The story of Tama, the stray cat turned stationmaster at Kishi Station in Wakayama, has caught the attention of UK media for the incredible reaction towards her death at the age of 16. Tama was given a full funeral service, attended by by 3,000 well-wishers, and she to be enshrined under the title of “Tama Daimyojin” – “Illustrious Deity Tama.”
This episode not only reminds us of the importance of animism and nature-worship in Shinto, but also its role in rituals surrounding death. Most do not think of Shinto as being associated with death and funerals – that role usually goes to Buddhism in Japan – but it’s not true that Shinto has nothing to say about the afterlife. The fact is, a great number of kami in the Shinto tradition were formerly great noblemen, priests and other pillars of the community who attained godhood upon their deaths. So in fact, Shinto is very much rooted in a belief in the continuation of life after death. According to Shinto, all of us have the potential to become kami in the next life.