Setting Up Your Own Kamidana


In the Shinto tradition (神道), there is a practice of creating a sacred space in our homes. This isn't exclusive to Shinto, as many other spiritual traditions in Japan also do the same. This sacred space is consistently known as a “Kamidana” (神棚). It is before the Kamidana that we meditate, pray and express a grateful heart to Kami-sama (神様) when we're unable to attend a temple or shrine. However, a Kamidana isn't something you should set up without serious thought and consideration for the tradition and responsibilities that come with it. It is important that you first live the spiritual truths in your actions and attitudes on a daily basis. A Kamidana isn't something cheap or to be taken lightly, and if cared for properly can last for generations and passed down to your descendants. You should only establish a Kamidana in your home when you have a firm commitment to live the principles, since the Kamidana is a divine space where you meet Kami-sama. It is also important that you know which expression of Kami-sama you feel drawn to. Various expressions of the One, Supreme Absolute have different ways in which the Kamidana is set up. When you set up the sacred space, you're inviting Kami-sama to come dwell with you and your family. It renders your home itself a sacred space, wherein the highest principles of spiritual life should guide out thoughts, attitudes and actions. Essentially, when you set up a Kamidana, you're entering into a much deeper relationship with Kami-sama, and that should never be taken lightly.

Setting Up the Kamidana

The Kamidana should be placed in a quiet, clean, open space. The best spaces are a living room, dining room, or family room. Traditionally it is placed on a shelf on the wall, but can also be set up on a bookshelf or a small table. The area should be free from the potential for the Kamidana to be disturbed or damaged by children and pets. When you meditate or pray before the Kamidana, it should be above eye level. So, if you set it up on a small table you'll want to be sitting or in seiza (on your knees) when you meditate. However, if you prefer to stand when you meditate, pray, etc., then you'll want it high. Make sure that no matter where you set it up that you can reach it comfortably. Never place the Kamidana on the floor. You will also want to be very certain that the space is clean at all times, not noisy and isn't placed over a doorway. It is also important that the Kamidana be facing either the South or East. My personal preference is for the East, which is the direction of the rising sun.

Types of Kamidana

Kamidana generally have a common set up with a Miyagata (宮形) (small shrine) on a Tanaita (棚板) (shelf) and a full Shingu (神具) (offering vessels/sacred tools) set. While this is traditional, it can be very expensive to get these items; especially overseas. There are various alternatives, such as modern-style simplistic Kamidana, having an Ofuda-Tate (御札 立) (small wooden stand) for an Ofuda, and so on. Whether you use a Miyagata, an Ofuda-Tate, a simplistic modern Kamidana, paper Kamidana, etc. this will be placed in the center of the shelf, and it will be the place to hold the main object of meditation and worship. For simplicity sake, let's refer to this item and the object of worship as the "shrine" In front of this shrine, we have the Shingu or sacred tools. We usually place a Shinkyou (神鏡) (Sacred mirror) in front of the shrine. We also have the offering vessels - generally you make offerings of rice, sake, salt, and water every morning. The offering vessels in a traditional Kamidana setting are: One Mizutama (水玉) or Suiki (水器) (Round vessel) for Water, two Heishi or Heiji (瓶子) (Bottles) for sake, Two Hiraka (平瓦) Kawarake [皿] (Plate) for rice, and salt. We also use Sakaki-tate (榊立) (Sakaki branch holder) to offer branches of Sakaki (榊), the sacred evergreen tree in Shinto, to Kami-sama as well. There are many more types of Shingu that can be used, such as the tray type: Sanbo (三宝), Oshiki (折 敷) and other sacred items may be present such as Torii (鳥居) (Shrine Gate marking sacred space), Saisenbako (賽銭箱) (Money Offering Box), Masakaki (真榊) (Items representing 3 sacred treasures and 5 colored silk), Engimono (縁起物) (amulets/lucky items from shrines) or Ema (絵馬) (plaque for writing requests to Kami-sama) Prayer Ofuda (祈札) (from a shrine ceremony) and so on. However, it is best to leave the Kamidana generally clear and neat. Less is more. You can purchase what you need HERE.

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