Kami (神) is the Japanese word for the spirits, natural forces, or essence in the Shinto faith. Although the word is sometimes translated as "god" or "deity," some Shinto scholars argue that such a translation can cause a misunderstanding of the term. The wide variety of usage of the word can be compared to the Sanskrit Deva and the Hebrew Elohim, which also refer to God, gods, angels or spirits.
In some instances, such as Izanagi-no-Mikoto and Izanami-no-Mikoto, kami are personified deities, similar to the gods of ancient Greece or Rome. In other cases, such as those concerning the phenomenon of natural emanation, the spirits dwelling in trees, or forces of nature, translating "kami" exclusively as "god" or "deity" would be a gross mis-characterization. In this respect it is more similar to the Roman concept of the numen or spirit.
Kami may, at its root, simply mean "spirit", or an aspect of spirituality. It is written with the kanji "神", Sino-Japanese reading shin or jin; in Chinese, the character is used to refer to various nature spirits of traditional Chinese religion, but not to the Taoist deities or the Supreme Being. An apparently cognate form, perhaps a loanword, occurs in the Ainu language as kamuy and refers to an animistic concept very similar to Japanese kami. Following the discovery of the Jōdai Tokushu Kanazukai it is now known that the medieval word kami (上) meaning "above" is a false cognate with the modern kami (神), and the etymology of "heavenly beings" is therefore incorrect. Shinto kami are located within the world and not above it.
Because Japanese does not normally distinguish singular and plural in nouns, it is sometimes unclear whether kami refers to a single or multiple entities. When a singular concept is needed, "-kami" (神) or "-kamisama" (神様) is used as a suffix. It is often said jokingly that there are "eight million kami" (八百万の神 happyakuman no kami) in Japan. This is because "八百万" can be read in two different ways, often meaning "countless" (八百万 ya-o-yorozu) instead.
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