Many religions can’t be summed up with words. They need to be practiced, experienced, or seen. Art, for example anime, is a medium that helps us learn about a religion. The behavior of an anime character, such as the performance of a specific custom or ritual, can act as a model of a common religious act. This can help us see the meaning behind the ritual. Japanese anime help us much more than many other forms of media in other areas is because the Japanese have a hard time explaining their own religious faiths. This is because it is seen less as religion and is more of traditions that were passed down from the family. This implies that anime can reveal how many people think of religion in Japan better than how individuals could describe it themselves. Some anime have more religious ties than others and some might have none at all. In particular, the animated film Spirited Away provides a number of examples of Shinto beliefs and practices, such as the presence of countless spiritual beings and an emphasis on purity.
There are dozens of spiritual beings in the film, and these beings resemble Shinto kami. In the film these spiritual beings come in many forms and can be either helpful or harmful to humans, just as Shinto kami are perceived to be. They are spirits that can neither be seen nor heard, but affect us on a daily basis, or when they are needed in the real world, but in the film they can be seen because Chihiro/ Sen is in their world. Spirited Away also has the iconography that has to do with many cleansing, or purification, ideas that are key in Shinto. The story entails a young girl, Chihiro/ Sen, who is moving to a new city. She and her parents take a wrong turn to the city. They walk through a tunnel and cross a dry riverbed and they pass into an old amusement park. They come to a food stall in the old amusement park that is not being attended and her parents start to eat. The young girl goes to look around and comes across a gigantic bathhouse. As it becomes dusk a young boy named Haku tries to get her out of the park and across the dry riverbed. She then finds that her parents have turned into pigs and the riverbed is filled with water. She becomes trapped in this realm of spiritual beings that have come to relax in the bathhouse and the food. This bathhouse is similar to Shintonotions of purification because it is seen as important to cleanse oneself of the pollutions of daily life (Boyd). “Tsumi is a dirty something that can be washed away by ablution and lustration (misogi harai). Wiping clean--lustration--restores the natural process, which is bright (akashi) and clean and beautiful. This also applies to the interior realities of human thought and intention: "the bad heart is a "dirty heart" which is malicious, and the pure heart is one which is not dirty--a bright heart that hides nothing. So the way of "straightening" or purification (harai) is basically the action of lustration, physically and mentally, which results in a condition of purity and beauty--wiping away the dust from the mirror. This aesthetic condition of beauty, in other words, is inseparable from a restored condition of purity” (Boyd andWilliams). This is the same for the spiritual beings that have come to wipe away their impurities. In the movie there are two relevant examples of this. One is when a stink spiritual being comes in to take a bath. Yubaba (the head of the bath house) has Sen give it a bath. While giving the bath she finds something stuck in its side. When everyone helps to take this out of its side it relieves the spirit of all of the baggage that it had. After it is purified the being seems to change and become a river spirit. These ideas are some of the main aspects of Shinto that spiritual beings can be all around us and that we are supposed to purify ourselves from time to time.
This story is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at all the anime that have some sort of religious ideology. This notion of cleansing that shows up throughout the movie just signifies how important purity is to Shinto. It even shows that spiritual beings that are beyond our perception need to do this as well.