DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-G102-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved August 24, 2019, from

1. Kami, people and nature

In Shintō belief there is no sharp distinction between kami and people – indeed some people, such as emperors, great heroes and ancestors, are regarded as kami – and both kami and people are joined together by their common habitation in the natural environment of the Japanese islands (although some kami in the mythology, including the sun goddess Amaterasu, reside in heaven). The human, natural and sacred realms merge. As the great eighteenth-century Shintō scholar Motoori Norinaga observed, the kami are spirits that abide in and are worshipped at the [Shintō] shrines. In principle human beings, birds, animals, trees, plants, mountains, oceans – all may be kami. According to ancient usage, whatever seemed strikingly impressive, possessed the quality of excellence, or inspired a feeling of awe was called kami (quoted in Agency for Cultural Affairs 1972: 38).

Through Shintō, the Japanese people express their respect for all life as well as their appreciation of the beauties and powers of nature. And because certain elements and phenomena of nature, such as the sun, the moon, the wind and mountains, are regarded as kami and because nature as a whole is the principal home of the kami, nature is seen as ‘good’. The Shintō view of nature has given a powerful stimulus to the arts and aesthetic tastes of the Japanese. Regarding nature as both beautiful and good, the Japanese have celebrated its qualities – especially the perishable beauties of the changing seasons, such as the cherry blossoms of spring and the maple leaves of autumn – in countless poems, paintings and other artistic media. Although Buddhism has also influenced the Japanese understanding of nature, the natural environment of Japan is first and foremost a world of Shintō (see Aesthetics, Japanese).

Citing this article:
Varley, Paul. Kami, people and nature. Shintō, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G102-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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