Why Ancestor Worship?

Sep 23, 2020Blog, Culture, Shinto

What does it actually mean to worship one’s ancestors?

First of all, there are different ideas about the word “worship” and what it encompasses in a “religious” context. 

The preferred word veneration can be translated nicely into Japanese as sonkei (尊敬), which is more, “down-to-earth.”

While thinking about the Japanese society, and the social conventions to which the Japanese adhere, one came to the realization that venerating the ancestor, along with the Sun is the best way to express gratitude toward our world and what it gives us. 

By the way, Amaterasu Oomikami is the Japanese Sun Goddess.

Blazing Sun Upon Japan - Land Of The Rising Son

This notion of expressing gratitude to those who came before and the life giving energy of the Sun embodies a sense of unity with all people of the world, for we all share the Sun and each has ancestors. 

One has very fond memories of one particular ancestor—maternal grandfather.

Grandfather Richardson - Yukiko Akimoto -Land Of The Rising Son

As a child he had tuberculosis and was cared for in a small room for a year where ones Really Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather were simply waiting to see if he lived or died. 

Helen Otta Kean -Inglis-Richardson- Stephen Kean Filiatrault Great Grandmother

Fortunately for my mom and I, he lived (Dad is happy about this as well).

It was during this time in sickness where he read 100s of books which left him a very well read and enlightened man. 

One’s heart fills with fondness when recalling the time spent together with grandfather and his spirit being manifested.

This leaves feeling the spirit of grandfather as partially residing in the material world. 

One could say—once the last of the people directly touch by this extraordinary man pass away, this spirit of grandfather will also fade away. 

Even if this may be so, the spirits of the ancestors lives on in our alter along with all relatives who have already crossed the SANZU NO KAWA into the afterlife. Mitsunobu_Sanzu_River

Here in Japan, ancestors are remembered on specific holidays.

For example, the Autumn Equinox (Shūbun no Hi), usually occurring on September 22 or 23.

On this day, people will reconnect with their families by tending to the graves of ancestors, and visiting shrines and temples. 


Pragmatically so, the Japanese believe all virtue and frailty of being human are natural, and look upon all of the dearly departed as some kind of Gods, representing the entire spectrum of the human experience. 

One finds the inclusiveness of this way of thinking rather refreshing, and indeed to be a much more practical way to think about and live one’s own life.

Looking at ancestor veneration from a different lens, one also likes to celebrate present relatives who will one day become “ancestors.”

As when taking the in-laws on an overnight trip, and saying to the cherished and beloved mother-in-law.

“I believe we should also venerate our ancestor while still here on earth, so you also can celebrate this wonderful world you have sacrificed for your descendants while ya’ll are still here.”

She had a good laugh and concurred with these sentiments. 

Why not take some of one’s precious time now, and give thanks to our shared Sun Goddess while venerate one’s own ancestors, both living and dead, and let them know.

Kokoro yori kansha moshi agemasu