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Religion in Japanese History Shinto was the earliest Japanese religion its obscure beginnings dating back at least to the middle of the first millennium BC Until the sixth century AD when the Japanese began a period of rapid adoption of continental civilization it existed as an amorphous mix of nature worship fertility cults divination techniques hero worship and shamanism The word Shinto or the Way of the kami gods or spirits came into use only after the sixth century when the Japanese sought to distinguish their own tradition from the foreign religions of Buddhism and Confucianism that they were then encountering Thus in its origins Shinto was the religion of a pristine people who above all were sensitive to the spiritual forces that pervaded the world of nature in which they lived As one ancient chronicle reports in their world myriad spirits shone like fireflies and every tree and bush could speak Worship in Shinto is undertaken to express gratitude to the gods and to secure their continued favor Worship may take the form of one of the many large communal festivals that occur at fixed times during the year celebrating such events as spring planting the fall harvest or some special occasion in the history of a shrine However it may also be carried out privately in a much-abbreviated fashion in the home or at the neighborhood shrine Although a festival may continue for several days shifting at times in mood from the solemn to the lighthearted or even raucous individual worship may require only a few moments to complete In spite of such contrasts both types of Shinto worship have three essential elements in common Both begin with the all-important act of purification which ordinarily involves the use of water in both an offering is presented to the kami today usually money but often food and in both a prayer or petition is made We may further note that in general Shinto
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