Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. Shinto is polytheistic, and its gods are worshiped at shrines called jinja. Shinto has neither a specific founder nor any books of scripture. Since ancient times people in Japan worshiped nature in which mountains, rocks, forests, trees, rivers, and waterfalls are deified and revered.
Rice cultivation is the most important work of farmers in Japan. Festivals, which exist across the world, function as prayers for bumper harvests or as thanks for them. The Japanese word “matsuri” derives from the enshrinement of deities, which means praying to deities or honoring them by enshrining them in a shrine.
The new year customs and Shinto
“Shogatsu” is the celebration of the New Year and is the most important holiday in Japan. From January 1st to 3rd is the three days of Shogatsu called “matsunouchi”.
Before the New Year we decorate “Shimekazari” at the entrance of house and offer “Kagamimochi” to the god. The idea that a deity called “Toshigami”, or literally the deity of the year, visits each home makes the events of this period Shintoistic. The Toshigami, originally the deity of grains, is a hybrid god of the deity protecting a year, the field deity protecting agriculture, and the ancestor deity protecting each home.
The bamboo decoration called “Kadomatsu” denotes the sacred spot where the deity descends. The “Shimekazari”, a special decoration placed above the entrance of a home, is a sacred marker to welcome the deity. The “Kagamimochi”, or two-fold rice cakes, serve as an offering to the deity. The Shimekazari is a sign to designate the inside of a house is sacred, which allows Toshigami, who descends on the Kadomatsu, to safely enter the house.
Rites of Passage in Japan
It is the traditional custom of taking a baby to the local shrine on the day one month after birth. This means to having him or her accepted as a member of society, and praying to its deity for health and longevity.
It is the tradition of taking three-year-old boys and girls, five-year-old boys, and seven-year-old girls to a shrine to pray for their healthy development on November 15.