Kami are the indigenous spirits of Japan and the basis of the Shinto religion. The word kami encompasses a very wide variety of spirit beings as well as host of mysterious, mystical powers, energies and forces.
There is an infinite number of kami. The sacred text, the Kojiki says that there are eight million kami but this may be a symbolic number, interpreted as truly meaning innumerable. (Eight is a sacred number in Shinto cosmology.)
Kami animate everything in the universe: every object; thing; formation has a kami. There are kami of places, cities, villages, neighbourhoods. Look around you: if you can see something, it probably has a kami. There are elemental kami and kami of the crossroads. Because of the kami, everything in the entire universe is sacred and animated with profound potentially benevolent, mystical energy. After death, human souls may re-emerge as kami. Ancestral kami are venerated at household shrines.
The name Shinto, translated as Way of the Spirits, derives from two Chinese words: Shen (spirit) and Tao (way). Shinto has no one individual founder. Features recognizable as Shinto religion can be documented as far back as the late pre-historic era, circa 300 BCE to 300 CE. In 1871, Shinto was established as Japan’s state religion and the word Shinto as a name for this spiritual system derives from this period.
Kami are divided into two branches:
• Earthly kami (Kunitsukami)
• Celestial kami (Amatsukami)
Kami may be used as an honorific title or classification for any sacred being and so some Taoist and Buddhist spirits, now so well integrated into Japanese spirituality, are the equivalent of honorary kami, as for example Jizo or Hotei.
Only six kami are honored with the title Okami (“Great Kami”). Five are celestial kami: Amaterasu; Izanagi; Izanami; Michikaeshi and Sashikuni. Only one is an Earthly kami: Sarutahiko.
Kami are traditionally petitioned for health, fertility, success, prosperity, academic achievement,abundance and protection. In general, domestic offerings are made to the kami early in the day, usually in the morning (although clearly this ultimately depends on individual kami and devotee).