Elacqua, Joseph, et. al. "Purity in Shinto." Faithology.com. Faithology, 15 March 2013. Web. 6 October 2015.

Elacqua, J., et. al. (2013, Mar 15). Purity in Shinto. Faithology. Retrieved from http://faithology.com/practices/purity-in-shinto

Elacqua, Joseph, et. al"Purity in Shinto" Faithology, LLC. Last modified March 15, 2013. http://faithology.com/practices/purity-in-shinto

Elacqua, Joseph, et. alPurity in Shinto. Faithology, LLC, 2012. http://faithology.com/practices/purity-in-shinto (Accessed Oct 6, 2015).

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  • Last Updated: March 15, 2013
  • Originally Published: March 15, 2013
  • Purity in Shinto


Purity of body, mind, and heart—especially in a ritual sense—is a mark of inner goodness within the Shinto religion.  In addition to physical purity and cleanliness, ritual purity is heavily emphasized.  All Japanese people must be ritually pure before addressing the kami because the kami themselves are generally believed to be wholly pure deities.  All people rinse their hands and mouths before entering a Shinto shrine in order to symbolically purify themselves before coming into the presence of the kami.

Purity in Shinto?

A basin flows with purified water outside of a Shinto temple

Pollution is the antithesis of ritual purity and is derived from a variety of sources.  Contact with disease, blood, the dead, certain kami, or other impure elements are all thought to cause pollution to spread like a contagion.  In order to halt this pollution, an entire genre of Shinto rituals called harai (or harae) were developed in order to purify people, places, and even other kami that had been defiled.  Kami, like people, are unpredictable and are thus subject to base emotions such as jealousy, rage, vanity, lust, and envy.  The kami Susanoo no Mikoto, brother to the chief kami, Amaterasu Omikami, is particularly prone to such unbridled fits of wild rampage.  The Nihon Shoki and Kojiki contain several myths concerning Susanoo and his growing frustration with his sister.  In some myths, when she is in her ritual weaving chamber, he flings feces into the room, defiling the chamber.  In addition, he flays the skin off of a horse and throws its carcass into the room.  Eventually, when a number of other deities catch up with Susanoo, he is purified with a harae ritual and then banished to the underworld.

Purification rituals often include water, thought to be a particularly cleansing element due to its physical transparency in addition to being used in cleaning.  The removal of this pollution is one of the defining characteristics of Shinto as it aids Shinto practitioners in attaining a level of purity that is comparable to that of their deities.