Web Article on Shinto Beliefs:
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
Divine origins were ascribed to the imperial
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 creation 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
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: Those related to
natural objects and creatures, from "food to
rivers to rocks." 2
Guardian Kami of particular areas and clans
Exceptional people, including all but the last
of the emperors.
Abstract creative forces
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.
Their religious 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
Ancestors are deeply revered and worshipped.
All of humanity is regarded as "Kami's child."
Thus all human life and human nature is sacred.
Believers revere "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 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
Physical cleanliness: Followers of Shinto take
baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their
"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.
Shinto recognizes many sacred places: mountains,
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.
Believers respect animals as messengers of the
Gods. A pair of statues of "Koma-inu" (guard dogs)
face each other within the temple grounds.
Shrine ceremonies, which include cleansing,
offerings, prayers, and dances are directed to the
Kagura 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.
Mamori are charms worn as an aid in healing and
protection. They come in many different forms for
An altar, the "Kami-dana" (Shelf of Gods), is
given a central place in many homes.
Seasonal celebrations 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).
Followers are 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.
Many followers 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
Origami ("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:
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
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 of
"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
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.
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.
These three forms are closely linked. An image may be
installed by a member of one of the Sectarian Shinto
sects who worships at a particular shrine. 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.
Many texts are valued in the Shinto religion. Most date
from the 8th century CE:
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
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
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:
"Shinto, the Way of the Gods" is at:
"Shinto and Buddhism: the Wellsprings of Japanese
Spirituality" is at:
"The Fountainhead of Miracles," is at:
"The Jinja Shinto (The Shrine Shinto)," is at:
"Shinto," by the Jinja Online Network League is at:
"Shinto Online Network Association," is at:
"Schauwecker's Guide to Japan: Shinto," is at:
"Paul Watt," "Shinto & Buddhism: Wellsprings of
Japanese spirituality," at:
Pictures of Shinto shrines are at:
Yahoo has a list of Shinto links at:
"Potpourri," at: http://poza.net/japan/living9.html
JapanZone has an essay on Shinto at:
also have many essays on Japanese culture, climate,
Books on Shinto
Amazon.com's online bookstore:
The Gods Come Dancing
Donald L. Philippi...
Sokyo, Dr. Ono
The Arts of Shinto
Shinto the Kami Way
A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrin...
John K. Nelson
Shinto Meditations for Revering the ...
Stuart D. B. Picke...
Initially published on 1995-NOV-24
Copyright © 1995, 1997, and 1999 to 2002 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update on 2002-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson