Basic Terms of Shinto

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Magatsuhi no kami[Glossary: magatsuhi_no_kami][Glossary: magagoto]

Gods who bring about sin, pollution, and disaster, in other words, all evil. They belong to the land of Yomi, the nether world. Maga means confusion, complication, distortion. Magagoto means "evil things". Ômagatsuhi no kami means "Great Magatsuhi God." Yaso magatsuhi no kami means "countless magatsuhi gods."


Generally used to mean honesty, truthfulness, conscientiousness. Considered a cardinal virtue in Shinto.


Collection of a Myriad Leaves. The oldest anthology of Japanese verse, compiled in the eighth century. Contains 4500 poems written from the fifth to the eighth centuries by persons of various ranks, from emperors to peasants. Noted for its straightforward expression of sentiment. Also provides valuable information about ancient religious beliefs, customs, mores, and thought.


[Massha] Subordinate shrine. Similar to sessha, but generally of a simpler structure and accorded a lesser degree of reverence.


Target practice with bow and arrow conducted within the precincts of a shrine during the New Year season. Originally performed by marksmen chosen from the community as a means of divining the harvest yield for the coming year. In some areas, the ideograph for demon is written on the target. In Chiba and Ibaraki Prefectures, this observance is called obisha.

Matsuri[Glossary: matsuri]

Worship, festival. An occasion for offering prayers, thanksgiving, reports, and praise to a deity or deities. A matsuri "festival" generally starts with solemn rituals, which are followed by joyous community celebrations. The rituals center around the presentation of shinsen or food offerings, the recitation of norito, music, and worship, and are followed by a communion feast called naorai. The joyous community celebrations may include a procession with the deity, dancing, dramatic performances, sumo wrestling, and feasting. Matsuri are closely related to the cycle of agricultural seasons. Farmers begin cultivation in the early spring by praying for plentiful crops, and in autumn they offer thanksgiving for a plentiful harvest and present the fruits of the harvest to the gods. The word matsurigoto is an ancient word used to refer both to government and worship, reflecting the attitude that humans should follow the will of the gods in political life. This idea is expressed in the term saisei itchi, meaning "unity of worship and rule." Saishi is the Sino-Japanese word for matsuri, while saigi means the ceremonies held during matsuri, and saiten encompasses the entire matsuri, both the ceremonies and the community celebration.


see Matsuri

Megumi[Glossary: mimegumi]

The granting of a blessing. The bestowing of grace. Mi-megumi is the form used when referring respectfully to a blessing from a god, a parent, or a person of superior rank.


The lofty authority, dignity, or majesty possessed by a deity. Commonly pronounced mi-izu. The Sino-Japanese equivalent is shin'i, "divine dignity." Sometimes used in the same sense as the word shintoku, "divine virtue."

Miki[Glossary: miki]

Rice wine (sake) offered to a deity. An especially important offering, miki may be prepared in various ways. In ancient times, it was specially produced in the sakadono or wine hall whenever a ceremony was held. After the completion of the religious ceremonies, the participants partake of the wine and thus share in the blessings of the deity. This act of communion is called naorai.

Miko[Glossary: miko]

A priestess serving as an assistant at a shrine. Roles of the miko include performing in ceremonial dances (miko-mai) and assisting priests in wedding ceremonies. In ancient times, women who went into trances and conveyed the words of a god were called miko; today, this tradition still lives among the people, independent of the shrines.

Mikogami[Glossary: mikogami]

Revered offspring deity. In addition to the principal deity worshiped at a shrine, worship is also paid to the offspring of the deity. For example, at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Susanoo no mikoto is worshiped as the central deity, and to the west, his eight offspring are also worshiped.

Mikoshi[Glossary: mikoshi][Glossary: omikoshi]

[Mikoshi] Often translated as "portable shrine," but actually a divine palanquin. An ancient vehicle used to transport a deity when moving between main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival, when making a progress through the deity's parish, or when moving to a new shrine. In a typical festival, the main mikoshi of a shrine is borne by an enthusiastic group of parishioners (ujiko), and may be accompanied by a procession of priests and crowds of people dressed in ancient costumes. Smaller mikoshi may be carried by children or other parishioners in separate processions.


(1) The words or command of a god or noble.

(2) A term of respect for a god or noble.

Today used only in a religious context to refer to the words or commands of a god or of the spirit of a deceased person, or to speak respectfully of such a god or spirit.

Mikuji[Glossary: mikuji]

see O-mikuji


see Megumi

Minkan shinkô

Folk beliefs. Through its long history, Shinto has been combined with elements taken from such imported religions and philosophies as Buddhism, Confucianism, yin-yang, and Taoism. This accomodating nature has resulted in the acceptance of popular beliefs and legends within Shinto. Since Shinto encompasses most of the Japanese nation, there are rather wide areas in which it is difficult to distinguish living Shinto from folk religion, and it is possible to say that quite a large amount of Shinto consists of popular beliefs. The fact that there are those who avoid the word Shinto and prefer the terms kôdô (Imperial Way), or kannagara no michi reveals the existence of a movement for the purification of the Shinto faith through the rejection of vulgar aspects of "popular" Shinto beliefs.


[Misogi] The practice of using water to remove pollution and sin from body and mind. Its origin is found in the myth of the god Izanagi no mikoto, who purified himself by bathing in the sea after a journey to the land of Yomi. There is a widely practiced form of austerity in which misogi is combined with Buddhist cold water ablutions (mizugori). In Shinto, this is called kessai, and make take the form of a warm bath, splashing cold water over oneself, or washing by the seaside or by a river.

A visitor to a Shinto shrine also performs an act called temizu, the washing of the hands and mouth. In another ceremony called shubatsu, salt is sprinkled. In Japan, people sprinkle salt over themselves after attending a funeral, sprinkle water at the gate of their homes morning and evening, and place small piles of salt at the entrance to restaurants; all these practices stem from misogi. The Japanese customs of washing and bathing are also related to misogi.


see Misogi, Harae

Mitama no fuyu[Glossary: mitama]

Divine grace or blessing. Mitama means "the spirit of a god."


see Shintai


see Tama2


see Tamaya


The water provided for washing the hands and rinsing the mouth in order to purify mind and body before participating in a religious ceremony or worshiping at a shrine. When a natural river is used, the river is called mitarashigawa or haraegawa.


A school of Japanese historical and Shinto studies founded by Tokugawa Mitsukuni (1628-1700) of the Mito clan, one of the three Tokugawa houses (together with the Kishû and Owari houses). The Mito school emphasized respect for the imperial court and for the Shinto deities. Representative works include Shintô shûsei (17 volumes), Dai Nihon jingi shi (23 volumes), and Jingi shiryô (17 volumes). Collections and studies of fudoki and studies of the Kogo shûi were also made.

Miyaza[Glossary: miyaza]

[Miyaza Ceremony for change of toya] An organization in which a group of ujiko or parishioners of a certain shrine participate by turns in religious ceremonies for the ujigami. Also, the persons belonging to such an organization. Also called tôya or tônin.


see Tamagaki


see Misogi


see Tama2


see Saikai

Motoori, Norinaga (1730-1801)[Glossary: motoori_norinaga][Glossary: kokugaku][Glossary: kojiki-den][Glossary: kojiki-den]

One of the four great scholars of the movement known as Restoration Shinto (Fukko Shintô). A student of Kamo no Mabuchi, Motoori raised the study of National Learning (kokugaku) to a high level, spending much of his life in writing the Kojiki-den, a detailed examination of the Records of Ancient Matters (Kojiki). His Naobi no mi-tama is a simple exposition of his theories.

Musubi[Glossary: musubi]

The spirit of birth and becoming. Birth, accomplishment, combination. The creating and harmonizing powers. The working of musubi has fundamental significance in Shinto, because creative development forms the basis of the Shinto world view. There are numerous deities connected with musubi, such as Takamimusubi no kami (Exalted Musubi Deity), Kamimusubi no kami (Sacred Musubi Deity), Homusubi no kami (Fire Musubi Deity), Wakamusubi (Young Musubi), Ikumusubi (Life Musubi), and Tarumusubi (Plentiful Musubi). Takamimusubi no kami is related to the gods of heaven, while Kamimusubi no kami is related to the gods of earth. These two gods, together with Amenominakanushi no kami, are the three gods (zôka no sanshin) mentioned in the Japanese myth of creation. The Kojiki relates that they appeared at the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth and were the basis for the birth and growth of all things. Amenominakanushi no kami means "God Ruling the Center of Heaven." Many Shinto scholars have held that all the gods of Shinto are merely manifestations of this one deity. In the movement to organize Shinto at the beginning of the Meiji period, these three deities, together with Amaterasu Ômikami, were considered to be the highest gods; many Shinto sects maintain this view.

Musubi no kami[Glossary: musubi_no_kami]

see Musubi

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