Shinto, or the Way of Gods, is a religion practiced by Japanese people throughout the course of thousands of years. Since Shinto in itself is more like a philosophy, rather than a religion, you can find deities in many aspects of Japanese life. It is said that there are over eight million gods in Shinto! ...Yet this is not surprising. The gods are in water, in stones, in trees, basically everywhere.
Of course, next to the thousands of minor gods, there are also several major gods in Shinto. Let's talk about some of the more memorable ones. There are several famous deities, or kami who are worshiped all over the country. The following list will be in alphabetical order, rather than hierarchical.
Amaterasu O Mi Kami, is the leading god in Japanese pantheon. She is the goddess of the sun. Her full name in translation from Japanese means "The Great August Kami (God) who shines in the heaven". Amaterasu was given birth, when the forefather of Japanese gods, Izanagi, was purifying himself after he returned from the Yomi no Kuni, the underworld. Alongside with Amaterasu, Izanagi also gave birth to two other gods, Susanoo and Tsukuyomi.
Amaterasu ruled over the heavens and sun together with her brother and husband Tsukuyomi, who was the god of the moon and night. However, Amaterasu separated with him, when Tsukuyomi killed another deity and Amaterasu labeled him as evil. This caused the day and night to split.
There is another legend which tells of the rivalry between Amaterasu and her other brother, Susanoo. Once upon a time, Susanoo offered Amaterasu a challenge, and each of them took an object from the other and created deities. Amaterasu birthed three goddesses from Susanoo's sword, and Susanoo birthed five gods from Amaterasu's necklace. Since the necklace belonged to Amaterasu, she claimed that the gods were hers, and for a while both gods were content. But after some time passed Susanoo was caught in a fit of rage and destroyed Amaterasu's fields of rice, and even ended up killing one of her attendants. As a result he was banished from heavens, but nonetheless, grievous and furious Amaterasu hid herself and the sun for a long time. The gods had to use a mirror and trick her to bring back the sun.
Amaterasu has been considered to be the forebear of the Japanese Imperial Family, and the so called Yata no Kagami, the mirror which was used to bring Amaterasu out of her hiding, has become an Imperial Regalia of Japan.
Ame no Uzume is the Japanese goddess of dawn, mirth and revelry. Ame no Uzume played an important part in the legend of retrieving the sun goddess Amaterasu from her hiding spot. Amaterasu, who was offended by Susanoo ran away and hid in a cave. As a result the sun disappeared from the sky. The gods discussed the question, and after plotting for a while came up with an ideal plan. Ame no Uzume overturned a tub in front of the entrance to the cave where Amaterasu was hiding and started dancing furiously, while ripping off her clothes in front of other deities. The sight made the gods laugh heartily, and their laughter forced Amaterasu to look out of the cave. This caused her to look into the mirror which reminded her of her beauty and she wanted to shine in the sky once again.
Fujin or Kami no Kaze is the Japanese god of wind. The sources agree that Fujin is one of the oldest Shinto gods and he existed even before the world was created. It should be noted that Fujin is one of those gods who were, so to say, integrated into Japanese mythology and folklore from Buddhism.
According to a Japanese legend, F?jin had a huge sack where he kept the winds that obeyed only him. And he let those winds out of the sack for the first time to blow away the dawn fog which was hanging in between heaven and earth. This was the only way to allow the sun to shine and heat up the earth. However, in Chinese cannon, F?jin along with his friend Raijin were originally evil demons who vigorously fought against Buddha. As a result of these fights they lost, became prisoners, repented and became Buddha's faithful guard.
Hachiman or Yawata no Kami is a Japanese war god, who acts as the protector of heroes during the battle. Hachiman is associated with Emperor Oujin who ruled in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Throughout the Japanese medieval period, Hachiman was one of the most worshipped gods in the country. He was the tutelary god for both the samurai warriors and even the peasantry. Hachiman's popularity was sky high. In modern Japan there are around 25,000 Shinto shrines dedicated to Hachiman, which makes him the second most popular god after Inari. Hachiman's symbolic animal, as well as his messenger is the dove.
Inari Okami is the god or goddess of rice and fertility. Inari can be considered to be the most mysterious deity in the Japanese pantheon. In some regions of Japan, Inari is seen as a young girl, in others as a wise old man with long beard, and in some other regions Inari was considered to be an androgen. However with time, Inari was more often portrayed as a female rather than a male, especially because they were the patron of fertility.
When portrayed as a woman Inari has gorgeous long hair, there is always a white fox beside her, and she is holding onto a beautiful shining jewel. It is said that the jewel can make one's dreams come true.
Foxes are Inari's symbol. One can see statues of white foxes near the entrances of Inari's shrines. It should be mentioned that the most important shrine dedicated to the goddess is Fushimi Inari, which is located in Kyoto.
Izanagi and Izanami are the forebears of Japanese gods. Izanagi and his sister and wife Izanami birthed the Japanese isles together, as well as the numerous deities. Unfortunately, Izanami passed away while giving birth to the fire god, Kagu-tsuchi. Izanagi killed Kagu-tsuchi in his fury. He tried to bring back Izanami from the world of yonder, Yomi no Kuni, but she had already eaten food of the Underworld and was unable to leave it. Izanagi had promised to not look at Izanami, however he was unable to keep his promise and turned around to only see her in a monstrous state. Izanami was furious and dispatched her underlings to chase Izanagi. The latter somehow managed to escape the underworld.
Izanami threatened to kill a thousand of Izanagi's people everyday, to which he replied that a thousand and five hundred will be born everyday.
Later on Izanagi gave birth to Amaterasu, Susanoo and Tsukuyomi.
Izanami no Mikoto was the first female goddess in Japanese pantheon. She is the goddess of creation and perish. The quarrel between the former couple caused the cycle of life and death.
Raijin is the Japanese god of lightning, thunder and storms. Raijin was given birth by Izanagi and Izanami. He is often portrayed as a demon-looking spirit who is beating his drums to call the lightning and thunder. In Japanese legends Raijin is often seen with his friend F?jin, the god of winds.
Raijin, also known as Owatatsumi is the Japanese god of the sea. Ry?jin is a unique god in the way that he is a dragon. Ry?jin lives under the ocean, in a palace made from red and white corals. His palace has a winter hall, where everything is covered with snow, a spring palace, where flowers and sakura trees blossom all year round, a summer hall filled with fireflies and finally an autumn hall with momiji trees. A day spent in Ry?jin's palace is equivalent to centuries in human world. Ry?jin controls the tides with the help of his magical pearl. Human's must be careful when approaching Ry?jin. No mortal can bear to look at him in his full might and stay alive. When Ry?jin is in a fury, storms start raging over the oceans.
Susanoo no Mikoto is the god of storms, and in some variations of Japanese legends the god of the seas. Susanoo is famous for his sibling rivalry with his sister Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun.
After being banished by the gods, Susanoo made an appearance to save the people of Japan from a furious eight-headed dragon. One of his offsprings is the god Okuninushi.
Tenjin is the Shinto god of scholarship, sciences and poetry. The word tenjin itself means "the heavenly god". He is the deification of a scholar and poet Sugawara no Michizane who lived in the 10th century. Michizane was a highly regarded politician who played a great role in the Japanese government. Unfortunately, Michizane fell victim to the plots of Fujiwara family and was exiled to Kyushu, where he eventually died. The legend tells that after Michizane's death a huge lot of unfortunate events came above the capital city and the Fujiwara family, which lost a lot of it's leading members. The emperor came to the conclusion that the only way to end these happenings was to calm the angry spirit of Michizane. Since then people started worshipping him as one of the leading gods of Japan.
Tsukuyomi no Mikoto is the god of the moon in the Japanese pantheon. Tsukuyomi was born together with his siblings Amaterasu and Susanoo to their father, Izanagi. Tsukuyomi and Amaterasu became a couple and lived together in the heavenly kingdom, the so called Takamagahara. However, their married life ended when Tsukuyomi killed the goddess of food and angered Amaterasu with this action of his. Furious Amaterasu banished him from his side. This caused the sun and the moon to be separated and hence the day and the night came to be.