Before I start talking about how the nature is understood in Shinto, it might be necessary to describe what Shinto is since it is not a major faith in Europe.
Shinto is the indigenous faith of the Japanese. It is a way of life and a way of thinking that has been an integral part of Japanese culture since ancient times. It is the foundation of for the yearly life-cycles, beginning with the New Year’s Day visit to a Shinto shrine to wish for good luck.
Since ancient times, Japanese people have expressed the divine energy or life-force of the natural world as kami. Kami is a word that corresponds to ‘deity’ in English. Kami derived from nature, such as the kami of rain, the kami of wind, the kami of mountains, the kami of the sea, and the kami of thunder have a deep relationship with our lives and a profound influence over our activities. Individuals who have made a great contribution to the state or society may also be enshrined and revered as kami.
Nature does not take human comfort and convenience into consideration. The sun, which gives life to all living things, sometimes dries the earth, causing drought and famine. The oceans, where life first appeared, may suddenly rise, sending violent tidal wave or tsunami onto the land, causing much destruction and grief. The blossom scented wind, a harbinger of spring, can become a wild storm. Even the smallest animals can bring harm. For example, a mouse eats our grain and carries disease, and a locust devastates our crops.
In some religions, things in nature are created by one single creator, and human beings are granted to control or oversee them. This is not a case in Shinto. Everything, not everyone, in this world is equal to each other, and there is no need to discuss what is superior or inferior to what. This is Shinto’s view on nature.
Although I have kept saying ‘Shinto’, I suppose “the traditional Japanese spirituality” is more appropriate to name it because it is rather a philosophy shared by most Japanese people. For example, there are Japanese Buddhists joining in this meeting. Officially speaking, their faith is different from mine because Buddhism is not Shinto. However, we both understand traditional Japanese spirituality, and though our explanations are different, Shinto and Japanese Buddhism both find importance in the harmony between human beings and nature.
Another example to understand the Japanese view on nature is what Japanese people say before eating. When Japanese people start to eat something, most of them say “Itadakimasu” no matter what religion they have. This means “I appreciate the life that I am going to take”. Since every single existence in this world has life, human beings cannot live without taking other things’ lives.
It is true that the whole Japan once forgot to maintain the harmony with nature during the process of modernization and economical development. As a result, destruction of natural environment caused varieties of pollution and disaster. Facing such difficulty, Japanese people re-recognized the importance of living in harmony with nature, in other words, coexistence. As I mentioned previously, everything in this world is equal to each other. Nothing is superior to anything. Therefore, if human beings do not treat nature right, we have to pay back in future.If we keep in mind that we are all a part of nature, there would be no need to emphasize the sense of coexistence. We are dependent to each other and we should appreciate the benefit and blessing that our surroundings bring us.
Although I have talked only about Japanese spirituality, I suppose all religions have similar idea. One common thing I can say is that we are all blessed. Blessed by something you respect and worship. Politics cannot explain why we must preserve natural environment. Science cannot translate the message from nature. Only faiths can deal the question “Why we care?” Faith is the wisdom that we inherited from our ancestors. So, we already know the answer. All we need is to recognize the answer and make it come true.