Kami (Shinto) (神 (神道))

The "kami" found in Shinto are objects of faith that are to be feared or held in awe. Yaoyorozu (8 million)' appearing in the expression 'Yaoyorozu no Kami' is an example of a large number.

Types of kami

While Shinto's multitude of kami are 'humanized divinities' who have the same form and attributes as humans, they are also 'guardian gods' that bestow blessings on the living; however, such kami are also capable of tormenting or harassing the living. (Refer to 'To curse') It is precisely because of this capacity to cause disasters and other misfortunes that kami are to be feared. Kami in Shinto are intimately related to the ability to curse human beings.

Generally speaking, kami can be categorized as follows.

1. Kami that have come into existence as a result of the transformation of a natural entity or phenomenon into a kami.

2. Conceptual kami that have come into existence as a result of the transformation of an abstract entity such as a concept or misfortune into a kami.

3. Kami that are thought to be deified individuals that have come into existence as a result of the deification of ancient leaders, influential personages and the like (euhemerism).

4. The three kami that are the creators of all things (referred to below as the three creator deities).

5. The all-powerful Emperors, who are the creators and rulers of all things.

6. Emperors are kami that in the sense that monarchs are considered 'divine' according to the "Theory of the divine right of kings".

Kami that have come into existence as the result of the transformation of natural entities or phenomena into kami.

The oldest among the above-described types of kami are those that have come into existence as the result of the transformation of natural entities or phenomena into kami. In ancient Japan, people felt that there was something awe-inspiring about the mountains, rivers, giant rocks, giant trees, animals, plants, and other such elements of nature, as well as natural phenomena such as fire, rain, wind, thunder, and the like. This sense remains as a fundamental underpinning of Shinto to this day, and Yakumo KOIZUMI maintains that this is 'the sensibility of Shinto'. Nature bestows benefits onto humankind, and from time to time also presents hazards to humankind. Upon being instilled with a sense that these were anger (curse) of 'something' awe-inspiring, people in ancient Japan began to venerate of natural entities and phenomona, seeking to placate the anger when they thought that the awe inspiring entity or phenomenon was angry (and would impart misfortune), or to seek blessings. These natural entities and phenomona later came to be called 'kami'.

Kami that have come into existence by the deification of ancient leaders or influential personages.

With respect to the third category, the Emperor was said to be a "living god" prior to WWII, and this held true not only within the confines of Shinto thought, but in the realm of politics as well, where the Emperor was also considered to be a kami. At present, as a result of the proclamation by Emperor Showa after WWII that he was a human being and not a god, the role of the Emperor in the political realm, and the relationship of the Emperor to the people has changed. However, within the institutional confines of the Shinto religion, the existence of the Emperor as bloodline descendent of the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, still occupies an important position, and the Emperor is positioned at the summit of the religious beliefs and practices. In addition, there are examples of individuals who having been influential in their eras have come to be venerated as kami after their deaths (e.g. Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI as the Toyokuni Daimyojin, and Ieyasu TOKUGAWA as Tosho Daigongen); examples of individuals who, after losing some sort of struggle for power or being punished as traitors, have come to be venerated as kami so as to placate their anger (e.g., SUGAWARA no Michizane, TAIRA no Masamune), are also included in this category.

Each of the various tribes worshiped its individual unique kami. Interaction among the tribes brought about the fusion of each of the tribal kami, whereby the Kami were metamorphosized. Shamanism from the north also exerted an influence. There are scholars who refer to these phenomona as 'kamigami shugo' (fusion of the gods). They maintain that this fusion of the gods phenomona laid the foundation for the later introduction of Kami from other religions, starting with Buddhism.

The Creator of all things

Number 4 is Kami that Atsutane HIRATA, who had been influenced by banned books related to Christianity, assigned the position of creator of all things to Amenominakanushi no kami. His thought formed the foundation of the anti-foreigner ideology of the royalist faction, as exemplified by the slogan 'Revere the Emperor and expel the barbarians' ('sonno joi'), which exerted a strong influence on each of the sects of modern Sect Shinto. This later became the basis of State Shinto (Kokka Shinto); however, after the Izumo faction lost the so-called pantheon dispute (saijin ronso, 1880-1881) within the Shinto Jimukyoku (Bureau of Shinto Affairs), this theory fell from prominence and receded into the background, becoming a latent force. Amenominakanushi no kami (God Ruling the Center of Heaven), Takamimusubi no kami, and Kamimusubi no kami became the three creator deities. The three creator deities are treated as the supreme kami in many types of restoration Shinto even today. Among these three creator deities, Amenominakanushi no kami is assigned the highest position.

All-powerful Emperors as the creators and rulers of all things

As for the number 5, with the unification of the state and religion in the early days of the Meiji period, Koremi KAMEI and others at the Jingi Jimukyoku (Shinto Worship Bureau) promulgated a theory unifying Shinto and Confucianism maintaining that 'the Emperor' was consubstantial with 'heaven', and therefore omnipotent.
The Emperor is the ruler of all things, and has ruled the earth and the heavens without break since the creation of the universe….' (excerpted from a book on conducting public religious services)

In "Saishu senso ron/Senso-shi dairon" written by Kanji ISHIWARA (originally delivered as part of the 'Kowa yoko' (the Outlines of Pacification) in China at Changchun in July 1929), the following descriptions are found. When humankind first awakened to belief in an Arahitogami (a kami who appears in this world in human form), the true value of civilization based on the rule of virtue (the way of kings) is shown forth for the first time. The final war, that is, the war between the way of rule by virtue and the way of rule by military might is ultimately a war to decide whether the believers or the non-believers in the Emperor shall prevail; more specifically, it is a war to decide whether the Emperor is to be the Emperor of the world or whether the president of the Western world is to be the leader of the world, making it an unprecedented event in the history of humankind. It was on the basis of this ideology that Ishiwara, who was a staff officer in the Kwantung Army (Japanese armed forces in Manchukuo), incited the outbreak of the Manchurian incident. Refer to the preceding and following entries.

Kami (the Emperor) as 'divine' according to the Theory of the divine right of kings.

Number six was used as the interpretation of 'Arahitogami' in the proclamation (Imperial edict) in English made by Emperor Showa in 1946, in which he declares that he is a human being, not a god.

Names of kami

The names (Shinmei) of Shinto kami can generally be said to consist of three parts. Take the case of Ame no uzume no mikoto, for example.

Ame' no

Uzume' no


are the three parts.

In addition to these three parts, a variety of words and phrases honoring Kami can be added to this name. For example, the formal name of the kami usually called 'Ninigi' is 'Amenigishiku ninigishi amatsuhiko hiko hononinigi no mikoto'.

There are cases in which the kami is addressed with the first part of the Shinmei omitted. Also, in the case of academic research, such as in the fields of folklorology, mythology and the like, the third part of the Shinmei is often omitted when referring to kami.

Ame' no (attibutes of kami)

The first part (prefix) of the Shinmei indicates attributes of the kami. The most frequent prefix used in Shinmei, 'Ame', 'Ama' (heaven) indicates Amatsukami, or kami related to the heavens or Takamanohara (plain of high heaven). The prefix 'Kuni' indicates Kunitsukami; however, in contrast to the many kami having a Shinmei prefixed with 'Ame', a Shinmei prefixed with 'Kuni' designates a kami associated with the land or the country. The prefix 'Yomo' (land of the deceased) indicates a kami from yominokuni, 'Ho' (ear/head of a plant) indicates a kami related to rice ear. There are many Shinmei that do not include a prefix.

Uzume' no (name of kami)

The second part of the Shimei is the name proper of the kami. Upon close examination, it becomes apparent that there are many Shinmei that end in the same sound. For example, there are many Shinmei that end with 'chi', 'mi', 'hi', 'musu, 'mutsu', 'muchi', 'nushi, 'ushi', 'o', 'me', 'hiko', 'hime', and so on. These can also be thought to be the names that each of the tribes called their respective 'kami' before the fusion of the kami. Chi', 'mi', 'hi' (spirits) are frequently appended to the Shinmei of nature kami, as in the cases of Shinmei for spirits (Kagutsuchi, Oyamatsumi, etc, in which the syllable 'tsu' means the same as the syllable 'no'). The syllable 'mi' indicates the Shinmei of a higher level kami than the syllable 'chi'. The syllables 'nushi' (owner, master) and 'ushi' (adult) are appended to the names of high level kami, as in the cases of Oohirumenomuchi (an alternative name for Amaterasu), Okuni nushi, and so on. The syllables 'musu' (birth), 'mutsu' (parent) and 'muchi' (ancestor) designate ancestor kami that have given birth to something; the syllables 'ki', 'nu' (male), 'shi', 'ko' (child), and 'hiko' indicate male kami, while 'me' (female), 'hime' indicate female kami. In particular, there are many cases in which a Shinmei appended with 'me' indicates a shrine maiden who has been deified. The suffix 'ko' was originally used to indicate a male, as in the case of kuninomiyatsuko (provincial governor) ONO no Imoko; however, as the Fujiwara clan had monopolized all the names for females, because it only a portion of females of high position, such as the Empress, were able to have the names with 'ko' up until the modern era, 'ko' has become a popular suffix for female names at present.

Mikoto' (title of the kami)

The third part of the Shinmei is called the shingo. It is a so-called honorific title. The most prevalent examples are 'kami' and 'mikoto'. Mikoto' means a 'honourable task', that is to say, an order, and is appended to the Shinmei of kami that have received some kind of an order. For example, the shingo of Izanagi and Izanami at the time of their appearance was 'kami'. Upon receiving an order from Kotoamatsukami to 'Solidify a country', their shingo changed to 'mikoto'. However, in the Nihonshoki all shingo have been unified as 7mikoto'. The character used to rite "mikoto" is the character for 'exalted' for paricularly sacred kami, and the character for 'order' for other kami. For particularly exalted kami, the shingo "Okami" or Omikami" is used. In addition, later eras saw the addition of myojin, gongen, and so on.

The word 'kami'

The word 'kami' in the Japanese language was originally a word used to indicate a deity in the Shinto religion. However, in the "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) it is already possible to see descriptions of Buddhist deities as 'banjin' (foreign deities). When Christianity arrived in Japan in the 16th century, the object of worship venerated by the Christians, 'Deus', was referred to as the 'Lord of Heaven' and the like, and was treated as a separate deity from the deities of both Shinto and Buddhism. However, with the onset of the Meiji Period, the Christian God was also interpreted as being a 'kami'.

Controversely, in other countries, when the kami of the Shinto religion are discussed, in many cases they are grouped together as 'Kami', and distinguished from other deities, and the corresponding English language page on Wikipedia is also entitled, 'Kami'.

The word pronounced 'kami' in Japanese has numerous meanings, including 'top', 'chief', 'director', 'Emperor', 'lord', 'head', 'count' and the like, and originally meant a person of high stature in society.