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Nature of Kami

Natureofkami.jpgKami is the Japanese word for Shinto deities. There are many different interpretations of the nature of kami, but the following are considered to be the basic characteristics of kami.

1. August Kami

Kami inspire people with feelings of the sacred, gratefulness, and awe. Motoori Norinaga, a scholar in the Edo period (1600-1868) clearly expressed the view that the “kami have extremely superb virtue”. Thus, people should approach the kami with profound reverence and admiration.

2. Incomprehensible Kami

Kami are beyond human comprehension, since humans have a limited power of reasoning, and kami transcend the power of human reason.

3. Emerging Kami

Kami exist through their unification with certain material objects, or other phenomena, and furthermore different names are given to kami in accordance with the object through which the kami appear. For example, some have names such as Futsunushi-no-kami (a sword), Haraedo-no-kami (the Harae, or purification, kami), or Ukano-mitama-no-kami (the grain kami). Thus, the kami of Shinto could be said to be polytheistic.
There is in Shinto no concept of an almighty or absolute god. Even Amaterasu Omikami, one of the major goddesses of the Shinto religion, is not considered a perfect kami. Kami show their sacredness through a material medium. It is in this way that we sense and believe in their existence.

4. Functional Kami

Kami are significantly involved in the everyday life of humankind. That is, since we humans seek divine blessings in some concrete form, kami are always engaged with the real lives of humans. Kami are not conceived metaphysically, but sensed through their divine functions or virtues.

5. Super-human Kami

Compared to human existence, kami are super-human.

6. Co-existing Kami

There is no discontinuity between kami and humankind. The kami that are the objects of people’s faith are united with the spirits of all human beings. This is fundamental to the reality of human existence. In Shinto, there exists everywhere and in all dimensions a tendency towards humanization. Shinto also exists as a type of ancestral or hero worship. For example, the Heian period  scholar and aristocrat, Sugawara Michizane became “Tenjin sama (the kami for study)” after his death, on account of his brilliance as a scholar.

Ancestral worship, which involves worshipping kami as one’s ancestors, shifted in quality and came to involve the reverence of human ancestors as kami. In the same way, hero worship involving the worship of kami as heroes came to involve the worship of heroes as kami. In both cases, the implication is that divine nature and the sublime human nature are equal.
People often say “a human becomes a kami after death.” This is a typical expression of the Japanese concept of kami. Having no discontinuity between the kami and the human, kami live within humans and humans live with the kami, so that humans are blessed for the duration of their lives.

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