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Shinto--Japan's national religion still a presence in Hawai'i

by Hiro Ishimaru, A&E editor

Japan has two religions: Shinto, its indigenous folk religion, polytheistic and with neither a founder nor firm religious principles; and Buddhism. The latter has a founder, of course, the Buddha, who was from India, and a complete set of doctrines based on a universal philosophy that transcends particular ethnic groups. This transcendent philosophy is the reason Buddhism crossed national borders into Southeast Asia, China, the Korean Peninsula, and Japan, according to James M. Vardaman, Jr., professor of Asian history at Surugadai University in Japan, in his book, Talking about Buddhism.


Shinto and Buddhism have both exerted a strong influence on Japanese politics, society, culture, and art. While Buddhism is more satisfying intellectually, it is Shinto that speaks to the stronger human emotions. Today in Japan, for example, celebrations for birth, marriage, and other happy occasions are all based on Shinto rites.

Shinto priests offer various religious services to their congregations. Many Shinto shrines sell a variety of religious goods such as good luck talismans, called omamori, blessings, called ofuda, and written oracles. Many Japanese visit Shinto shrines to celebrate birth and marriage, or more casually, to pray for good health, good luck, happiness, and protection from misfortune.

Unlike Buddhism, Shinto has not crossed national borders, but Japanese emigrants to other lands brought Shinto with them to such places as Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the states of Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawai‘i.

In 1891, Shinto was introduced to the Big Island and Kaua‘i, and then in 1904, it was introduced on O‘ahu, according to Tatuya Yumiyama, assistant professor of humanities at Japan’s Taisho University (

“ Japanese immigrants needed to establish Shinto shrines in their communities because the shrines were necessary for them to have festivals or be purified by priests,” said Daiya Amano, the head priest at Izumo Shinto mission of Hawai‘i.

On O‘ahu, 60 Shinto missions existed before World War II. Today only four Shinto shrines remain, and Izumo, which was built in 1906, is the only one located near HPU’s downtown campus at 215 North Kukui Street. (Even though Izumo Shinto Shrine was dismantled during World War II, it was rebuilt in 1968.)

There are 231 Izumo Shinto Shrines, including the original Izumo Grand Shrine of Shimane prefecture, in Japan. The Izumo Grand Shrine is said to be the oldest shrine in Japan.

In Japan, Izumo Shinto Shrines are famous for match making. According to Amano, Japanese used to believe all the gods gathered with the god of Izumo, the parent of all gods, in the Izumo Shrine, in October to decide everything, including match making. Consequently, October was called Kana Tuki in the Japanese lunar calendar. Kana means "no god exists," because the gods are all at the Izumo Shrine during October.

" We conduct weddings held in Shinto rites at the (Izumo) shrine of Hawai'i," Amano said. "But only about 10 couples hold wedding ceremonies each year, so Hawai'i Izumo Shinto Shrine is not famous for matchmaking."

He added: "There are some cultural differences between Japan and the United States, but we provide mostly the same religious services as those in Japan."

The Izumo shrine holds some religious services including baby's first blessing, weddings, New Year's Day, and monthly worship services. Normally, Shinto holds no particular day special for services. However, "Every month, we hold worship service on the 10th day of the month," Amano said. "because I want to make opportunities for people to understand what Shinto is."


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