Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan, dedicated to deities called Kami. Until the emergence of Buddhism, Shinto had borrowed Chinese elements, specific to Taoism and Confucianism. At first there was no representation of these divinities, because they were considered pure and formless. Only after the spread of Buddhism in Japan the idea of building „houses” for the gods appeared, thus being raised the first Shinto sanctuaries. Also at that time Shinto has been given a name to be distinguished from Buddhism. These two religions coexisted without problems, the worship of the Kami gods blending perfectly with Buddha’s teachings. Moreover, Shinto and Buddhism merged into what was called Shinbutsu-shugo. In the last centuries BC, each Japanese tribe had its own group of gods. Between the 2nd and 5th centuries, with the rise of Yamato’s kingdom, the ancestral deities of the imperial family became predominant within society. In the Kojiki („Records of Ancient Matters”) book from the year 712, the members of the imperial family were proclaimed descendants of the Sun goddess. In 720 another book appeared, Nihon Shoki („The Chronicles of Japan”), who attempted to present the concepts about the descendants of the goddess more objectively than its predecessor. In the 18th century, a number of Japanese scholars attempted to remove the foreign influences from Shinto but unsuccessfully, as the Chinese doctrine had fueled the Japanese mythology since ancient times. However, a favorable environment has been created to the emergence of a state Shinto. In 1868, with the Meiji Restoration (a series of events that led to the elimination of the shogunate and the restoration of the imperial rule), Shinto and Buddhism were separated, their merging being outlawed. In 1871, the Department of Divinities was formed, which was later replaced by the Ministry of Religion. After the Second World War Shinto has lost its status as Japan’s state religion. Most of the Shinto’s teachings and practices have been lost over time, though some have survived to this day, such as the New Year traditions or omikuji (prophecies written on strips of paper).
The Shinto Universe was made of three worlds:
– Takama-ga-hara or Takama no Hara, the home of the Celestial Kamis, a world connected to the Earth through the Ama-no uki-hashi („Floating bridge of Heaven”), similar to the Bifrost rainbow of the Scandinavian mythology that binds Asgard, the world of the Aesir gods, with Midgard or the Earth.
– Toyoashihara no mizuho no kuni or Ashihara no Nakatsukuni, the world led by the terrestrial gods, located between Heaven and Hell. For the Japanese, their land was the primordial land. After several renamings it has come to Nihon or Nippon.
– Yomi or Yomi-no-kuni, the realm of darkness, the place where the spirits reached after death, a land similar to Irkalla of the Babylonians, Hades of the Greeks, Niflheim of the Scandinavians and Duat of the Egyptians.
Amenominakanushi, the first Kami and the source of the Universe, emerged from the primordial chaos. After him they appeared Takamimusubi and Kamimusubi who were manifestations of Amenominakanushi, the first a masculine one and the second a feminine one. A little later, the energy Umashiashikabihikoji and the sky Amenotokatachi were born. There followed seven other generations of Amenominakanushi’s descendants, including Izanagi and Izanami, the creators of the first realm. They descended from Heaven on a floating bridge called Ukibashi and created Onokoro-jima („Self-assembled Island”), where they built the Yashiro-dono palace and got married. Then they began to give birth to the Japanese islands and to many Kami. Their first children, Hiruko and Awashima, were deformed, so they were not considered gods, but demons. The last born, Homusubi or Kagutsuchi, the god of fire, burned Izanami just as in Egypt the god Sutah burned his mother, Nut, at birth. Izanami died from injuries and descended into the underworld of Yomi. Her husband, Izanagi, tried to save her but unsuccessfully, his descent into the underworld being similar to that of Orpheus in the Greek myths. Purifying himself after his descent to Yomi, he gave birth to three other children: Amaterasu-omikami (the goddess of the Sun), Tsukiyomi (the god of the Moon) and Susanoo (the god of the storm). Izanagi decided that his first children should master the Heaven and Susanoo the seas of the Earth. Because of a dispute with Amaterasu or even an attempted rape in some versions, Susanoo was exiled to Earth. The storm god arrived in the Izumo province of Honshu Island where he had to master the forces that existed on Earth before his arrival and who opposed him, so that he could join them. Thus, he killed the eight-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi, who devoured the children of the terrestrial Kamis, in a myth similar to the Babylonian one of Marduk and Tiamat. After he killed the great serpent he mated with the daughters of the terrestrial Kamis, who gave birth to many children. And at one point he moved into the underworld.
One of his sons, Okuninushi, had to undergo severe initiations and go through many trials to receive the title of „Master of the Earth”. In order to marry the princess Yakami Hime, the god confronted his 80 brothers. They killed him twice, but his mother revived him every time. She also advised him to go to the underworld to receive Susanoo’s advice. There, Okuninushi fell in love with his stepsister, Suseri-hime, which attracted the anger of their father. After escaping Susanoo’s traps, Okuninushi fled the underworld not only with the girl, but also with the attributes of their father’s power: the lute of Heaven, the bow and the arrows of life. With those weapons he defeated his brothers and became the ruler of the Earth.
As mighty and powerful Kamis emerged all over the planet, the goddess Amaterasu decided her nephew, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, to descend on Earth. The first messengers were sent to open the way and prepare all the necessary for his dominion. But some of them were killed and others went to Okuninushi’s side. Ninigi descended on Earth with an escort, sacred gifts (including the sword found by Susanoo in the eight-headed serpent’s tail) and instructions from Amaterasu. Okuninushi was forced to abdicate and Ninigi became the new sovereign. On Earth he got married and had three children, one of his great-grandsons, Jimmu, becoming the first emperor of Japan. For this reason, the Japanese imperial family was considered the descendant of the goddess Amaterasu.
Not surprisingly, the Japanese myths are similar to others. A creator god, emerging from nothingness, gods of Heaven and Earth, an exiled god, whose son has become the ruler of the Earth, divine conflicts and even the fight between a divinity and a serpent / dragon. The religions that influenced Japanese mythology are mainly Indian (including Buddhism), Egyptian and even Sumerian. Some deities, such as Bishamon and Hotei, were imported from China. Benten, the goddess of the sea, comes from a Saraswati (Indian angel) and her name from that of the Thracian goddess Bendis. Hachiman’s name, the Shinto god of war, resembles that of Hindu god Hanuman, one of the heroes of the Ramayana epic poem. The land of Ashura or Asura, part of the Land of Darkness where sinners descend, whose king is called also Ashura, took its name from the Asura gods of India, called Ahura by the Persians and Aesir by the Scandinavians. Bishamon, the dignity and the courage in Shinto and the god of wealth in Chinese Buddhism, contains the name of the Egyptian god Amun / Amen in his Hellenized form, Amon. The name of the god it is also met in those of other Japanese deities, such as Amenominakanushi, Amenotokatachi, Ame-no-Uzume and Ame-no-Koyane. Benten, the goddess of the sea, depicted as a very beautiful woman with eight arms, riding a dragon or a snake, who married the Dragon God, seem to be the Babylonian Ishtar, who at one time was her father’s consort, „The Great Snake” Enki; the eight-arm goddess represents the eight-ray star or the 8th planet in our solar system (counting from the outside to the Sun), Venus, assigned to Ishtar in most cultures. Benten resembles Kwannon in many aspects and they are often depicted together, suggesting that the Buddhist goddess of mercy (who has 1,000 arms and can have 33 appearences) is Ninhursag of the Sumerians, Ishtar’s mother. In the exiled Susanoo we recognize Enki but also Emma, the emperor of the Buddhist hell and the judge of the souls of the dead. In ancient times, the Japanese considered the serpent to be the incarnation of a mountain god; mythologist Hiyo Kazuo identified the serpent with a pre-Buddhist god of water, who demanded human sacrifices, none other than the same Enki, the god of waters and wisdom. His son, Okuninushi, the ruler of the Earth, can only be Marduk and his rival, Ninigi, none other than the Sumerian Ningirsu / Ninurta. As a matter of fact, the likeness of their names is easily noticed. Izanagi, the ancestor of the gods, is the Emperor An / Anu, the supreme god of the ancient religions. His Japanese name contains two Sumerian words: „an” and „gi”, „Heaven” and „Earth”. In Japanese, „an” is either a suffix or the word „plan”. Mount Meru, considered in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism the center of the Universe, named in Sanscrit Sumeru, exists in the Japanese myths; his name comes from the Akkadian name of the country of the Sumerians. Ninigi, the celestial nephew of the goddess Amaterasu, has a hundred percent Sumerian name, composed of the words „nin” („lady„) and „igi” („eye”). The Temple of Tokei-ji was also called Enkiri-dera („The Temple of Divorce”), where the Sumerian Enki’s name is obvious. In Japanese there is even the word „enki”, which means „postpone” or „base”. And his Sumerian consort, the goddess Ninki, had become a Japanese word that has the meaning of „mandate”, „popular” or „business conditions”. The Japanese letter „ki” and the concept of the vital force with the same name are adaptations of the Sumerian word for „earth”. The influence of Sumerian is also seen in Reiki, a spiritual practice developed in 1922 by the Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui. One of the symbols used in Reiki is called Nin Giz Zida, which means „fire snake” in Tibetan. But Nin Giz Zida is almost identical to Ningishzida, the name of a Sumerian divinity, which translates as „The Lord of the Good Tree”, an alter ego of „the Snake” Enki.
Besides deities, the chronicles claim that there were other mysterious beings in Japan. For example, Nihongi states that in the year 200 there was a man named Hashiro-Kuma-Washi in the village of Notorita, who had wings and the ability to fly, who did not obey imperial orders and who often rob the people. In the year 460, Emperor Oho-Hatsuse-Waka-Taka went hunting on Mount Katsuraki, where he met a tall man, who looked like the Emperor, which he recommended himself as the god Hito-Koto-Mush („A Master of the word”). They hunted together and in the evening the god accompanied the Emperor to where the Kume river ended. On the first day of the eighth month of the year 661, a demon with a big hat appeared on the top of Mount Asakura, looking down at the Empress’ funeral ceremonies. In the Japanese folklore, tengu are minor deities, descendants of the rebel god Susanoo, able to fly, who often practice „divine abductions”. In a legend, a man named Takegoro used to watch few little tengu playing near a pine in the vicinity of the Shinji lake. One evening, he disappeared and appeared three days later, with his clothes torn on him, a pale face, a strange twinkle in his eyes and a stick in his hand. Every morning, Takegoro ran away from home and his voice was heard from the tip of the pine where he was talking with an old tengu, then he was seen flying in the sky. Those tengu forced him to fly with them daily and threatened him with death in case of disobedience. After about 20 years he was released, he found a lot of money and the old tengu visited him from time to time.
Archeology supports mythology, over 15,000 Dogu figurines, dating from 14,000 – 300 B.C., discovered in the mountains of the Japanese province of Aomori, represent humanoids with costumes full of technical details: round helmets equipped with antennas, flashlights, sight vanes with special mounts and light filters, speakers and respiratory filters. The Japanese say that these Dogu came from heaven and taught people different things, such as the tea ceremony, the use of wasabi, architecture, language, alphabet and, in general, everything related to their culture. And these beings are very much alike the aliens of today.
There is also the UFO phenomenon in the „Land of the Rising Sun”. In the year 9 B.C., nine suns were seen above Japan, the country being affected by disorder immediately after this appearance. According to Nihongi, a big star in the year 637 sailed from east to west, making a thunder like noise. On 11 August 671, a flaming object was seen flying northwards in several places in Japan, a year before Jinshin’s war. On the eleventh day of the eighth month of the year 682, an object having the shape of a Buddhist baptism flag, flame-colored, floated in the empty space to the north and was seen in all the provinces. On the twenty-first day of the eleventh month of 684, at dusk, seven stars traveled together to the northeast, going down after a while. Two days later, at sunset, a large star fell into the eastern region. Between 7 and 9 p.m., the constellations appeared in disarray and the stars fell like a rain. A little later a star rushed up to the zenith and went further with the Pleiades until the end of the month, when it disappeared.
After all these accounts we can understand the reason why the Japanese borrowed elements from other ancient religions such as the Egyptian one, the Sumerian one or the Chinese one: they were visited by the same gods as the rest of the ancient peoples, present in all the world religions.