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Home » 2. Kami (Deities) » Introduction: Kami
Introduction: Kami
The term Shinto is commonly associated with the expression "eighty myriads of kami," indicating the truly immense number of such kami found in the religion, and suggesting the obvious reason why Shinto is usually referred to as a "polytheistic" belief system. But merely because Shinto claims such a high number of kami does not mean that they are entirely unrelated or without any systematic connection. On the contrary, as indicated in the articles "Definitions and Typology" and "Amatsukami, Kunitsukami", the kami of the "polytheistic" religion of Shinto possess a significant degree of systematization and interrelation, and many of them possess functions or characters that allow them to be subsumed within a single type.
      While a large number of kami thus exist within Shinto and have a certain degree of organic interrelatedness, those forming the foundation of and occupying a central role within Shinto are the ones appearing in the Japanese classics, namely, such ancient works as Kojiki, Nihongi (Nihon shoki), Kogo shūi, Fudoki, and Man'yōshū. The kami appearing in these works include Amaterasu ōmikami and a large number of others, but not all the kami appearing in the classics are described as having distinct activities, functions, or attributes. When one considers those actually forming the objects of worship (see saijin ) at shrines or within Shinto-related religious groups, the number is not, in fact, so large. Here, from the vast number of kami recorded in the classics, almost two hundred have been selected, focusing on those generally known and possessing clearly described attributes and recorded activities; the individual articles provide simple descriptions of the works in which the kami appear, their activities and attributes, together with discussions of distinctive alternate names, cases of kami possessing different names, or even more troubling, differing kami possessing the same name. For example, a typical kami possessing alternate names is Ōkuninushi no kami. Some of his alternates include Ōnamuchi no kami, Ashiharanoshikoo, and Yachihoko no kami, and he is also often considered to be the same kami as the one called Ōmononushi no kami. An example of two kami sharing the same name would be Honoakari no mikoto. In Nihongi, this kami is described as the offspring of Ninigi, while in the Izumo no kuni fudoki, he is the child of Ōkuninushi no kami. As such examples make clear, the depictions of kami noted in the classics are complicated and frequently confusing in their descriptions of the various beings' histories and activities, but an attempt has been made here to describe these kami in such a way as to avoid confusion to the reader.
      The main kami recorded in the classics are the objects of worship and devotion at the various shrines where they have the role of saijin or main enshrined deity. However, there are also a considerable number of shrines devoted to kami not found in the classics but who are the spirits of famous men such as Sugawara Michizane, or heroes and peasant martyrs (gimin); most of those are covered in later sections on Shrines (Chapter 4) and Forms of Worship (Chapter 6). In addition to those from the ancient classics, the kami described in this section include some that are the result of syncretic religion (see shinbutsu shūgō) involving Buddhism, Daoism, and Yin-Yang divination cults (Onmyōdō), as well as others that lack personalized names but possess functionally discriminated identities within Japanese folk religion. Representative kami of the combinatory type include Kōjin, Gozu Tennō, and Zaō Gongen. Also known as Sanbō Kōjin, the deity Kōjin is considered a kami of fire (hi no kami) or local protective kami (jinushigami). Indoors, it is worshiped primarily as a tutelary of fire or the oven (kamadogami), while outdoors it is worshiped as a folk tutelary of land or a delimited geographical area. As a religious phenomenon it is generally considered the result of the interaction of indigenous beliefs in "rough spirits" (araburugami) as found in the classics, and the imported Chinese cult of Yin-Yang divination (Onmyōdō) as those beliefs spread among the folk. Similarly, Gozu Tennō ("Bull-Headed King of Heaven") was originally the Indian guardian deity Gosirsa-devaraja of the Buddhist Jetavana Monastery (Jp. Gion Shōja). In China, Gozu Tennō came to be viewed as a deity of epidemic disease, and in Japan it was identified with the classical kami Susanoo no mikoto, thus producing the final combinatory form of the cult. An object of worship within the mountain cult of Shugendō, Zao Gongen is the product of a unique process of interaction between Shinto and Buddhism, and it also displays striking aspects of combinatory faith with the kamiof water sources, mikumari no kami.
      In a broad sense, such combinatory deities can be considered popular or folk kami, but in this work we have also dedicated an independent sub-section specifically to the kami which appears in Japanese folk religion. This genre covers a variety of deities closely linked to households or geographical areas, including territorial tutelaries (ubusunagami), kinship-group kami (ujigami), kami of the household (ie no kami), kami of the marketplace (ichi no kami), the popular Ebisu and Daikoku, the kami of the oven (kamadogami), and the "seven deities of good fortune" (shichifukujin). Other deities touched upon in this section include those related to production and occupational groups or specialities, such as the field kami (ta no kami), and tutelaries of fishing (gyogyōshin), and woodworking (daiku no kami).
-Sakamoto Koremaru
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-8440, Japan
URL http://21coe.kokugakuin.ac.jp/
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