Matsuri) is historically famous and considered one of the three largest festivals in Japan.

Gion Matsuri[Glossary: gion_matsuri]

[Gion Matsuri] An annual festival celebrated from July 17 to 24 at the Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto. Said to have originated during the reign of Emperor Seiwa (r. 858-876) as a festival to guard against pestilence. Today the processions of yamaboko (festival floats) pulled through the city on the first and last days are the highlights of the festival. These floats, displaying dolls, sculptures created by famous artists, and even Gobelin tapestries imported from abroad, are valued as cultural treasures.


A shrine building used for special rites and ceremonies. As a rule, shrine ceremonies are performed in the heiden or haiden. However, in recent years, shrines have come to perform ceremonies such as weddings in response to popular demand, and so these separate buildings have been established.

Go-bunrei[Glossary: bunrei]

Divided or apportioned spirit. When a new branch of an already existing shrine is established, the spirit of the deity of the former shrine is divided, and a portion enshrined in the new location. While the original deity is not considered in any way lessened by this procedure, the newly formed branch spirit is generally thought of as inferior in stature to the original. Bunrei refers both to the act of dividing and to the newly formed branch spirit.


see Heihaku


Avatar. In the process known as the harmonization of Buddhism and Shinto (shinbutsu shûgô), the concept of Shinto kami as manifestations of Buddhas come from India to save the Japanese developed. The term gongen was applied to previously known Shinto deities who were regarded as this type of god.

Gongen-zukuri[Glossary: kitano_tenjin]

A style of shrine architecture that flourished after the Momoyama period. Three buildings, the honden, heiden, and haiden, are usually joined together in the shape of an H. One of the oldest examples is the Kitano Tenmangû in Kyoto.

Go-shintai[Glossary: goshintai]

see Shintai


see Tennô


see Shinshoku

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