Shinto gods. The word might more broadly be defined as divine spirits that animate people, heavenly bodies, or natural features or forces, and according to Shinto tradition there is an uncountable number of kami. Each might be considered a manifestation of a powerful, divine force. In general there are three categories of kami in Shinto belief: amatsu-kami, who are heavenly spirits; kunitsu-kami, who are earthly spirits; and phenomena of the natural world such as mountains, rivers, or trees. Among the most important of the first are such prominent deities as Amaterasu or Hachiman, kami who are worshipped at thousands of shrines across Japan. These heavenly kami are the ones who are thought to have the greatest influence in human affairs, and they possess both a benign aspect known as nigamitama and an unkind side referred to as aramitama. The kunitsu-kami include earlier emperors as well as important ancestors or, even, soldiers who have died in combat, such as those revered at the memorial Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. Among the famous natural kami, whose divinity might depend on such factors as the time of year, is Fujiyama, a revered mountain outside Tokyo, as well as Japan’s springtime cherry blossoms. SEE ALSO: Amaterasu; Inari; Shinto

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