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Founder: Unknown

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 imperial family.

  • 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 traditions:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 near-monotheistic religion.

  4. 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 Matters)

  • The Rokkokushi (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

There are "Four Affirmations" in Shinto:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Physical cleanliness: Followers of Shinto take baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their mouth often.

  4. "Matsuri": The worship and honor given to the Kami and ancestral spirits.

Cult Beliefs:

  • 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 worshipped.

  • They believe all of humanity is to be regarded as "Kami's child." Thus all human life and human nature is sacred.

  • They revere 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.


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