Brief history of Shinto:
Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion. Starting about 500 BCE (or
earlier) it was originally "an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and
shamanism." 4 Its name was derived from the Chinese words "shin tao" ("The Way of the Gods")
in the 8th Century CE. At that time:
||The Yamato dynasty
consolidated its rule over most of Japan.|
were ascribed to the imperial family.|
itself as an official religion of Japan, along with Buddhism.|
The complete separation of Japanese religion from politics did not
occur until just after World War II. The Emperor was forced by the American army to renounce his divinity at that time.
Unlike most other religions, Shinto has no real founder, no written
scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood.
stories tell of the history and lives of the "Kami" (deities). Among them was a divine couple, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto,
who gave birth to the Japanese islands. Their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans. Amaterasu Omikami
(Sun Goddess) was one of their daughters. She is the ancestress of the Imperial Family and is regarded as the chief deity.
Her shrine is at Ise. Her descendants unified the country. Her brother, Susano came down from heaven and roamed throughout
the earth. He is famous for killing a great evil serpent.|
||The Kami are
the Shinto deities. The word "Kami" is generally translated "god" or "gods." However, the Kami bear little resemblance to
the gods of monotheistic religions. There are no concepts which compare to the Christian beliefs in the wrath of God,
his omnipotence and omni-presence, or the separation of God from humanity due to sin. There are numerous other deities who
are conceptualized in many forms:
to natural objects and creatures, from "food to rivers to rocks." 2|
of particular areas and clans|
including all but the last of the emperors.|
They are seen as generally benign; they sustain and
protect the people. 9
||About 84% of the population
of Japan follow two religions: both Shinto and Buddhism. (As in much of Asia, Christianity is quite rarely. 12
Fewer than 1% of adults are Christians.) Buddhism first arrived in Japan from Korea and China during the 6th through
8th centuries CE. The two religions share a basic optimism about human
nature, and for the world. Within Shinto, the Buddha was viewed as another "Kami". Meanwhile, Buddhism in Japan regarded
the Kami as being manifestations of various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Most weddings are performed by Shinto priests; funerals
are performed by Buddhist priests.|
||Shinto does not have
as fully developed a theology as do most other religions. It does not have its own moral code. Shintoists generally follow
the code of Confucianism. |
texts discuss the "High Plain of Heaven" and the "Dark Land" which is an unclean land of the dead, but give
few details of the afterlife.|
deeply revered and worshipped.|
||All of humanity
is regarded as "Kami's child." Thus all human life and human nature is sacred.|
"musuhi", the Kamis' creative and harmonizing powers. They aspire to have "makoto", sincerity or true heart.
This is regarded as the way or will of Kami.|
||Morality is based
upon that which is of benefit to the group. "Shinto emphasizes right practice, sensibility, and attitude." 2|
||There are "Four
- Tradition and the family: The family is seen
as the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved. Their main celebrations relate to birth and marriage.
- Love of nature: Nature is sacred; to be in contact
with nature is to be close to the Gods. Natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits.
- Physical cleanliness: Followers of Shinto take
baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their mouth often.
- "Matsuri": The worship and honor given to the
Kami and ancestral spirits.
||The desire for
peace, which was suppressed during World War II, has been restored.|
many sacred places: mountains, springs, etc.|
||Each shrine is
dedicated to a specific Kami who has a divine personality and responds to sincere prayers of the faithful. When entering a
shrine, one passes through a Tori a special gateway for the Gods. It marks the demarcation between the finite world
and the infinite world of the Gods.|
||In the past,
believers practiced "misogi,", the washing of their bodies in a river near the shrine. In recent years they only wash
their hands and wash out their mouths in a wash basin provided within the shrine grounds.|
animals as messengers of the Gods. A pair of statues of "Koma-inu" (guard dogs) face each other within the temple grounds.|
which include cleansing, offerings, prayers, and dances are directed to the Kami.|
are ritual dances accompanied by ancient musical instruments. The dances are performed by skilled and trained dancers. They
consist of young virgin girls, a group of men, or a single man.|
are charms worn as an aid in healing and protection. They come in many different forms for various purposes.|
||An altar, the
"Kami-dana" (Shelf of Gods), is given a central place in many homes.|
are held at spring planting, fall harvest, and special anniversaries of the history of a shrine or of a local patron spirit.
A secular, country-wide National Founding Day is held on FEB-11 to commemorate the founding of Japan; this is the traditional
date on which the first (mythical) emperor Jinmu ascended the throne in 660 BCE. Some shrines are believed to hold festivities
on that day. Other festivals include: JAN 1-3 Shogatsu (New Year); MAR-3 Hinamatsuri (Girls' festival); MAY-5 Tango no Sekku
(Boys' festival); JUL-7 Hoshi Matsuri (Star festival).|
expected to visit Shinto shrines at the times of various life passages. For example, the Shichigosan Matsuri involves
a blessing by the shrine Priest of girls aged three and seven and boys aged five. It is held on NOV-15.|
are involved in the "offer a meal movement," in which each individual bypasses a breakfast (or another meal) once per
month and donates the money saved to their religious organization for international relief and similar activity.|
("Paper of the spirits"): This is a Japanese folk art in which paper is folded into beautiful shapes. They are often seen
around Shinto shrines. Out of respect for the tree spirit that gave its life to make the paper, origami paper is never cut.|
Forms of Shinto:
Shinto exists in four main forms or traditions:
(The Shinto of the Imperial House): This involves rituals performed by the emperor, who the Japanese Constitution defines
to be the "symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." The most important ritual is Niinamesai, which makes
an offering to the deities of the first fruits of each year's grain harvest. Male and female clergy (Shoten and Nai-Shoten)
assist the emperor in the performance of these rites.|
||Jinja (Shrine) Shinto:
This is the largest Shinto group. It was the original form of the religion; its roots date back into pre-history. Until the
end of World War II, it was closely aligned with State Shinto. The Emperor of Japan was worshipped as a living God. Almost
all shrines in Japan are members of Jinja Honcho, the Association of Shinto Shrines. It currently includes about
80,000 shrines as members. The association urges followers of Shinto
- "To be grateful for the blessings of Kami and the benefits
of the ancestors, and to be diligent in the observance of the Shinto rites, applying oneself to them with sincerity. brightness,
and purity of heart."
- "To be helpful to others and in the world at large through
deeds of service without thought of rewards, and to seek the advancement of the world as one whose life mediates the will
- "To bind oneself with others in harmonious acknowledgment
of the will of the emperor, praying that the country may flourish and that other peoples too may live in peace and prosperity."
Shinto (aka Shuha Shinto): This consists of 13 sects which were founded by individuals since the start of the 19th century.
Each sect has its own beliefs and doctrines. Most emphasize worship of their own central deity; some follow a near-monotheistic
Shinto This is not a separate Shinto group; it has no formal central organization or creed. It is seen in local rural practices
and rituals, e.g. small images by the side of the road, agriculture rituals practiced by individual families, etc. A rural
community will often select a layman annually, who will be responsible for worshiping the local deity.|
These four forms are closely linked. Shinto is a tolerant religion
which accepts the validity of other religions. It is common for a believer to pay respects to other religions, their practices
and objects of worship.
Many texts are valued in the Shinto religion. Most date from the
8th century CE:
||The Kojiki (Record
of Ancient Matters)|
(Six National Histories)|
||The Shoku Nihongi
and its Nihon Shoki (Continuing Chronicles of Japan)|
||The Jinno Shotoki
(a study of Shinto and Japanese politics and history) written in the 14th century|
Number of adherents:
Estimates of the number of adherents are hopelessly unreliable. Some
sources give numbers in the range of 2.8 to 3.2 million. One states that 40% of Japanese adults follow Shinto; that would
account for about 50 million adherents. Others state that about 86% of Japanese adults follow a combination of Shinto and
Buddhism; that would put the number of followers of Shinto at 107 million.
One source estimates 1000 followers of Shinto in North America. The
Canadian Census (1991) recorded only 445 in Canada.
Essentially all followers of Shinto are Japanese. It is difficult
for a foreigner to embrace Shintoism. Unlike most other religions, there is no book to help a person learn about the religion.
It is transmitted from generation to generation by experiencing the rituals together as a group.
Some Internet References:
- "Shinto: A Portrait" is at: http://www.silcom.com/~origin/sbcr/sbcr131
- "Shinto, the Way of the Gods" is at: http://www.trincoll.edu/~tj/tj4.4.96/articles/cover.html
- "Shinto and Buddhism: the Wellsprings of Japanese Spirituality"
is at: http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/readings/r000009.htm
- "The Fountainhead of Miracles," is at: http://www.shinreikyo.or.jp
- "The Jinja Shinto (The Shrine Shinto)," is at: http://www.jinja.or.jp/
- "Shinto," by the Jinja Online Network League is at: http://www.jinja.or.jp/english/s-0.html
- "Shinto Online Network Association," is at: http://www.jinja.or.jp/english/index.html
- "Schauwecker's Guide to Japan: Shinto," is at: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2056.html
- "Paul Watt," "Shinto & Buddhism: Wellsprings of Japanese spirituality,"
- Pictures of Shinto shrines are at: http://www.kiku.com/electric_samurai/cyber_shrine/
- Yahoo has a list of Shinto links at: http://dir.yahoo.com/Society_and_Culture/
- "Potpourri," at: http://poza.net/japan/living9.html
- JapanZone has an essay on Shinto at: http://www.japan-zone.com/omnibus/shinto.shtml They also have many essays on Japanese culture, climate, history etc.