Shinto Concept of Sin
In Shinto, there is no concept of original sin or karma. But ancient Japanese considered all unhappy or unfortunate incidents, such as diseases or natural hazards, as sins. Yet, they were not the cause in the individual, but in external factors. And they considered sin to something adhere to people externally. So, people might be purified at shrines according to rituals known as oharai. The mechanism is expressed in the saying. “Hate the sin, but not the sinner.”
In Japanese mythology, there is an episode featuring the male kami, Izanagi. When his spouse, Izanami, died, he missed her so much that he went down to the other world of the dead. As a result, he himself became impure. Understanding this, he purified himself on returning to this world using water in order to revitalize himself. Izanagi thus became pure, and remarkably felicitous happenings occurred as result of this act of purification, namely the birth of three major deities of Japan, Amaterasu-ômikami (Sun kami), Tsukuyomino-Mikoto (Moon kami) and Susano-no-Mikoto.
This episode implies that the act of purification is the source of energy and productivity, and is essential not only for the salvation of the individual but of the nation. This is the reason for the Shinto emphasis on purification.
(Tsumi) and Impurity (Kegare)
Tsumi (罪) is a Japanese word that indicates the violation of legal, social or religious rules. It is most often used in the religious and moral sense. Originally, the word indicated a divine punishment due to the violation of a divine taboo through evil deeds, defilement (kegare) or disasters. When translated in English as “sin“, the term covers therefore only one of the three meanings of the Japanese word.
The term evolved to its present form as a contraction of tsutsumu (障む・恙む to hinder, be hindered, to have an accident, to have some trouble), a verb which very generally indicated the occurrence of a negative event. In ancient Japan the word thus indicated not only crimes and other forbidden human actions, but also diseases, disasters, pollution, ugliness and any other unpleasant object or fact.
The Engishiki, a 927 AD Japanese book of laws and regulations, for example, distinguishes two kinds of tsumi, the Amatsutsumi (天津罪 heaven tsumi) and the kunitsutsumi (国津罪 land tsumi). The first category deals with infractions against property, the second mainly with infractions against people. Some of the tsumi have to do with disease and natural disasters, and are not therefore sins in the modern sense, but order perturbations (kegare) which had to be dealt with and solved by the person or persons concerned in certain ways, for example through purification rites called harae.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia