Jun Akiyama wrote:
In this case, of course, the kanji character for "kami" is "upper" rather than "deity." (I'm sure Fred knows this -- just a footnote for those who might not...)
Thanks for pointing that out Jun!
It's more than a footnote or a pesky homonym, actually. This is a good example to look at for one of the reasons I advise caution in adaptation of religious texts.
Historically speaking, many Japanese could not read kanji. So for those who didn't read kanji, what you have is less two words that sound alike than a meaning cluster associated with one sequence of sounds.
Or looked at another way, while a reader will quite correctly point out (as Jun has) that the two distinct meanings are DENOTED differently in writing, each DENOTATION still carries a trace of the other meaning as a CONNOTATION. Even when clearly and explicitly distinguished in writing, the implicit connection remains.
Witness my first post, sometimes even a reader will have the connotation come to mind first. And in many cases, ritual texts and tranmission scrolls are written so as to be fully intelligible only to someone who has been given the inner teachings of a -ryu or -shu, teachings which may include alternative kanji for the same "word." Professor Susan Klein has done significant work in this area in relation to the Ise Monogatari and a variety of guides to the craft of poetry in medieval Japan which goes into such questions in some detail.
On the other hand, even without such homonyms, a lot of these kinds of meaning clusters carry across cultures. Think of the emphasis on keeping the kamiza/kamidana/shinden area clean
"Aikido is misogi."
"Aikido is a means of aligning oneself with the kami."
with something you may have heard years before you started training in aikido:
"Cleanliness is next to godliness."
Hope this helps,