Gantan Sai is the Shinto New Year Holiday. Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion and neither does it have a sacred scripture, nor does it have any founder. It does not have only one God but is deeply rooted in nature. At present, there are about 4 million followers of the Shinto religion around the world.
The Shinto Religion
The word Shinto refers to the way of the Gods . Being the native religion of Japan, Shinto was once its state religion. It involves the worship of the Shinto Gods or Kami . Kami are the pure spirits of Nature.
The four affirmations that the Shintos follow are:
- Love of Nature, when all natural objects are worshipped
- Tradition and Family, as the family preserves the traditions
- Matsuri, a festival honoring the spirits
- Physical Cleanliness, where they must keep clean
However, after the World War II, Shinto lost much of its prominence. It is interesting to note that in the Shinto religion, a waterfall or an irregularly shaped rock can be a kami . The kami though divine are very close to humanity. They, like us, live in the same world, make the same mistakes and feel and think in the same way as us. Shinto followers or even people from other religions are considered as kami after their death.
Some modern scholars profess that Shinto should be actually referred to as kami worship . Early ceremonies were conducted before rocks or corpses, which formed the altar. There was no idol or representation of the kami , as they were regarded to be formless and pure. Shrines were built for the kami only after the arrival of Buddhism.
The Shinto rituals of kami worship have been taken from the Chinese Taoism and Confucianism. Gradually, the syncretism between Shinto and Buddhism went on to become the main feature of the Japanese religion.
Observation of the Gantan Sai
On this New Year s Day, the Shintos visit the shrines, mostly at midnight. They pray for the renewal of their heart, prosperity and health in the year to come. The Japanese celebrate the 7 day holiday by making visits to their friends and family to express their good wishes for the year to come. They also wear their finest clothes on this day.
The Shinto New Year s Day, Gantan Sai is also known as Shogatu.