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  • Writer's picturejuju925

How Many Gods Exist in Japan?

Happy New Year of the dragon in 2024. Wish you all a healthy and internally peaceful year despite of the unsolved conflicts and natural disasters in the world.

Over the Christmas holidays, I watched a film called "Child of Kamiari Month" with the family.

This film depicts very well the gods in Japan. When you read Japanese mythology such as The Kojiki or The Nihon Shoki, you will find so many gods from the early stage of Japanese culture. So many gods appear in The Kojiki that I can't even remember all the relationships, just like reading "One Hundred Years of Solitude".

Although almost no Japanese people remember all the existing gods, they usually have favourites. For example, this is Konohanasakuyahime and she is considered as the most beautiful women in the Japanese mythology. She is still very popular among Japanese women.

It is said that there are 8 million gods in Japan. It's almost the same population of Kuala Lumpur. You can imagine how Japan is filled with gods. There are so many that many gods don't have a human figure but they are things. This is because Japanese religion began with animism, worshipping the nature.

Long before people built shrines, ancient Japanese believed the gods dwell in the nature, such as big trees, rocks or the rivers. You might see a rope with white papers tied around a big old tree when you walk around Japan. This is called Shime nawa (しめ縄) and it means sacred.

The god can dwell in non-living objects. The most famous ones are, Sanshu no Jingi (三種の神器/The three sacred treasures) and consist of the sword Kusanagi no Tsurugi (草薙剣), the mirror Yata no Kagami (八咫鏡) and the jewell Yasakani no Magatama (八尺瓊勾玉).

According to the Kojiki, they were bestowed by the Goddess, Amaterasu (天照大神) when she came down to the Earth to Ninigi-no-Mikoto (瓊瓊杵尊). These treasures are kept in the Emperor’s palace and has never been shown in the public.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan has investigated that there are 158,000 shrines in Japan. Imagine there are gods for all those shrines! In Japan, gods dwell literary in everything. I'll show you some of them.

Awashima Shrine in Wakayama prefecture is for unwanted dolls.

Kitano Shrine in Aichi prefecture enshrine Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning and is also known as a brush shrine.

Genkaku-ji Temple in Tokyo is known as an eye god. There are many shrines and temples for eye problems in Japan. When you visit this temple, don't forget to bring konjac as an offer.

On the streets of Japanese countryside, much less but even inside the big cities, you will see Jizonosatsu, commonly known as Ojizo-sama (お地蔵さま). They are believed to save humans from sufferings including natural disasters and diseases.

Jizo can be aloso called Dosojin (道祖神) and means a guardian of travellers. They are often seen at the entrance of a village or on a road. Pilgrims prayed for a safe travel and people also believed that Jizo would protect the village from the diseases that travellers could bring.

Do you remember this scene in Totoro? Here are six Jizo protecting the village.

Now you know that Japan is full of gods. I personally may not call them all god. They are for me spirits, like Totoro itself. He is a spirits of woods.

If you are a Ghibli film fan, you may see and feel the sense of how Japanese people think about gods. Although each day, we are getting more detached from the nature, Japanese people haven't lost the big respect to it. The numbers of temples, shrines, jizo and many little daily gestures prove it.

Hope you are able to meet some of 8 million gods when you come to Japan.



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