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

                              of Japan.

                              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 beliefs:

                              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

                                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.



                        Shinto practices:

                              Shinto recognizes 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.

                              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

                              various purposes.

                              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

                                prosperity." 5


                              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.



                        Shinto texts:

                        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:

                          http://www.japan-zone.com/omnibus/shinto.shtml They

                          also have many essays on Japanese culture, climate,

                          history etc.


                        Books on Shinto

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                        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