The Magic and Beauty of 鏡 Mirrors in Shinto Shrines

Mirrors play an important role in Shinto and Buddhist Shines in Japan. Tamaki Jinja Shinto Shrine, Nara, Japan
Mirror at shrine to Amaterasu at Tamaki Jinja Shinto Shrine, Nara Prefecture, Japan. A shrine’s mirror on an alter is often angled for the effect that the spirit of the kami is reflected within the person looking in the mirror.

Mirrors 鏡, kagami, have a magical element to them in Japan. You see them everywhere at Shinto as well as Buddhist Shrines. I find them mysterious, beautiful and spiritual reflections of the other world. It was a mirror that lured the Sun Goddess Amaterasu out of her cave. Writers in Kyoto Founder John Dougill’s blog Green Shinto has an inexorable amount of information about them. I especially love the one about Queen Himiko’s Magic Mirror, a makkyo 魔鏡

Mirrors play an important role in Shinto and Buddhist Shines in Japan. Sumiyoshi Taisha Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.
Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shinto Shrine, Osaka Prefecture, Japan.

Here is Sensei Masashi Nakamura’s answer to my question to him about the significance of mirrors:

Mirrors play an important role in Shinto and Buddhist Shines in Japan. Sumiyoshi Taisha Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.
Detail of mirror at Sumiyoshi Taisha Grand Shinto Shrine, Osaka Prefecture, Japan.

“Why is a mirror enshrined in shrines? This proposition is very important. In this case, the mirror is called a 神体 – Shintai: deity body. The 神体 Shintai: deity body is a deity’s 依代;Yorishiro, but it is enshrined like a deity. 依代 Yorishiro is an object to which a spirit is summoned, or drawn to an object or animal and is occupied by a kami 神.

Mirrors play an important role in Shinto and Buddhist Shines in Japan. Ohatsu Tenjin Shinto Shrine in Osaka, Japan.
I love this mirror at Ohatsu Tenjin Shinto Shrine in Osaka, Japan. A mirror is a reflection of our inner selves. Pray for inner beauty!

Originally before the construction of a shrine, the 依代 Yorishiro of deities were mountains and large stones. However, in the Meiji era, National religion of Shinto was re-established with Amaterasu as the supreme deity. Probably the mirror means Amaterasu and the sun. So, at shrines, mirror, one of the three sacred treasures of emperor, began to be enshrined as the 神体 Shinta – deity body.”

Mirrors play an important role in Shinto and Buddhist Shines in Japan. Tosainari Shinto Shrine in Osaka, Japan.
Self-portrait with Inari at Tosainari Shinto Shrine, Osaka, Japan.

Naturally, that deity’s reflection is also YOU. We humans are a part of divine nature and a mirror reflects that divinity back to us. Tvat Tvam Asi, thou art that. I had also read on a omikuri from Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine that a mirror is also a reflection of the health of one’s body.

“Keep your mind like a mirror, pure and clean, free from dust, free from flaws, free from stain, and just reflect everything that goes on but don’t be attached.” – Alan Watts

5 thoughts on “The Magic and Beauty of 鏡 Mirrors in Shinto Shrines

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.