Basic Terms of Shinto

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Kada no Azumamaro (1669-1736)[Glossary: kada_no_azumamaro][Glossary: motoori_norinaga][Glossary: kokugaku][Glossary: kojiki-den]

The scholar of the Fukko Shintô school who first proposed the theory of kokugaku or National Learning. Studying the Kojiki, Nihon shoki, and other classics, he extolled the Japanese Shinto spirit of antiquity, free from Buddhist and Confucian influences. Together with Kamo no Mabuchi, Motoori Norinaga, and Hirata Atsutane, he is numbered as one of the four great scholars of kokugaku (National Learning).

Kagura[Glossary: kagura]

[Kagura] A performance of classical ceremonial music and dance. Its origin is attributed to a performance by the heavenly gods to persuade Amaterasu Ômikami, the Sun Goddess, to come out of the cave where she had hidden herself. Thus the performance serves to pacify, console, and give pleasure to a deity. The tradition of the kagura preserved at the imperial court has its roots in antiquity. The words and music are of great classical value, and the solemn ceremony continues throughout the night. At shrines, kagura is performed by miko (priestesses). There is also a popular form of kagura called sato-kagura which is performed locally for a deity. Sato-kagura also gave rise to professional artists. Kagura today includes performances of dance dramas of 35 scenes from mythology.


Building in which kagura is performed before a deity. In ancient times, kagura was performed in the open area in front of a shrine; the development of a stage parallels that of theatrical arts such as and kabuki.


Ranks within the Shinto priesthood. There are four ranks: (purity), mei (brightness), sei (righteousness), and choku (uprightness). Regulations for ranking are fixed by the Jinja Honchô.

Kaijin matsuri[Glossary: munakata_no_san_joshin]

Sea God Festival in honor of the tutelary deity of fishing and seafaring. Major shrines dedicated to kaijin include Sumiyoshi Shrine, Munakata Shrine, and Shiga no Umi Shrine, where elaborate festivals are celebrated annually by seafarers and fishermen.


Hidden world. The human world is called utsushiyo, meaning visible or open world. Kakuriyo means hidden or invisible world. Kakuriyo is the world of the gods and spirits and is also interpreted as the world after death.


Gods of the hearth, including not only gods of fire but also tutelary deities who protect the family and ensure its prosperity. These deities possess a very complex nature, and they are also viewed as gods of agriculture. The names anciently assigned to them were Okitsuhiko and Okitsuhime, but there are many areas where they are popularly called Okamasama or Kôjin.

Kami[Glossary: kunitsukami][Glossary: amatsukami][Glossary: motoori_norinaga][Glossary: kojiki-den]

An appellation for the objects of worship in Shinto. An honorific term extolling the sacred authority and sublime virtue of spiritual beings. Numerous etymological theories exist regarding the origins of the word, but none are entirely satisfactory. Motoori Norinaga interpreted the word as an appellation for all beings which possessed extraordinary and surpassing ability or virtue, and which were awesome and worthy of revererence. He pointed out that the word was used not only for good beings, but also for evil. The deities (kami) in Shinto are numerous, and constantly increasing in numbers. This fact is expressed in the laudatory term yao-yorozu no kami (ever-increasing myriad deities). These deities make up a single whole, united in peace and harmony. Beings which are called kami may include everything from the divine spirits who realized the production of heaven and earth, the great ancestors of men, to all things in the universe, even plants, rocks, birds, beasts, and fish. These beings are divided into heavenly and earthly gods (tenshin chigi); heavenly deities (amatsukami) have their home in heaven (Takama no Hara), while earthly deities (kunitsukami) live on the earth. In ancient times the heavenly deities were thought to be noble and the earthly deities base, but this distinction is not so clear today.

Kamidana[Glossary: kamidana]

[Kamidana] Household altar (literally, god-shelf) provided to enshrine a deity in the home of a Shinto believer. It is customary for amulets (taima) from Ise no Jingû, a local tutelary deity, or a nearby shrine to be enshrined on this altar and for worship and offerings of food to be giving each morning and evening.


A ceremony to summon a deity or deities to a himorogi or temporary shrine structure. The chief priest recites a formula to summon the deity, the deity's arrival is heralded by the intonation of vocal sounds (keihitsu), and koto music is played.

Kamimusubi no mikoto

see Musubi


A ceremony to send off a deity or deities after the completion of a religious rite to which they have been summoned. The procedure is the same as for kamimukae: the chief priest recites a formula to send off the deity, the deity's departure is heralded by the intonation of vocal sounds (keihitsu), and koto music is played.

Kamo no Mabuchi (1697-1769)[Glossary: kamo_no_mabuchi]

One of the four great scholars of Fukko Shintô. A student of Kada no Azumamaro, he devoted his life to the study of the classics, focusing on ancient philology, especially that of the Man'yôshû. He played a vital role in the revival of Shinto.

Kanda Matsuri[Glossary: kanda_matsuri]

An annual festival celebrated on May 15 at the Kanda Shrine in Tokyo. During the Edo period, this festival was celebrated in alternate years with the Hie Shrine festival (see Sannô Matsuri). There was a procession with mikoshi (sacred palanquins) and yamaboko floats, and the spirit of community rivalry motivated the residents of Kanda to put on an extremely showy festival.


[Kanmuri] Headgear for Shinto priests. Worn with full dress such as ikan or saifuku.

Kannagara[Glossary: kannagara]

An adverb modifying authoritative actions of a deity or deities, meaning divinely, solemnly, or sublimely. The phrase kannagara no michi (in accordance with the gods' will) was used to describe Jinja Shintô as the orthodox Shinto, separate from Kyôha Shintô and popular beliefs.


see Aki matsuri


An archaic word meaning to conduct oneself exactly as determined by a deity or deities, or to emulate the way in which a deity or deities acted. Implies that humans should not act wilfully or defy the way of the gods.


Generally used to mean shinshoku, a Shinto priest. Originally referred to the head priest of a shrine or someone who, after strict abstinence, had qualified to serve as a medium for a deity.


[Kariginu] A garment worn in religious ceremonies. During the Heian period, it was the common costume of nobles and warriors, originally a hunting garment. Colors vary according to the age of the wearer and the season of the year.


To show an attitude of respect or reverence towards a god or noble against whom no sacrilege is permitted. When norito is recited before a deity, the verb kashikomu is prefixed to the verb môsu, a polite verb meaning to speak.


One of the formal manners of performing worship in Shinto. One raises the hands to chest level and claps. The way of clapping and the number of times vary.

Kasuga[Glossary: kasuga]

Deity enshrined at Kasuga Shrine in Nara. Originally the ujigami of the Fujiwara family; later a focus of common devotion to which branch shrines were established locally. Kasuga Matsuri is a major festival in Japan; the shrine is also known for the beauty of its architecture and grounds, as well as for its herds of tame deer.

Kasuga Matsuri

An annual festival celebrated on March 13 at the Kasuga Shrine in Nara. Said to have originated during the reign of Emperor Montoku (r. 850-858). One of the three chokusai, together with the Aoi Matsuri and the Iwashimizu Matsuri. A typical example of an ujigami festival, it preserves many ancient rituals.


A style of shrine architecture represented by the honden of the Kasuga Shrine in Nara. Like nagare-zukuri, it is considered to be a development of the Nara period.


see Chigi, Katsuogi

Kegare[Glossary: kegare]

Pollution. Thought originally to have meant an unusual condition. Some scholars interpret it to mean the exhausting of vitality. In Shinto, it is regarded as inauspicious, the source of unhappiness and evil, and as an impediment to religious ceremonies. Pollution is removed by avoiding participation in religious matters and social life for a certain period of time, and by performing ceremonies of exorcism or purification (harae). Until the middle ages, the death of humans and domestic animals, childbirth, menstruation, eating meat, and sickness, were all regarded as sources of pollution. Today emphasis is placed more on mental or spiritual pollution. See also tsumi, imi, kibuku.


Horse racing. The origin of horse racing as a religious ceremony is found in its traditional use to divine the god's will concerning the coming harvest. The horse racing at the Kamo Shrine in Kyoto is a famous example.

Keidaichi[Glossary: keidai]

Shrine precincts used for ceremonies, worship by believers, and preservation of the beauty and dignity of the natural surroundings.

Kenpeishi[Glossary: kenpeishi]

A messenger bearing offerings. The Jinja Honchô customarily sends a heihaku offering on the occasion of an annual shrine festival; the messenger delivering the offering is called a kenpeishi.


Gods or messengers subordinate to an important deity. Originally a Buddhist term. Some are worshiped separately as mikogami (offspring deities) in influential shrines. They may also be established in sessha and massha in small villages, and may gradually come to be identified with the traditional village gods.


A deity worshiped by a group of persons sharing the same genealogy. This belief is close to the old form of ujigami belief, but since in Japan there did not exist from antiquity any groups consisting entirely of purely blood relations, the ketsuenshin, or "god of blood relations" can really be said to be the god worshiped by a group possessing subjective consciousness of being one kinship group. However, among these groups there are some kinship groups where clear traces are visible of a family splitting into main and subordinate houses; there are cases where such a group worships family gods, but this is a form which has developed in recent ages.


Mourning. It is customary to refrain from leaving home during a certain period of mourning for the deceased. This period and its rites are called kibuku, bukki, or buku. The words kibuku and bukki have the same meaning; the order of the characters is simply reversed. Buku means mourning clothes and, by extension, mourning. Mourning is performed for a lord or relative. The length of the mourning period depends on the relationship and on the historical period. Shinto practices have been influenced by Chinese burial customs.


Prayer to a deity. May be offered not only at the altar in the home or at a shrine but also wherever one pronounces the name of the deity. Gankake is a special prayer requesting divine aid in a particular matter.

A meeting for the purpose of spiritual guidance or for conducting a religious ceremony, or an organization for holding such meetings. The organization may also be called a kôsha. Some are temporary and some are permanent. Many and kôsha, while united in their religious beliefs, also engage in activities such as travel, recreation, and mutual moneylending and assistance. See Ise Kô.


see Kokka Shintô

Kogo Shûi

A work presented by Imbe Hironari to Emperor Heizei in 807. Contains commentaries on ancient words and practices and material omitted from the Kojiki and Nihon shoki. The author also states his opinions about Ise no Jingû and Atsuta Jingû, about the position of his own clan in relation to the Nakatomi clan, and about the position of the Nakatomi clan in relation to other clans. Although it focuses on accounts handed down in the Imbe clan, it contains many items worthy of attention.

Kojiki[Glossary: kojiki]

A Japanese classic based on oral traditions, compiled in 712. It relates myths, legends, and historical accounts centering around the imperial court, from the age of the gods until the reign of Empress Suiko (r. 593-628). Shinto theology has developed largely through the interpretation of Kojiki mythology. The ceremonies, customs, taboos, magic practices, and divination practices of ancient Japan are described in great detail.


Rough god. Commonly believed to be the god of the hearth, but also identified in certain areas with jigami and yama no kami and enshrined out of doors. Also believed by some to be a demonic god or spirit of Japanese antiquity seeking revenge. During the middle ages, constant attempts were made to subdue kôjin deities with Taoist rites.

Kokka Shintô[Glossary: kokka_shinto]

State Shinto. The prewar Japanese state distinguished the religious ceremonies of the imperial court and of the shrines from those of other religions. Shrine rites and education fell under public administration, as well as shrine administration and policy. After the second world war, the Occupation authorities issued an order calling for the abolition of this system, which it termed State Shinto. State Shinto was founded on the idea that the prosperity of the nation, the safety of the imperial house, and the happiness of the people are blessings granted when human politics coincide with the will of the gods. This view is expressed by the term saisei itchi, or unity of worship and rule. In ancient Japanese, the same word (matsurigoto) was used to refer to both religious rites and government. Some use the term kôdô (Imperial Way) to designate this ideal conduct of politics, seeing the emperor's official worship of Amaterasu Ômikami and the gods of heaven and earth as fundamental conditions of government.

Kokugakuin Daigaku[Glossary: kokugakuin_daigaku]

Kokugakuin University, located in Shibuya Ward in Tokyo. In 1882, an institution called the Kôten Kôkyûsho (Research Institute for the Japanese Classics) was established to counterbalance the wholesale acceptance of modern Western thought; Prince Arisugawa Takahito was its first director. Its constitution stated that the cultivation of moral virtue to establish a firm foundation for the nation is the chief aim of education and purpose of life. In 1890, Kokugakuin University was founded to extend the Institute's activities, with faculties of literature, teacher education, Shinto studies, and a Shinto seminary. The Kôten Kôkyûsho was dissolved in 1946. Kokugakuin today offers undergraduate majors in Shinto studies, literature, political science, and economics. The graduate school offers master's and doctor's degrees in Shinto studies, Japanese literature, and Japanese history. The university also has a Shinto seminary, offers training in kindergarten education, and operates a kindergarten, junior high school, and high school.


[Koma-inu] Korean dogs, originally a pair of sculptured animals placed in or near a shrine as guardians. Imported from the Asian continent, they later assumed decorative significance. Made of wood, stone, or metal. Also called shishi-koma-inu.


[Koshin] In the Chinese calendar, every sixty days and every sixty years coincides with the sign kanoe-saru. Kôshin is the name of this day and of the deity worshiped on this day. The belief originates in Taoism but is widespread throughout Japan. In some areas it has become confused with beliefs in ta no kami and dôsojin. A special feature of this festival is that the believers stay up all night.

Kôshitsu saishi[Glossary: koshitsu_saishi]

Religious ceremonies of the imperial house, also called Kôshitsu Shintô or Imperial House Shinto. These ancient ceremonies, including the most important ceremonies of state Shinto (see Kokka Shintô) find their origins in the mythological age of the gods. Amaterasu Ômikami imparted to her descendants a sacred mirror, now housed at Ise no Jingû, as the symbol of the imperial house to be established on earth. Each generation of her descendants, upon ascending the throne, have conducted religious ceremonies according to this ancient tradition to honor Amaterasu Ômikami, the gods of heaven and earth, and the generations of imperial ancestors. The ceremonies performed in the imperial household include those in which the emperor himself serves as priest and those performed by a substitute priest. Ancient ceremonies known to no one except the priests who directly participate have been strictly preserved. Since the time of the order abolishing State Shinto following World War II, the kôshitsu saishi have not been treated as official state ceremonies.


see Norito


Rank of shinshoku below a gon-negi. Exists in such shrines as Ise no Jingû, Atsuta Jingû, etc.

Kumano[Glossary: kumano_hongu_taisha]

Deity worshiped at the three shrines of Hongû, Shingû, and Nachi in the Kumano region of Wakayama Prefecture. Belief in Kumano became especially widespread during the middle ages. Reverence was paid by the imperial court, rites performed by the shrine priests (oshi) drew the common people, and branches of the Kumano shrines were established throughout the country.


see Shinsen

Kuni no miyatsuko[Glossary: aso_jinja][Glossary: izumo_shrine]

Local ruling families in ancient Japan which, even after becoming subservient to the Yamato Court, continued to hold political power in their own regions. With the establishment of a firm central administration, they gradually lost their political power and came to hold only nominal positions as heads of local religious observances. Hereditary families of priests such as the Senge and Kitajima of Izumo Taisha and the Aso of Aso Jinja are modern descendants of these families.

Kunitokodachi no mikoto[Glossary: kuni_tokotachi_no_kami]

Eternal Spirit of the Land. According to the Nihon shoki, the first deity to appear at the time of the creation of heaven and earth. Especially revered in Ise Shinto.


see Tama2

Kyôha Shintô[Glossary: kyoha_shinto][Glossary: izumo_oyashiro-kyo][Glossary: ontake-kyo][Glossary: shinshu-kyo][Glossary: shinri-kyo][Glossary: kyoha_shinto_rengokai][Glossary: konko-kyo][Glossary: kurozumi-kyo][Glossary: kurozumi_munetada][Glossary: konko_daijin][Glossary: sano_tsunehiko][Glossary: shinto_shusei-ha][Glossary: senge_takatomi][Glossary: tenri-kyo][Glossary: nakayama_miki][Glossary: nitta_kuniteru][Glossary: fuso-kyo][Glossary: misogi-kyo][Glossary: shinto_taisei-kyo][Glossary: hirayama_seisai][Glossary: shinto_jusampa]

Sect Shinto. Religious movements which, while adhering to the mainstream of Japan's native religion, have also resulted in the formation of independent sects oriented toward individual religious experience. In the Tokugawa period, the shogunate extended official protection to established religions, which resulted in the formalization of religion. However, the long period of peace led to popular practices such as spontaneous mass pilgrimages to Ise no Jingû and regular pilgrimages to other famous shrines. The objects of prayer were such worldly benefits as the curing of disease, protection from disasters, riches, and success. As the established religions became isolated from the religious demands of the common people, the growth of new religions was accelerated. These are the social conditions in which Sect Shinto developed, with founders as well as believers of the movements coming largely from the class of common people. In the Meiji period, these movements were organized into the following thirteen main sects. The date of formal recognition as a sect is indicated in parentheses.

In this process of organization, many small splinter sects were forcibly incorporated into one of the major sects. After the second world war, however, they resumed independent activities.

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