A kamidana, literally a spirit shelf, is a small household shrine used in Japanese Shinto practice. The kamidana provides a place for veneration of the kami, the native spirits of Japan. I decided before my last trip to Japan that I would set up a kamidana as one of my altars.
The kamidana should be placed up high in the room, facing east or south. My kamidana is on top of a high bookshelf facing south. Ideally it is in a place no one walks over; I have a one story house and, in fact the attic over this room is about 24" tall. The key items in the kamidana are O-fuda, which contain the kami/spirits. This kamidana enshrines O-fuda of Inari, Abe no Seimei and kami of the Shimogamo shrine.
Inari is a kami of rice, wealth, prosperity and health. Inari Okami, literally great kami, has the place of honor in the middle of the kamidana. The Inari O-fuda in this kamidana comes from one of the oldest and most famous Inari shrines, Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto, which I visited again on my 2015 trip. I was able to spend more time there in 2014 when I walked the circuit up and around the hills that Fushimi Inari-taisha is built on, lined with thousands of the red torii (gates) typical of Inari shrines. Also typical of Inari shrines are the statutes of kitsune (foxes) that guard the torii and shrines. You can see two white fox guardians on my kamidana.
On the right hand side of the kamidana is the O-fuda of Abe no Seimei a famous onmyoji of the Heian period. Onmyodo combines Chinese astrology, astronomy, feng shui and other types of Taoist magic melded with native Japanese divination and magic. Onmyodo is probably the closest Eastern equivalent to astrological magic, so I feel a real affinity to Abe no Semei! I like to visit his shrine in Kyoto and on my 2015 had a special ritual and received the O-fuda of Abe no Seimei now enshrined on the right of my kamidana.
The final O-fuda on the left of the kamidana is from the Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto. I like the 3 legged magic crow that is associated with this shrine.
Above is a labelled picture of my kamidana. You can see the Inari O-fuda in the middle and the Abe no Seimei O-fuda to right and Shimogamo Shrine O-fuda to left. This kamidana is "modern" because the O-fuda are in the open. In more traditional kamidana there are doors to place the O-fuda behind which are usually kept shut. This is typical of Japanese practice. Goshintai, the physical objects containing kami, are often hidden in shrines and Buddhist temples will have images or statutes that are only displayed on rare occasions, sometimes not for years.
On the far right and left are vases containing sakaki, the sacred evergreen tree, which is used in many Shinto ceremonies. In the middle is the shinkyo, a sacred mirror and above it is a small shimenawa, sacred rice straw rope, which is used to delineate the sacred space for the kami. You often see shimenawa on shrine buildings and also on sacred rocks and trees. There is a small torii or gate in front of the O-fuda. In the front is an ozen or offering tray which contains special vessels for offerings. You can see two sake vases, plus water, salt and rice, the traditional kami offerings. You can also offer the kami any special foods you are eating that day!
So I am very pleased to begin my veneration of the kami. I hope they feel welcome so far away from Japan.
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