- Question: What is Shinto?
- Answer: Shinto is the basis of Japanese culture and customs. From ancient times, the Japanese have believed there are deities in everything, and paid respect by building jinja (Shinto shrines) in places where those deities are believed to stay.
Shinto has long been recognized as the Japanese cultural root, and its practices have been handed down from generation to generation. Unlike Buddhism or Christianity, there are no holy texts, and there is no individual who is recognized as the founder of Shinto.
The ancient Japanese people believed that all natural objects possess spirits, which came to be regarded as kami. Shinto predates Buddhism, which was later imported from abroad and adapted to the Japanese lifestyle.
Nowadays most Japanese people visit both jinja and Buddhist temples.
- Question: What is a jinja?
- Answer: A jinja is a Shinto shrine. Jinja house kami, and ceremonies are performed there. The architectural style of jinja is different from Buddhist temples. When you visit a jinja, you pass through a gate called a torii, indicating that you are about to enter sacred space. The jinja lies inside that sacred space.
Japanese people usually visit jinja during seasonal events and to receive blessings. People also come to pray to the kami for their happiness, success, good fortune, etc.
- Question: Who can practice Shinto?
- Answer: While Shinto is distinctly Japanese, anybody may practice Shinto and have faith in the kami. After all, every person is in the midst of divine nature and every person receives its blessings, such as the fruits of the earth and the warmth from the sun.
- Question: What is the fox at an Inari shrine?
The fox is NOT the deity of Inari. The Inari deity is principally Uka-no-Mitama-no-Kami. The fox is the messenger of the Inari deity, like an angel.
- Question: What is “Itadakimasu”?
- Answer: Before we eat, we say "Itadakimasu" with our hands put together. Why do we do this, and what does it mean? "Itadakimasu" expresses appreciation for several things:
• Appreciation for the person who made the meal
• Appreciation for the life we took to sustain our own lives
• Appreciation for deities who provide food and products to us
In Shinto, we believe everything has a spirit, including plants and animals. However, many other spirits make our meals possible as well. These include the spirits of nature, the sun, wind, and water. Without the sun and water, we can't have plants. Without wind, we can't have harvests. Without fire, we can't cook. And to make fire, we need wood and natural resources…
When we say "Itadakimasu", we appreciate and respect all of these things.
- Question: How do I offer tamagushi?
- Answer: When you visit a Shinto shrine, you may have the opportunity to perform Tamagushi Hairei (offering Tamagushi to the enshrined deity). At Shusse Inari Shrine of America, sodai members attending ceremonies may present tamagushi to Shusse Inari no Ōkami. We have prepared a video demonstrating how to do so.
- Question: How do I offer osonaemono to Kami-sama, and what offerings are appropriate?
When you visit a Shinto shrine, you may see envelopes, boxes of sake, bags of rice, etc. as shown in the photos. These are offerings to Kami-sama that are generally referred to as Osonaemono. Offerings also have specific names based on the type of item:
Sake: 御神酒 (Omiki)
Rice: 献米 (Kenmai), 御初穂(Ohatsuho)
Cash: 御初穂 (Ohatsuho or Hatsuho Ryo), 御玉串料(Otamagushi- ryō)
Mochi, Kagamimochi, Vegetable, Fruits, Fish, Seaweed: お供え(Osonae)、お供物(Osonaemono)、供物(Kumotsu)、献饌(Kensen)
Torii, Komainu, Kistune statue, Mask, Taiko Drums etc: 奉納(Hono)
When preparing your offering, please affix noshi paper onto the item (except mochi, fish, fruit and vegetables unless they are in the box). On the noshi paper, write what kind of item you are offering on top (e.g. “御神酒” for sake) and your name on the bottom.
If offering cash, please put it in a noshi-bukuro (if you cannot find this, then a regular envelope is acceptable). On the noshi-bukuro or envelope, write “初穂料” (for Inari) on top and your name on the bottom.
Usually cash is the offering for gokitoh (private ceremony). In addition, if you enter the worship hall for prayer only, or to attend a service as a member, representative an offering of cash is also the custom.
A cash offering is a donation, so there is no rule for the amount. Usually though, it is at least 5,000 yen/$50 for gokitoh, or 3,000 yen/$30 if you are only having prayer in the worship hall.
When do I give the offering to the shrine?
You should present your offering as soon as you meet the shrine staff or priest. They will place your offering on the offering table and let Kami-sama know that you made the offering.
We see many people present the offering after the gokitoh or service. Although there is nothing wrong with this, it is better for it to be presented beforehand so that Kami-sama can make the connection with you through your offering during the ceremony or gokitoh.
You can download noshi paper and noshi-bukuro here:
More Q&A will be coming!