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The Practices of Shintoism

By Yona Williams    2/28/09

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The ceremonies associated with the Shinto faith have been established to make an appeal to the Kami, where one asks for compassionate treatment, and protection. A Shintoist also aims to stay consistence with their abstinence, offerings, and prayers. Purification also plays an important role in the life of a Shintoist. In this article, you will learn some of the practices surrounding Shinto.

Purification is accomplished through washing with water, as it serves as a symbol that the dust and imperfections found within the inner-workings of the mind are removed.

If you step into a traditional Japanese home, you will most likely be able to locate two family altars. One is devoted to Shinto, which is used for their tutelary kami and the goddess Amaterasu Omikami. The other altar is Buddhist, where the family ancestors are worshipped. If you encounter a Shinto family that is pure, all of the ceremonies and services that they participate in are executed in the Shinto style.  

For the Shintoist, there are no set religious services that are conducted on a weekly basis. Some adherents may choose to pay a visit to the shrines on the 1st and 15th of each month. They will also visit a shrine during special occasions, when rites are performed and festivals (called matsuri) take place. These get-togethers are scheduled to take place on fixed times throughout the year.

When visiting a Shinto shrine, you are essentially entering the home of the Kami. However, the most significant of all shrine buildings is the inner sanctuary (referred to as the honden), which is a sacred symbol called shintai (also known as the "kami body"). A typical symbol of the Shintoists is a mirror, while other times, a wooden image (like a sword or another item) serves of importance. Whatever object is used, it is wrapped and put into a container. No one is allowed to see it and only the chief priest is permitted to enter the inner sanctuary.

The torii (also known as the gateway) is found at the entrance of shrine precincts. At the start of a visit to the shrine, Shintoists make their way to what is called an ablution basin. They wash their hands and the mouth is also rinsed out. Most often, a small offering is made at the oratory (called haiden) and prayer also takes place. A visitor may also ask the priest to conduct rites of passage or offer special prayers.

A variety of Shinto rites of passage are conducted in the shrines. For instance, a newborn baby will make its first visit to the tutelary kami. This practice takes place 30 to 100 days after he or she is born, where the child is then undergoes an initiation as a new member. On November 15th, the Shichi-go-san (which translates into Seven-Five-Three) festival is an event that sees boys of five years and girls of three and seven years of age pay a visit to the shrine and give thanks for the protection that Kami has given them. They also pray that they will grow healthy and strong. 

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