"...any being whatsoever which possesses some eminent quality out of the ordinary, and is awe-inspiring, is called Kami.”
What this web page is...
First and foremost it is intended for serious students of Japan, particularly those interested in what is usually described as the country’s indigenous religion, Shintō, and its shrines, jinja, and who may often prefer byways to highways. I will therefore be delving into aspects of the subject on which English language information is sometimes not readily available. This is not to say that I will just be paraphrasing Japanese language information: for the most part I will have visited the shrines I write about, some on several occasions, done background research, and, with the exception of a limited number of public domain images, all photos accompanying the text are taken by me.
...and is not
I am not presuming to compete with well-established English and Japanese language web sites such as the ones listed in "Sources" below. What I want to do is to present my own, in part hands-on, in part analytical, even statistical, take on the subject. Needless to say, as one individual I cannot even begin to hope to provide anything like the amount of information offered by long-established sites but what I can hope to offer is a more focused and personal view. I will also be offering a lot more numerical data on shrines than the vast majority of web sites on the subject do.
“I” am Rod Lucas, a Brit of mixed Scottish/English descent (I add this detail in the wake of Brexit). I have lived and worked in Japan for over 35 years, and having largely enjoyed the three score years and ten allotted by the Good Book am now looking forward to the bonus years. I neither have academic qualifications in any way related to Shintō nor any connections to cultural and academic Shintō circles. Some twenty years or so ago I found my interest gradually switching from Buddhism to Shintō and have been visiting shrines regularly ever since: it is still something I greatly enjoy for a variety of reasons. Among these reasons is the relative lack of commercialism at all but a few shrines. None, I think, charge admission fees: the main sources of income for most of the small shrines is donations, the bulk of which are very small amounts and offered by visitors petitioning the kami, and sales of items such as ema. The larger shrines make money from various ceremonies.
The bulk of the basic material on shrines, mainly names and addresses, comes from the Jinja Honchō (Association of Shintō Shrines) web site. This Association was set up in 1946 to help ensure the very survival of Shintō amid the crisis surrounding the discredited Imperial Way of which Shintō was such an important part.
The four Japanese language sites I visit most frequently are Jinja.tokyolovers, Genbu, Komainu, Sen2, Tesshow, Yaokami. and Goshuin
Use of Japanese
When I was learning to read Japanese I was always delighted to come across English language books which made liberal use of Japanese words in their native script—I still enjoy reading R.H. Blythe—or featured English-Japanese glossaries, J. Edward Kidder Jr.’s work on Himiko is a good example. I will be making generous use of Japanese vocabulary, but only when I think it is justified; on their first appearance in the text in Roman letters Japanese words will be italicized and their Japanese script equivalents can be found in the glossary.
One Japanese word I will definitely be using rather than its English counterpart is kami (god or spirit). Too often in English the word god, capitalized or not, carries connotations of omnipotence, omniscience, infinitude, immutability, immortality, invisibility, inaccessibility, the list goes on. This is far from the case for the word kami, for which frailties and foibles--jealously, sulkiness, bawdiness, peevishness--spring more quickly to mind than concepts of high solemnity.
A more prosaic area in which I plan to use Japanese words rather than their English equivalents is administrative units. These are ken (prefecture), gun (county), to (metropolis), fu (metropolis/prefecture), shi (city), machi (town), ku (ward), and chō (neighborhood/block). This is primarily a matter of convenience, the English words tend to be longer and make lists of addresses unwieldy, but also one of usage, prefectures for example do not exist in the U.K. Note that the word “to” is used only for Tōkyō and “fu” for Ōsaka and Kyōto.
Shintō, Buddhism, Christianity on the Web
Despite the efforts of the sites mentioned above there is a relative, and I stress "relative," paucity of information on Shintō in the English language web and I hope to help rectify that in an informative way.
There is a by now well-known observation that in terms of ceremony Japanese are born Shintō, marry Christian, and die Buddhist. As is perhaps befitting for a religion which is essentially confined to one country there is much less English language information for Shintō than for the other two religions. A Google search for “Japan Shintō” on September 19, 2016 turned up 407,000 items, while searches for “Japan Buddhism” and “Japan Christianity” resulted in 7,450,000 and 21,200,000 items respectively. Even in Japanese there is a similar, if less marked, imbalance, with 360,000 findings for Shintō and 9,270,000 and 10,800,000 for Buddhism and Christianity respectively.