Japanese people usually say that they are not religious. However, about 80% of Japanese people take part in Shinto practices — although most of these people never declare themselves as Shintoists in official surveys. It seems that, for most ordinary Japanese people, belief in the kami (gods, spirits, spiritual essence)  is entirely natural and completely unforced. Generally, people take part in the practices purely for the pleasure and comfort they bring. There are 100,000 Shinto Shrines and nearly 80,000 Shinto priests and priestesses in Japan.

Shinto priest and priestess. Photo.

Kami can be a difficult concept, perhaps because it is fundamentally so simple. It can only be experienced directly and cannot really be grasped intellectually. However, kami can be understood as the spiritual force that is in all things and that makes up all things. It can be felt directly as the sacred power of things to naturally inspire us with awe and wonder. It is hardly surprising that Mount Fuji — a humbling force, both beneficent and terrifyingly destructive — has a central role to play in Shinto rituals.

Kami is a spiritual force that is in and composes all things. Take a look at what Max Planck, the founder of Quantum Physics, had to say. Photo.

Was Max Planck (the founder of Quantum Physics and Nobel Prize in Physics winner 1918) a Shintoist?

“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter. ” (Max Planck)

“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” (Max Planck)

How about this guy? He was a pretty good scientist. Was he a Shintoist? Photo.

“Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe — a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.” (Albert Einstein)


Featured picture: Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons