This brief, or beginning, glossary is intended to assist the reader in getting started in the study of esoteric Koshinto. Koshinto or old Shinto is the link to the religion we call Shinto today. Our aim, however, is to uncover and understand the origins of the religion when it was still a spiritual practice.


The earliest shrines were the himorogi and iwasaka. Himorogi represent the Sacred Tree of Life. Himorogi  神 籬 , ひもろぎ refers to a tree (or grove of trees) that captures the sun’s energy.  A verable himorogi tree is marked with a shimenawa, straw rope indicating a sacred object. “Hi” of course is the sun, “gi/ki” is tree.

Kami were present in the sacred enclosures called iwasaka  岩 境 , いわさか, the interior of a boundary (“saka”) of stones, “iwa.”  Iwasaka stone groupings are the prototype of the Shinto shrine, and they became the inspiration of the Japanese landscape garden which Westerners call the Zen garden.

I must caution the reader not to place undue emphasis on the kanji for the different terms. Remember, the spoken words were written in ancient scripts before the introduction of Chinese characters, so that the same ancient word can be written in different kanji.

Further, ancient language was kototama, having powerful energies.

Moreover, the same word could have many meanings, many layers of meanings. Take “hi” for example. It is the word for sun, day, and fire. “Hi” is also one as in hitotsu, and in the Hi Fu Mi kototama, the sacred sounds of the numbers one through ten, hundred, thousand, myriad, and so on.

KOTOTAMA   ことたま   言 霊

Kototama is an esoteric system of Japanese semantics. Perhaps I should say “the” rather than “an.”  This word-soul doctrine has adepts who claim that it lays hold of all-compelling truth of the universe.

The sounds of kototama are often written in kana, i.e., katakana or hiragana, the syllabic alphabet. The kanji above are “word” “spirit.”  The power of the word, 言 こと, can result in manifestation of the thing or deed,  事 こと.

Sometimes the spelling is given as “kotodama.” Westerners are familiar with the spelling, kototama, through the books of Western students of the aikido master, Morihei Ueshiba. See, for example, W. Gleason, Aikido and Words of Power: The Sacred Sounds of Kototama.

“Tama” can be spirit/soul,  霊  たま, or jewel,  玉  たま.  霊  is also read  れい, “rei,” spirit.

KAMI   神  かみ

We shall in general keep the word “kami” untranslated, although it has the meaning of deity or spirit. Deeper meaning should become clearer from the context and the philosophical worldview from whence the term arose.

“Kami” has multiple meanings, at first glance unrelated; upon further thought they may be connected.

紙   かみ paper (used for writing sacred words, Fujisawa)

髪   かみ hair (having strong magnetic power of divinity, Fujisawa)

上   かみ upper, as in upper reaches of a river

Observe that:

“Ka” 火 か  fire – represents the verticality of time

“Mi”  水  みず water – represents the horizontality of space

Kami then represents the joining of fire and water, male and female, heaven and earth, time and space.

The verticality of time meets the horizontality of space in the NAKA-IMA, the Middle-Now, the Eternal Now.

The scholar Sakakura Atsuyoshi has suggested that kami comes from the verb “kumu,” to be hidden. The word “kami” originally meant “source” while the word “shimo” (usually writen with the kanji for “down”) meant “end.” Thus “source” and “spirit” share the same root, “kami.”

Kami is the “hidden mode of existence of spirit.” [Sonoda, 2006]

Kami are the productive pulsing power of Tai-ichi or Taikyoku (in Japanese), whose logo is the yin-yang symbol of curved dark region with white dot and a curved white region with dark dot. Alternatingly, the white dot in the dark enlarges into a large white region with a dark dot, while the large white region shrinks into a dot in a large dark region. Thus the polar opposites pulse and cycle endlessly.


The Japanese religion now called Shinto is perhaps more properly described as Kami no Michi, the Way of the Kami. Of course, in ancient days, the spiritual tradition of the people did not require a name; they all knew what it was. The term Shinto was introduced to distinguish that religion from the other major religion of Buddhism.

However, in these pages, we are interested in the esoteric tradition of this Way as a spiritual path to Great Truth and Wisdom.

Fujisawa [1959] sees the Way of Kami as “a dialectical synthesis of the diversifyingly expansive potency and the unifyingly contractive potency, which will polarize from Ultimate Reality being identical with Cosmic Vital Energy, l’elan vital.”

MICHI.  Further, Fujisawa points out that “michi” means sacred blood (みmi ちchi) that centrifugally springs from the heart of Kami and centripetally returns to it, perpectually circulating.

Mi, three, an auspicious number

Mi, body

Mi, fruit

Chi, blood

Chi, earth

Chi, deity

Here, we see indications of Kami no Michi as the Tree of Life.

The Japanese scholar of religion Sonoda Minoru has described Shinto as “the ritual means by which early Japanese transformed their natural surroundings into a cultural landscape infused with religious and historical meaning” (Sonoda 2000).


“Matsuri is the occasion when the hidden kami appear in the form of a mikoto…It is because the spirit of things are kami that rites are performed for them, and without rites, without matsuri, they cannot be kami. [Sonoda, 2006]


Jinja is a word translated as “shrine.” The places where matsuri are performed for the kami are the sanctuaries known as jinja or kami no yashiro, says Sonoda. Yashiro is a residence or a palace. The shrine buildings that we see today have evolved from himorogi and iwasaka.


Musubi is generative energy from the sun. Related words are umusu, begetting; musu, to fecundate/brew/steam; bi, Hi, the sun, fire, light, life, soul, deity. Musubi has forward exhaling motion and backward inhaling motion.

Musubi also means binding or connecting things for a new life, i.e., generative binding. Thus, through the harmonious collaboration of the Musubi Kami (see below) all things can generate, grow and ripen. Musubi in this sense is considered a cosmic principle.

Thirdly, musubi means completion or conclusion.


High Productive Kami. This kami is the forward movement. See also Koto Amatsu Kami.

Takagi no Kami is an alternate name, meaning high tree deity, growing life and the Tree of Life, the life cycle from seed to seed.

Characteristics: forward







Divine Productive Kami. This kami is the backward movement.

Characteristics: backward







HITO, man/person


Fujisawa, Chikao, 1958, Concrete Universality of the Japanese Way of Thinking, a new Interpretation of Shinto

—, 1959, Zen and Shinto

Sonoda, Minoru, 2006, Symbolism of Spiritual Life in Shinto Tradition, in Symbolic Languages in shinto Tradition, Shinto Kokusai Gakkai, Tokyo.