Defining kami is not easy. It is best to think of a kami as something that produces the emotions of awe or fear. A kami can be positive, but it always possesses a miraculous, mysterious power. A kami is either the power itself or something that possesses such power. Rather than translating kami as “god/gods,” it is safer to translate it as “deity/deities.”
Japanese tradition refers to yao-yorozu-no-kami, which means “myriads of deities.” But there are two main categories of kami. One kind is the heavenly or earthly kami mentioned in Japanese mythology. The other includes those connected with natural phenomena, those connected with historical people and those who are connected with prosperity, commerce and occupations. Farmers, fishermen, and hunters each have their own deities.
Natural phenomena that are considered kami are Mt. Fuji, other impressive mountains, waterfalls, peculiar rocks, unique or ancient trees, thunder and lightning. In the animal world, deer, snakes and foxes are considered kami. Among humans, over a period of time, the 9th-century court scholar Sugawara no Michizane became deified as Temman Tenjin, patron saint of scholarship. The first Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was deified as Daigongen at the Toshogu shrine at Nikko.