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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Basic Concepts
Sekai-kan
The term sekai-kan (worldview) is used with all kinds of meanings; here it will be defined as the unique ways in which specific ethnic or regional groups view their environment and their own position within it, in the context of the reciprocal relations they maintain with the transcendental beings they worship. This definition will be used to explain the worldview of Shintō. Generally speaking, the term worldview is represented by means of the religious and symbolic systems related to the supernatural beings that are the object of ritual and myth. There are also cases where the term worldview is used interchangeably with the term 'conception of the universe' (uchū-kan) but in the case of worldview there is a much stronger consciousness of the position taken by humans and their role. The following discussion of this term is divided between spatial and temporal categories, and will present the Shinto worldview while comparing it with general examples.

Spatial worldview
The first spatial distinction is that between this world (konoyo) and the other worlds (higan, takai). With regard to these worlds' respective locations, there is a distinction between a "vertical view" which supposes a heavenly realm and underworld, and a "horizontal view" which supposes a world of mountains and seas that exceeds the bounds of the world of everyday residence. It is held that the former view is related to the Altai language-related groups from the North and that the latter has cultural connections to Oceania and South-East Asia. It must be pointed out, though, there is not always a clear distinction drawn between the vertical and horizontal views, and there are many cases in which they are confused or admixed. In many cultures, mountains or tall trees are considered to form a boundary between this world and a heavenly world, while the ocean or caves located near beaches are held to form a boundary with other underground worlds. The distinction found in Japanese mythology between the High Heavenly Plain (Takamanohara), the Central Land of Reeds (Ashihara-no-nakatsu-kuni), and an area called Land of Yellow Sources (Yomi-no-kuni) or Land of Roots (Ne-no-kuni), is one of the worldviews in which a vertical structure is symbolized by the tripartite structure of high, middle, and low. These three realms are not absolutely separated, since it is thought that they are conjoined by a "cosmic axis." The notion of cosmic axis is found all over the world; in the case of Japanese mythology, it may be said to correspond to the Heavenly Pillar (Ame-no-mihashira) that was erected on Onokoro-jima, which formed from the drops of the spear wielded by Izanagi and Izanami. These demiurges circled this pillar before engaging in the sexual intercourse that resulted in the production of the various Japanese islands and other kami. This Heavenly Pillar located at the center of the world is the site of origin of all things. Standing under the main sanctuary (honden) of the Grand Shrines of Ise is a pillar called shin-no-mihashira, which is modeled on the Heavenly Pillar, and it is said that, until the early modern period, the height of that pillar was based on that of the emperor. It is understood that this indicates that the emperor was thought to be the embodiment of the cosmic axis. Next, in the case of the horizontal worldview, which is based on the symbolic meaning of the flight of the sun from east to west, the influence of both Chinese thought and Buddhist other-world view can be detected but the superiority or inferiority of various points of the compass varied with the times. On the basis of the Nihon shoki record of Emperor Tenmu's reign, it is possible to postulate that by the time of the Jinshin Rebellion of 667, three great roads already crisscrossed the Nara Basin: the Upper, Middle, and Lower Roads on the north-south (vertical) axis, and two roads (the Great Transverse Ways) on the east-west (horizontal) axis. However, in an entry of the ninth month of the fifth year of Emperor Seimu's reign (legendary emperor, said to have reigned circa 2nd Century CE), one reads the following "In this way East and West were reckoned as in a line with the sun, while North and South were reckoned as athwart the sun. The sunny side of the mountains was called the light-face and the shady side of the mountains the back-face. In this way the people had tranquil possession of their dwellings, and the Empire was at peace." In China the imperial palace was compared to the Polestar, and was called the Purple Palace because of the color of the Polestar; along with the model of palace construction, this symbolism of the compass based on the Polestar was introduced to Japan. Prior to the introduction of this symbolism, however, it is possible to infer from the Nihon shoki record that the east-west axis was considered superior to the north-south axis. The term tennō [the word used to refer to the emperor] is said to have been used in Japan since the Asuka period but it has its origins in the highest deity of the Taoist pantheon, Tenkō-taitei (Ch: Tianhuang dadi) where Tenkō is written with the same characters as Tennō. The Tenkō-taitei is the apotheosis of the Polestar and was the highest kami in the heavens from the Qin and Han dynasties through to the Liang and Sui dynasties. On the other hand, there are instances where the emperor or the crown prince are called "the august child of the sun" (hinomiko), and "the august gate of the sun" (hinomikado) is used to refer to the imperial residence. Originally the east-west axis (based on the apparent course of the sun and on an association between the sun and the ruler) was the spatially dominant worldview, but this was superseded by the south-north dominant Chinese worldview, with the deified polestar Tennō and the symbolism of the polestar overhead. The ancient superiority of the east-west axis can be seen in the case of the rituals of the Miwa Mountain in Yamato. The haiden of the Ōmiwa Shrine faces east toward Mount Miwa, and the three sacred stone groupings (iwakura) that occur between the foot and the summit of the mountain are, on the whole, placed on an east-west axis. It is also said that, originally, the Kasuga Shrine (Kasuga Taisha) faced east toward its sacred hill, Mount Mikasa, and that the original worship orientation was the east; at some point, however, the shrine was built to face south, and the worship orientation changed to the north. Kasuga Taisha was the shrine dedicated to the tutelary and ancestral kami (ujigami) of the Fujiwara house and if we say that the shrine was rebuilt at the same time as the construction of Heijōkō (ancient Nara) we can assume that the direction was changed to the southern one of the new capital, and the direction of worship was altered.

Temporal worldview
Examples of a three-tiered temporal realm structure (past [before birth], present, future [after death]) abound. However, even if these three periods are clearly separate, movement between them is not impossible. For example, in Japanese folk religion it is often believed that the spirit of a departed person may be called back to this world by mediums called yoro, yuta, or kami. Furthermore, as Yanagita Kunio has shown the kami of paddy fields (ta-no-kami) and mountains (yama-no-kami) are often regarded as ancestral spirits (sorei), and from this we can see that there are beliefs that the spirits of the dead and their descendants can have contact. There are also Buddhist influence beliefs that after a certain period after death, a person is reborn in another form. However, in Shintō there has been no development of any detailed teaching concerning the afterlife, and the emphasis is on what kind of way of life in this world best reflects the will of the kami.

Kami, Humanity, the World
Apart from the spatial and temporal dimensions of the term worldview, it is possible to add a third dimension, which deals with the nature of the relationships between the kami (or transcendental beings), humanity, and the world (or universe, nature). In Shinto kami and humanity coexist and interact within this world. This is different from either Christianity or Islam, wherein God is said to have created the world and remains external to it, or from Buddhism, which does not overtly emphasize the deity. Furthermore, in Shinto the law of nature takes precedence and both the kami and humankind obey it. On this point it is different from the worldview of Christianity and Islam, according to which both nature and humankind have been created by God, who governs them.

— Matsumura Kazuo
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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