Shintoism and Marriage
Shinto, from the Chinese, "Shin Tao," The Way of the Gods, was established in Japan around 500 BCE. It is characterized by nature worship, ancestor worship, heroism, and divine expression. Shinto has no founder, no written scriptures, and no religious laws.
By the eighth century, Shinto became the official religion of Japan, with the imperial family being ascribed divine origin. With the influx of Buddhism from the west, Shinto teachings incorporated the Buddha as another of the divine beings of nature, a "Kami." The Japanese Buddhist teachings view the Kami as bodhisattvas.
As a religion respectful of nature, the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is considered the most important deity. There are thousands of other lesser gods and goddesses, however, who exemplify natural objects, creatures, and abstract natural forces; as well as the Kami of regions and groups. There are also deities of important historical figures, most notably early emperors and the members of the Imperial Family.
All human life is considered sacred, and all humanity is the child of Kami. Much of Shinto's teachings revolve around the concept of community and shared benefit, creative power, and the development of sincerity, "makoto."
There are the Four Affirmations in Shinto"
- Tradition and the family - The focus of Shintoism is the family which is seen as the primary mechanism for the preservation of traditions. This focus is expressed by the ascribed importance of birth and marriage.
- Love of Nature - All natural things are to be considered sacred and should be worshipped as sacred spirits. To be in contact with these natural things is to be close to the Gods.
- Physical Cleanliness - Shinto stresses the importance of bathing and cleanliness of the body.
- "Matsuri" - The expression of worship and devotion to the Kami and all ancestral spirits.
Shinto is a non-exclusive religion, and it is common for practitioners to have other religious affiliations. In Japan for example, most believers in Shinto are also practicing Buddhists.
Shinto teachings consider marriage to be one of life's rites of passage. In the ancient customs, families report the marriage decree to the ancestors in front of the household Shinto altar. In a banquet held by the family, the couple is introduced to the community. By the turn of the last century, a more formal ceremony was performed at a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. Today it is not uncommon for marriages to be performed in a Christian church or by civil ceremony.
Spring and autumn are the most popular seasons for Shinto weddings and on certain days deemed auspicious, it is not uncommon for large numbers of couples to be married at Shinto shrines.
The traditional Shinto wedding ceremony is a private, formal event, usually attended by the immediate family and closest friends of the couple. The ceremony symbolizes both the union of two people and the joining of two families. In the traditional "san san kudo" or "three times three" ceremony, the couple exchange cups of sake. Similar cups of sake are exchanged between members of the families to signify the union. Following these exchanges, the couple offer twigs of the "Sakaki" sacred tree in worship to the gods. Today it is not uncommon for the couple to exchange wedding rings.