Shintoism is the traditional religion of Japan, worshiping deities called kami. Before the rise of Buddhism, Shintoism had borrowed elements from Chinese religions, such as Taoism and Confucianism. At first, there was no representation of these deities because they were considered pure and formless. Only after the spread of Buddhism in Japan did the idea of building „houses” for the gods emerged, leading to the building of the first Shinto shrines. It was then that Shintoism was given a name to differentiate it from Buddhism. The two religions coexisted without any problems, the worship of the kami gods blending perfectly with the teachings of Buddha. In fact, Shintoism and Buddhism merged into what was called Shinbutsu-shugo. In the last centuries before our era, each Japanese tribe had its own group of gods. Between the 2nd and 5th centuries, with the increase in power of the Yamato kingdom, the ancestral deities of the imperial family became predominant in society. In the book Kojiki („Records of Ancient Matters”) from 712, the members of the imperial family were proclaimed descendants of the sun goddess. In 720, another book, Nihon Shoki („The Chronicles of Japan”), tried to present concepts of the descendants of the goddess in a more objective manner than its predecessor. In the 18th century, a number of Japanese scholars tried to remove foreign influences from Shintoism, but without success, as Chinese doctrine had been fueling Japanese mythology from ancient times. Nevertheless, it created an environment which led to the rise of state Shintoism. In 1868, with the Meiji Restoration (a series of events that led to the elimination of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule), Shintoism and Buddhism were separated and their merger was declared illegal. In 1871, the Ministry of Deities was formed, which was replaced next year by the Ministry of Religion. After World War II, Shintoism lost its status as the state religion of Japan. Most of the teachings and practices of Shintoism were lost over time, although some have survived to this day, such as New Year’s traditions or omikuji (fate telling).
In Shintoism, the Universe was made up of three worlds:
– Takama-ga-hara, also known as Takama no Hara, the residence of the celestial gods, a world connected to Earth through Ama-no uki-hashi (“Floating Bridge of Heaven”), similar to the Bifrost rainbow of Norse mythology that connected Asgard, the realm of the Aesir gods, with Midgard, the earthly world.
– Ashihara no Nakatsukuni, also known as Toyoashihara no mizuho no kuni, the world ruled by the earthly gods, located between heaven and hell. For the Japanese, their country was the primordial earth. After several renames, it was called Nihon or Nippon.
– Yomi or Yomi-no-kuni, the land of darkness or depths, where the spirits of the dead go, a realm 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 came Takamimusubi and Kamimusubi, who were, for the Japanese, manifestations of Amenominakanushi, the first one being male and the second one, female. A little later were born the energy Umashiashikabihikoji and the sky Amenotokatachi. Seven more generations of Amenominakanushi’s descendants followed, including Izanagi and Izanami, the creators of the first realm. They descended from the sky on a floating bridge called Ukibashi and created Onokoro-jima (“Island Naturally Formed”), where they built the palace Yashiro-dono and got married. Then they began to give birth to the Japanese islands and many kami. Their first children, Hiruko and Awashima, were deformed, so they were not considered deities, but demons. The last born, Homusubi or Kagutsuchi, the god of fire, burned Izanami just as in Egypt the god Seth burned his mother Nut at his birth. Izanami died from her wounds and descended into the underworld of Yomi. Her husband, Izanagi, tried to save her but was unsuccessful, his descent into the other world being similar to that of Orpheus in Greek myths. After purifying himself from his descent into 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 storms). Izanagi decided his first children would rule the sky and Susanoo would rule the Earth’s seas. Due to a dispute with Amaterasu or even an attempted rape in some versions, Susanoo was exiled to Earth. The storm god arrived in the province of Izumo on the island of Honshu, where he was forced to master the forces that existed on Earth before his arrival and that opposed him, so that he could later unite with them. Thus, he killed the eight-headed snake Yamata no Orochi, which devoured the children of the earthly kamis, in a myth similar to that of Marduk and Tiamat in Babylon. After killing the giant snake, he mated with the daughters of the earthly kamis, who bore him many children. And at some point he moved to the Underworld.
One of his sons, Okuninushi, was forced to undergo severe initiations and go through many trials to receive the title of „Lord of the Earth”. To gain the hand of Princess Yakami Hime, the god confronted his 80 brothers. They killed him twice, but his mother brought him back to life each time. She also advised him to go to the Underworld to get Susanoo’s advice. There, Okuninushi fell in love with his stepsister, Suseri-hime, which drew their father’s wrath. After escaping all of Susanoo’s traps, Okuninushi fled the Underworld not only with the girl, but also with their father’s symbols of power: the sky lute, the bow and the arrows of life. With those weapons he defeated his brothers and became the ruler of the Earth.
Because powerful warrior kamis had arisen throughout the planet causing trouble, the goddess Amaterasu decided to send her nephew, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, to Earth. First, messengers were sent to pave the way and prepare everything necessary for his rule. However, some of them were killed, and others sided with Okuninushi. Ninigi descended to Earth with an escort, sacred gifts (including the sword found by Susanoo in the tail of the eight-headed snake) and instructions from Amaterasu. Okuninushi was forced to abdicate and Ninigi became the new ruler. On Earth he got married and had three children, one of his great-grandchildren, Jimmu, becoming the first emperor of Japan. For this reason, the Japanese imperial family was considered a descendant of the goddess Amaterasu.
Not surprisingly, Japanese myths are similar to others. A creator god emerged from nothing, gods of heaven and Earth, an exiled god whose son became the ruler of Earth, divine conflicts and a battle between a god and a giant serpent / dragon. The main religions that influenced Japanese mythology are the Indian ones (including Buddhism), Egyptian one and Sumerian one. Some deities, such as Bishamon and Hotei, were imported from China. Benten, the goddess of the sea, originated from a Sarasvati (an Indian angel) and her name from the Thracian goddess Bendis. The name of Hachiman, the Shintoist god of war, resembles the Hindu god Hanuman, one of the heroes of the Ramayana epic. The land of Ashura or Asura, part of the Dark Land where sinners descend, whose king is also named Ashura, takes its name from the Indian gods Asura, called by Persians Ahura and by Scandinavians Aesir. Bishamon, the dignity and courage in Shintoism and the Chinese Buddhist god of wealth, contains the name of the Egyptian god Amun / Amen in its Hellenized form, Amon. The name of this god is also found in the names 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 serpent, who married the Emperor of Dragons, seems to be the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, who at one time was the consort of her father, „The Great Serpent” Enki; the eight-armed goddess represents the eight-rayed star or the eighth planet of our solar system (counting from the outside towards the Sun), Venus, attributed to Ishtar in most cultures. Benten is similar in many ways to Kwannon and they are often depicted together, which suggests that the Buddhist goddess of mercy (who has 1000 arms and can take 33 forms) is Ninhursag of the Sumerians, mother of Ishtar. In the exiled Susanoo we recognize Enki, but also in Emma-o, the Buddhist ruler of hell and judge of the dead. In ancient times, the Japanese believed the serpent to be the incarnation of a mountain god; mythologist Hiyo Kazuo identified the serpent with a pre-Buddhist water god who demanded human sacrifices, none other than the same Enki, the god of waters and wisdom. His son, Okuninushi, the ruler of Earth, can only be Marduk, and his rival, Ninigi, is none other than the Sumerian Ningirsu / Ninurta. Moreover, the similarity between their names it is easily noticed. Izanagi, the ancestor of the gods, is the emperor An / Anu, the supreme god of ancient religions. His Japanese name contains two Sumerian words: „an” and „gi„, „heaven” and „Earth”. In Japanese, „an” represents either a suffix, or the word „plan„. Mount Meru, considered in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism the center of the Universe, called Sumeru in Sanskrit, is also present in Japanese myths; its name undoubtedly comes from the Akkadian name of the land of the Sumerians. Ninigi, the celestial grandson of the goddess Amaterasu, has a hundred percent Sumerian name, made up of the words „nin” („lady”) and „igi” („eyes”). The Tokei-ji temple was also called Enkiri-dera (“The Temple of Divorce”), in which the name of the Sumerian Enki is obvious. In the Japanese language there is even the word „enki„, which means „postponement” or „base”. His Sumerian consort, the goddess Ninki, became a Japanese word meaning „mandate”, „popular” or „business conditions”. The Japanese character „ki” and the concept of life force with the same name are adaptations of the Sumerian word for „earth”. Sumerian influence can also be seen in Reiki, a spiritual practice developed in 1922 by Japanese Buddhist Mikao Usui. One of the symbols used in Reiki is called Nin Giz Zida, which in Tibetan means „fire serpent”. However, Nin Giz Zida is almost identical to Ningishzida, the name of a Sumerian deity, which translates to „Lord of the Good Tree”, an alter-ego of the „serpent” Enki.
Archaeology supports mythology, over 15,000 Dogu statues beeing discovered in the mountains of Aomori province, dating from 14,000 to 300 BC, depicting humanoids with detailed technical costumes: round helmets mounted with antennas, lanterns, special-mounted visors, light filters, speakers and respiratory filters. The Japanese say that these Dogu came from the sky and taught the people different things, such as the tea ceremony, the use of wasabi, architecture, language, the alphabet and, in general, everything related to their culture. Thus, we understand why the Japanese adopted elements from other ancient religions, such as Egyptian, Sumerian or Chinese: they were visited by the same gods as other ancient peoples, present in all world religions.