- Kami. A term best left untranslated. In Japanese it usually qualifies a name or object rather than standing alone, indicating that the object or entity has kami-quality. Kami may refer to the divine, sacred, spiritual and numinous quality or energy of places and things, deities of imperial and local mythology, spirits of nature and place, divinised heroes, ancestors, rulers and statesmen. Virtually any object, place or creature may embody or possess the quality or characteristic of kami, but it may be helpful to think of kami as first and foremost a quality of a physical place, usually a shrine, or in pre-Meiji times either a shrine or a Buddhist temple and often both together. Either the place itself is kami or a particular named mythological kami (perhaps in the form of its 'divided spirit' bunrei) is enshrined in such-and-such a place. Hence shrines tend to be named after the place—Iwashimizu Hachiman, Kanda jinja Ise, (not Amaterasu) Jingu, etc., though there are modern exceptions such as the Meiji jingu. Numerous interesting etymologies have been suggested for the term kami, but its meaning lies in its use within the different periods and dimensions of Japanese religion. Although Shinto purists like to reserve the term kami for Shinto (rather than Buddhist) use, most ordinary Japanese make no clear conceptual distinction between kami and Buddhist divinities, though practices surrounding kami and Buddhas may vary according to custom. This accommodating attitude is a legacy of the thorough integration of the notion of kami into the Buddhist world-view which predominated in Japanese religion before the reforms of the Meiji period and has been to some extent revived since 1945, often through the new religions. This is despite the 'separation of kami and Buddhas' (shinbutsu bunri) of 1868, when deities enshrined both as Buddhist divinities and as kami of a certain location (see Honji-suijaku) had to be re-labelled as either Buddha/ bosatsu or kami. In understanding Japanese religion, to think of kami as constitutinga separate category of 'Shinto' divine beings leads only to confusion. The 'shin' of 'Shinto' is written with the same Chinese character as kami.See Shinto.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.