Hello, and welcome to the first post for "Living With Kami!"

You might be wondering – what is Kami? Konkokyo? Shinto?

These terms are all a part of the spiritual traditions I practice, which originate in Japan. Please allow me to introduce you to and talk about the Way of Kami in this blog.

Kami (神) (lit. Deity) is the term for the deities of Japan in it's simplest form. However, kami is a term I feel is truly unable to be translated into English. It is a term that is not only for deities – but also the universe itself, ancestral spirits, the natural forces of the world, and even people, who can also be kami. What truly defines the word kami is “an essence that has powerful qualities, which evokes awe and reverence.”

In both Shinto and Konkokyo, to practice either of these two traditions means to live the “Way of Kami” – in other words – in harmony, respect, and awe to the universe, with nature, with all that is around us, and all that one lives in and interacts with, including one's own self. Everything, even inanimate things, are seen all as being alive, and in profound interconnection with each other. For those who practice both or either traditions, they must respect and uphold this deep interconnection.

Now you may be wondering – if they have the same core of living the Way of Kami, then why is it both Shinto and Konkokyo, and not just only Shinto or only Konkokyo?

The answer to this question lies at the Meiji Restoration of Japan in 1868. Japan before that time only practiced one form of spirituality called Shinbutsu Shugo. It was a syncretic
and mixed practice of the ancient Japanese spiritual worship, which in the Asuka period was defined as Shinto (神道)(lit. "Way of the Kami") to distinguish it from Buddhism, the arriving new religion of that time and the other component of Shinbutsu Shugo. Overtime, Shinto and Buddhism went hand-in-hand, hence the phrase Shinbutsu Shugo (lit. "Syncretism of Kami and Buddhas").

In that practice, many different kami and buddhas were revered, and many local kami or new kami which were known by oracles, or through other spiritual rituals, were worshiped. Konkokyo's origins are from this time. In this sense, Konkokyo retained the original concepts of Shinto in the broad and ancient sense as a way of day to day living with kami as described above. The deity of Konkokyo practice, Tenchi Kane no Kami, was one such deity found by spiritual practices and experiences. The deity by this name has no formal recording in the Kojiki (one of the chief scriptures of Shinto), though it should be noted there are interpretations which compared Tenchi Kane no Kami with Ame no Minakanushi no Kami, as they are both kami which are identified with the essence of the universe, universal energy, and the laws of nature.

Despite this, unfortunately at the time of the Meiji Reformation, strict laws were imposed on the spirituality of Japan. Shinto and Buddhism were strictly separated and clearly defined. And what was
once an ancient spiritual practice – Shinto, became a state religion, known as State Shinto.

With the arrival of this State Shinto, Amaterasu Omikami, who is known as the solar kami and ruler of the celestial heavens, was required to be worshiped as the highest ranked deity. As well, only the kami in the Kojiki were allowed to be worshiped - not even Buddhism could be practiced as freely as before. As a result, Buddhist temples began to be shut down and be separated from shrines.

For Konkokyo, since Tenchi Kane no Kami was not a deity formally in the Kojiki, the faith had to be classified as "Sectarian Shinto" to survive, and received the legal name and descriptor for the sect – Konko-kyo (金光教) meaning “The teaching of the golden light” (Based off the character (金)Kane, meaning gold, in Tenchi Kane no Kami’s name (天地金乃神), or “Golden Kami of the Universe”).1

After World War II, State Shinto reformed into Jinja ("Shrine") Shinto. Most Shinto shrines today are led by Jinja Honcho, or the Association of Shinto Shrines, which manages the precepts and traditions of Jinja Shinto. It mixes ancient traditions and rituals with concepts from more modern understandings and guidelines.

When the term “Shinto” is used in the English speaking world, it is usually referring to Jinja Shinto specifically – not the true sense of “Way of Kami”, which encompasses a broader spiritual way of
living, more so than a religion or set of beliefs.

Konkokyo, as a result of having the same Shinto roots and traditions, follows very similar rituals to Jinja Shinto. However, Konkokyo keeps its name and status as Sectarian Shinto (as well as its independence too), for Jinja Shinto still heavily stresses to followers the importance of honoring and revering Amaterasu Omikami as the highest deity, and obtaining Jingutaima, a vessel which is used so Amaterasu Omikami is able to be worshiped at home shrines.

In Konkokyo, there is a focus on Tenchi Kane no Kami especially, but the founder of Konkokyo—in other words the one who began worship of Tenchi Kane no Kami—taught one should be free to honor the deity closest to them with a sincere and single heart – the ranking of kami as highest or lowest is not believed in – instead, it is believed all kami are all a part of great nature and the universe equally. One cannot exist without the other, everything must live in harmony and balance.

There is also no unlucky/lucky directions, ages, or pure/impure spaces like in Jinja Shinto practice, because it is believed everything in the universe is sacred and pure.

There is no distinction between pure or impure spaces or a direction one goes, as everywhere is part of the universe, unlucky age is seen more as the age one will have to contribute more to society, or a great spiritual change. There are sacred spaces, which means areas with particular high sacred energy, or a place where many kami dwell. But it is not that non-sacred spaces are impure, either.

Konkokyo also has a unique practice called Toritsugi which means mediation. In Konkokyo, Toritsugi is a spiritual practice for people to establish a communication link between themselves and Tenchi Kane no Kami.

It can be a request to resolve a problem, or a word of thanks. In Toritsugi, after the visitor says everything they have wanted to say, the minister relays the visitor’s words to Tenchi Kane No Kami. Tenchi Kane no Kami then replies their message to the minister, who will then relay it back to the person. By understanding the message of Tenchi Kane No Kami’s teachings and advice, the visitor can receive guidance to their issues, or feel relieved from anxieties knowing the deity has heard their words.

Toritsugi can help the person put a problem into perspective and find solutions from within their own hearts. Tenchi Kane No Kami asks people to understand their teachings, thus to make people become aware of their relationship with the universe and the ways of the universe. When they meet people who are suffering, the Konkokyo way is to listen to their problems, support them, and pray for their well-being and happiness.

In essence, those are the main areas in why there is a difference between Konkokyo and Shinto, or more accurately, Jinja Shinto. Konkokyo is Shinto in the sense of “Way of Kami” - but not Shinto as the term for Jinja Shinto beliefs.

However, with all this being said, one does not need to choose between the two. Nor is there any much thought given to the distinction in day to day living. One can be both Konkokyo and Jinja Shinto at the same time. One can follow or worship Tenchi Kane no Kami, while also believe in an unlucky age or participate in other shrines' ceremonies. It’s not so strict, with only a few differences in views and interpretations, and ultimately there is not a segregation.

Actually, even as a Konko minister in Japan, one can get a dual license as a Jinja Shinto priest. As well, sometimes Konko priests assist in Jinja Shinto ceremonies, and vice versa. Therefore, the best thing about Japanese spirituality is how open and broad it is. One does not need to choose or force themselves only one way. I find it very welcoming and beautiful.

And so, with this introduction, I hope you have gained some insight into Shinto and Konkokyo. Please look forward to future posts explaining more in detail, as well as special articles about hidden nuances of Shinto, it's history, and about sacred items and garments you may see! Thank you very much! I'll strive to do my best.

1To show more clearly –

  • Konkokyo (金光教):
    • Kon (金) - Gold; the usual pronunciation is kane
    • Ko (光) - Light
    • Kyo (教) - Teaching; kyo is a suffix meaning “teaching”. Another example is the Japanese word for Buddhism Bu-kyo (仏 -- 教) (lit. "Teaching of the Buddha")
  • Tenchi (or "heaven and earth," "the universe") (天地):
    • Ten (天) - Heaven
    • Chi (地) - Earth
  • No (乃) - formal form of (の), meaning “of”
  • Kami (神) - Spirit/Deity