The similarities between Māori traditional beliefs and Japanese Shintō – Aotea Store

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The similarities between Māori traditional beliefs and Japanese Shintōism

Shintōism is a religion which originated in Japan in the 8th century CE and was formalized in the 19th century during the Meiji Restoration. It revolves around the worship of specific deities, spirits or kami, which are said to inhabit places such as waterfalls, mountains and trees and man-made physical objects such as swords or gems. There are similarities with tikanga Māori, and important differences.

Shintōism is often considered an animistic, a pantheistic, and a polytheistic religion, due to its worship of kami, the deities or spirits that inhabit shintai, which are the physical objects or places near which a Shintō shrine is built. Kami often have a positive side and a negative side and are able to help devotees or bring destruction. There are kami for things like roads and entryways, for physical phenomena like wind and thunder, and for natural creations like waterfalls, mountains, boulders and trees. There are many thousands of kami in Shintōism, and sometimes multiple variations of the same kami.

The main tenets of Shintōism are harmony with nature, family, makoto (sincerity), cleanliness, and cheerfulness. These values are achieved by ritual worship of kami at shrines devoted to the kami. Shrines are in public places and in households. One of the most common shrine types in Shintōism is one devoted to the kami Inari. This is typified by the red pi-shaped torii (gate) with a pair of foxes, one of both genders, at the entrance. Inari is the kami of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake, agriculture and industry, general prosperity and worldly success.

 In Japan, kami are often revered by corporations as patrons.

How is Shintōism similar to tikanga Māori?

The main similarity Shintōism has with tikanga Māori is that nature is considered awe-inspiring and is revered. Tikanga Māori is founded on pūrākau (myths, stories or legends) about parts of nature and specific mountains, rivers and stars (among other things) have human qualities and names. Places have mauri or wairua, which is spirit, which can be depleted if not looked after (by practicing tikanga). 

Both have a great deal of respect for ancestors and family. Both believe that the ancestors will protect the living.

The appreciation for makoto (sincerity) is similar to the value of mana (respect) in tikanga Māori.

How is tikanga Māori different to Shintōism?

The way in which Māori connect to nature and the way in which Shintōism is practiced is not the same. Māori connect to nature via whakapapa, meaning that their relationship with nature is an ancestral one. Shintō believers are afforded a sense of calm by shrines, surrounded by nature, where they practice ritual offerings to the kami. 

Another significant difference is the way the two belief systems approach death. Tikanga Māori has a range of concepts to deal with death, such as tapu (making a burial site sacred), noa (a profane or profaned site), tangihanga (funerals) and kawa and ritenga (correct or right ways of dealing with things.) Shintōism in general avoids facing death, preferring to focus its efforts and belief on the here and now.

Another difference is that tikanga Māori offers a creation story for the world. The origins of everything are explained via whakapapa (genealogy) back to the tīpuna (ancestors). The kami, by contrast, are not responsible for creating things, they are simply there to guide people in their everyday life.