Signs and Symbols

Do Shinto practitioners use symbolism in personal or private rituals?

Many Japanese households have a corner dedicated to the kami. A miniature shrine building (kamidana) at which worshippers pray daily is placed on a shelf or table. For special occasions they will go to the actual shrine, but everyday reverence to the kami happens at home. People can purchase these charming miniature shrines, some done up in exquisitely fine architectural detail, at religious goods stores in any Japanese city or at some of the larger shrines. Worshippers who get them from shrine shops often prefer to purchase them at shrines to which their families have ancestral connections. Priests often visit parishioners to dedicate their new home shrines and sometimes make annual house visits for brief renewal ceremonies. People with more ample homes and yards might afford larger outdoor miniature shrines called yashikigami (kami of the home). Miniature shrines range from simple and affordable to finely wrought and costly. Business establishments, restaurants, police stations, and bridges on oceangoing ships, for example, might also have a kamidana to which the staff make daily offerings. Many miniature shrines have their own tiny torii gates and shimenawa. In addition, worshippers often bring small votive offerings when they visit local shrines. A popular offering is the miniature torii gate on which devotees write names and prayers of petition before hanging it on a rack along with hundreds of others like it at the shrine.

A shrine maiden called a miko attends to the shrine shop at Tokyo’s Meiji Jingu, selling various devotional materials such as the protective arrows and cards on which worshippers can write their petitions to leave on special racks at the shrine.


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