Shinto is an ancient Japanese
religion. Starting about 500 B.C. (or earlier) it was originally "an
amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero
worship, and shamanism." Its name was derived from the Chinese words
"shin tao" ("The Way of the Gods") in the 8th
Century A.D.. At that time:
The Yamato dynasty consolidated its
rule over most of Japan.
Divine origins were ascribed to the
Shinto established 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.
Shinto exists in four main forms or
Koshitsu Shinto (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
Kyoha (Sectarian) 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
Minzoku (Folk) 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.
Shinto is a tolerant religion which
accepts the validity of other religions. It is common for a believer to pay
respect to other religions, their practices and objects of worship. 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.
Many texts are valued in the Shinto
religion. Most date from the 8th century A.D.:
The Kojiki (Record of Ancient
The Rokkokushi (Six National
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
There are "Four
Affirmations" in Shinto:
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.
Followers of Shinto take baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their
worship and honor given to the Kami and ancestral spirits.
The Kami are the Shinto deities. The
word "Kami" is generally translated "god" or "gods." There are numerous
other deities who are conceptualized in many forms. They are seen as generally benign;
they sustain and protect the people.
Those related to natural objects
and creatures, from "food to rivers to rocks."
Guardian Kami of particular
areas and clans
Exceptional people, including
all but the last of the emperors.
Abstract creative forces
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.
They believe ancestors are to be deeply revered and
They believe all of humanity is to be regarded as
"Kami's child." Thus all human life and human nature is
the Kamis' creative and harmonizing powers. They aspire to have
sincerity or true heart. This is regarded as the way or will of Kami.
They believe morality should be based upon that which is
of benefit to the group. "Shinto emphasizes right practice,
sensibility, and attitude."
They believe in peace but that was
suppressed during World War II and has since then been restored.
They believe there are 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
special gateway for the gods. It marks the boundry between the finite
world and the infinite world of the gods.
They believe in respecting animals as
messengers of the gods.