Shinto where you would not expect…

Welcome to our second article, as already anticipated last week we’re going to discuss where and how Shinto is present in society and everyday life outside of Japan. Lay on your couch, smile and keep scrolling as we take you down another adventure within this admirable religion! And thanks for choosing us as your companions… 

In the first place, one must note that Shinto is practiced even beyond the land of the rising sun : they are communities of believers in South America, North America, the Pacific, Europe and mainland Asia, with shrines in a few corners of the world such as San Marino, France, the Netherlands, Brazil, Hawaii. There used to be more than 600 shrines in Asia, outside of Japan but still built within the borders of the Japanese Empire (1868-1947), though they were destroyed or abandoned after the Second World War. An example could be Chosen Jinja in South Korea atop Mount Namsan, erected in 1920 and razed to the ground in 1945. Today stories of shrines similar to this one are an important part of the history of all countries subdued by Japanese rule in Asia.

If we move on towards something more cheerful, we can talk about the remarkable influence that Shinto has been having for decades on comics, video games, movies, songs and literature. Video games such as Warriors Orochi, Takeru : Letter of the Law, Trek to Yomi, Okami and The Last Blade owe a lot to this religion, same goes for movies like the latest Tomb Raider, Spirited Away and Your Name, for the countless book written about Shinto or for the collections of myths that feature Shintoist tales. Not differently do things go in comics : three of the most famous mangas ever drawn, One Piece, Naruto and Doraemon (more than one billion copies sold worldwide if combined), draw heavily from Shinto. In Naruto’s case, for instance, many combat techniques are named after Kami and the character known as Orochimaru displays Shintoists symbols, not to mention all the references to nekomata which is itself linked to Shintoist priests and funerals. Moreover, an area related to Shinto is present in many Minecraft worlds. 

Now, let’s take a look at places where Shintoist symbols are hidden, long waiting for us to notice… The tomoe is a symbol of Shinto which originated, according to the holy book Nihongi, when will-be emperor Ojin’s body was inspected after his birth revealing an irregular flesh growth on his arm. Its shape reminded, indeed, of “tomo”, that is to say a circular leather protection used by Japanese warriors upon their upper limbs. The word tomo then evolved into “tomoe”. It is associated with the Kami Hachiman but it’s also used as a mark of protection against fire, to represent the three main mitama and as a symbol of unity among body, mind and spirit. Nowadays tomoe is found in the video game Genshin Impact, in the logo of both the app Obs Studio and the company Vodafone, in a number of jewels and musical instruments, in the manga series Naruto and Inuyasha, in Usa’s Department of Transportation’s and in Tre’s (an Italian company) logo, and for some reason in Ku Klux Klan’s cross though that does not make any sense. 

Finally, there is one more element worth mentioning : the foreign food among our teeth served in so many restaurants, sushi. The method for its production is thought to have first emerged in Southeast Asia around the Mekong River where locals used to store food inside fermented rice, then it arrived in Japan (probably thanks to Buddhist monks) and was upgraded with the usage of kelp, fish, rice vinegar and salt becoming the main food consumed in the Japanese islands. What allowed sushi to spread so fast and evolve so much are the alimentary restrictions which many schools of both Shinto and Buddhism used to apply : these denied meat and, in the case of Shinto, people were discouraged from consuming even hen eggs since hens had long been special animals in the religion. They are linked to Amaterasu-Omikami, even today you could see hens and chickens let roam freely around shrines. Nowadays however, the exclusion of meat is not part of mainstream Shinto anymore (though a few believers still abide by such rules). 

Thank you for reading

See You in the next Article