Folk religion is known as ethnical or regional religious customs that are outside of an official practice and Shinto in Japan is an example of this. Shinto has existed in Japan since the 6th century and is an ethnic religion that focuses on ritual practices to establish connections between present Japan and the past. It is true that Shinto provides no moral code but depends on ethical guidance.
“In its general aspects Shinto is more than a religious faith.
It is an amalgam of attitudes, ideas, and ways of doing
things that through two millenniums and more have become
an integral part of the way of the Japanese people.”(Hori)
The word Shinto means the “Kami way”. In Shinto, there is a devotion to Kami, which are spirits that are the objects of worship. Kami are thought to be noble, sacred spirits. They can bring you good fortune, health, or success. Kami can also be elements, as well as, forces of nature, however; all beings have such spirits and so in a sense all beings can be referred to as kami. In the movie, Princess of Mononoke, a central theme is the environment. The movie contains many aspects of Shintoism. The characters, the plot, and the themes in the movie all follow Shinto ideas. Not only does this movie depict Shinto, but many other Japanese stories are based on belief that forces of nature can teach and demonstrate ideas of the Japanese culture.
Princess Mononoke is a story based in the late Muromachi period and follows an Emishi prince, Ashitaka, as he struggles to find balance between gods of the forest and humans who are inconsiderate of the forest and its resources. At the beginning of the movie the Emishi village is attacked by a demon and Ashitaka kills it before it can destroy the village. The demon corrupts his arm and it is fatal. While heading west, Ashitaka runs into a wandering monk. The monk tells him that he will find help from a Forest Spirit, a karin-like creature that will help protect him on his journey. The Great Forest Spirit is the protector of the forest and connected to life and death which also connects it to a divine being. In Shinto, kami are not separate from nature, but are within it. It can posses good and evil, and also positive and negative characteristics. The Great Forest spirit not only shows positive characteristics, but also shows negative ones. The Forest Spirit does save Ashitaka, but he leaves the curse inside of him. He also steals the life of everything it touches until his head is returned. With this being said, we can conclude that the Forest Spirit can be seen as kami.
Moro can also be related as Kami. She is the god of wolves and has divine power and intelligence. She can also speak and understand human language. Moro raised Princess Mononoke as her own daughter. Moro understands the intentions of humans and knows that they aren’t good. Moro is a force of nature and uses her abilities to protect her forest. In the book, Shinto: The Kami Way it says, “Each kami may be said to have its own special characteristics, capacity, and mission; and in a sense each is worshipped as the founder or guardian of some definite object or phenomenon.” In the movie, Moro is talking to Ashitaka and says,
“The trees cry out as they die, but you cannot
hear them. I lie here. I listen to the pain
of the forest and feel the ache of the bullet
in my chest, and dream of the day i will
finally crunch that gun-woman’s head
in my jaws.”( Dir. Miyazaki)
From this you can read how Moro felt about the forest. You can almost feel the pain through her words to Ashitaka. We can relate this back to what the book Shinto: The Kami Way said and see the evidence of ideas of Shintoism in the movie. The idea of the kami having different characteristics and missions not only relates to Moro, but also to the Great Forest Spirit. So we can conclude that they both are kami in Shinto.
Princess Mononoke, also known as San, and Ashitaka can be categorized as kami. Shinto teaches that people should be worshipped as kami, but they usually don’t earn the name kami. As you have read in the previous quotes, kami are guardians and in capture their own special characteristics and these two characters do just that. Princess Mononoke is raised by Moro and grows up with wolves. Throughout the movie, you can see the resentment she has towards humans and the destruction they cause to the forest. She protects the forest just like the Forest Spirit and Moro. In the movie she said that she would be willing to die to protect the forest. Another character that sacrificed his body and being for the forest was AShittaka. He also reflects kami through his actions in the movie. He is very concerned with the environment and trusts nature to protect him. He believes in the Forest Spirit and allows him to help heal his wounds. Ashitaka and Princess Mononoke believe in the forces of nature just like the people who believe in Shinto.
Moreover, not only can the characters of the movie be seen as relating to Shinto, but the plot of the movie itself can be. The main events of this movie are based on ideas that are related to Shintoism. As I have said before, Shinto focuses on the environment and characteristics of it including forces of nature. A big theme in the movie is the environment. The entire movie focuses on forces of nature vs. humans and their destruction.
In conclusion, the movie Princess Mononoke holds many examples of Shinto throughout it, beginning with the characters and ending with the themes. The characters in the movie play a large role in relating to Shintoism because many of them relate to kami. And as we have read previously, we know that the kami is what Shinto is based around. Shinto also holds importance to the environment and learning from it. Many stories throughout Japanese history are based on Japanese stories just like Princess Mononoke. After researching Shinto I can see the importance of it throughout Japanese folklore. While many worry that Shinto will disappear from the heart of Japan, they also believe that the spirit of their faith will remain in their hearts forever.