Shinto (神道, Shintō) or kami-no-michi (among other names)[note 1]
is the traditional religion of
Japan that focuses on ritual practices
to be carried out diligently to establish a connection between
Japan and its ancient past.
Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written
historical records of the
Nihon Shoki in the 8th century.
Still, these earliest Japanese writings do not refer to a unified
religion, but rather to a collection of native beliefs and
Shinto today is the religion of public shrines devoted
to the worship of a multitude of 'spirits', 'essences' (kami),
suited to various purposes such as war memorials and harvest
festivals, and applies as well to various sectarian organizations.
Practitioners express their diverse beliefs through a standard
language and practice, adopting a similar style in dress and ritual,
dating from around the time of the Nara and Heian periods (8th–12th
Shinto (Way of the Gods) was adopted, originally as Jindō
or Shindō, from the written Chinese
Shendao (神道, pinyin: shén
dào),[note 2] combining two kanji: shin (神), meaning 'spirit' or
kami; and michi (道), 'path', meaning a philosophical path or study
(from the Chinese word dào). The oldest recorded usage of the
word Shindo is from the second half of the 6th century.
rendered in English as 'spirits', 'essences', or 'gods', and refers to
the energy generating the phenomena. Since the Japanese language
does not distinguish between singular and plural, kami also refers to
the singular divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple
forms: rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be
said to possess the nature of kami.
Kami and people are not
separate; they exist within the same world and share its interrelated
As much as nearly 80% of the population in
Japan participates in
Shinto practices or rituals, but only a small percentage of these
identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys. This is because
Shinto has different meanings in Japan. Most of the Japanese attend
Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional
Shinto religion. There are no formal rituals to become a
practitioner of "folk Shinto". Thus, "
Shinto membership" is often
estimated counting only those who do join organised
Shinto has 81,000 shrines and 85,000 priests in the country.
According to surveys carried out in 2006 and 2008, less than
40% of the population of
Japan identifies with an organised religion:
around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of
Shinto sects and
derived religions. In 2008, 26% of the participants reported often
Shinto shrines, while only 16.2% expressed belief in the
existence of a god or gods (神) in general.
According to Inoue (2003): "In modern scholarship, the term is often
used with reference to kami worship and related theologies, rituals
and practices. In these contexts, 'Shinto' takes on the meaning of
'Japan's traditional religion', as opposed to foreign religions such
as Christianity, Buddhism,
Islam and so forth."
Theology and cosmology
2.4 Creation of Japan
4.1 Notable shrines
5.5 Amulets and talismans
6.1 Historical records
6.6 Asuka Period
6.7 Hakuho Period
6.8 Nara Period
Syncretism with Buddhism
6.11 State Shinto
6.13 Sect Shinto
7 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Yutateshinji ceremony performed at the Miwa Shrine
Shinto religious expressions have been distinguished by scholars into
a series of categories:
Shrine Shinto (神社神道, Jinja-Shintō), the main tradition of
Shinto, has always been a part of Japan's history. It consists of
taking part in worship practices and events at local shrines. Before
the Meiji Restoration, shrines were disorganized institutions usually
Buddhist temples; in the Meiji Restoration, they were made
independent systematized institutions. The current successor to the
imperial organization system, the Association of
oversees about 80,000 shrines nationwide.
Shinto (皇室神道, Kōshitsu-Shintō) are the
religious rites performed exclusively by the imperial family at the
three shrines on the imperial grounds, including the Ancestral Spirits
Sanctuary (Kōrei-den) and the Sanctuary of the
Folk Shinto (民俗神道, Minzoku-Shintō) includes the numerous folk
beliefs in deities and spirits. Practices include divination, spirit
possession, and shamanic healing. Some of their practices come from
Taoism or Confucianism, but most come from ancient local
Sect Shinto (教派神道, Kyōha-Shintō) is a legal designation
originally created in the 1890s to separate government-owned shrines
from local organised religious communities. These communities
originated especially in the Edo period. The basic difference between
Shrine Shinto and
Sect Shinto is that sects are a later development
and grew self-consciously. They can identify a founder, a formal set
of teachings and even sacred scriptures.
Sect Shinto groups are
thirteen, and usually classified under five headings: pure Shinto
Shinto Taikyo, Shinrikyo and Izumo Oyashirokyo), Confucian
Shinto Shusei-ha and Taiseikyo/体制教 ),mountain worship
sects (Jikkokyo, Fusokyo and Mitakekyo or Ontakekyo), purification
sects (Shinshukyo and Misogikyo), and faith-healing sects
(Kurozumikyo／黒住教, Konkokyo/今故郷 and its branching
Omotokyo/お元教師 and Tenrikyo／天理教.
Koshintō (古神道, Ko-shintō), literally 'Old Shinto', is a
Shinto from before the time of Buddhism", today based
Ainu religion and Ryukyuan practices. It continues the restoration
movement begun by Hirata Atsutane.
Many other sects and schools can be distinguished. Faction Shinto
(宗派神道, Shūha-Shintō) is a grouping of Japanese new religions
developed since the second half of the 20th century that have
significantly departed from traditional
Shinto and are not always
regarded as part of it.
Theology and cosmology
Main article: Kami
Kami, shin, or, archaically, jin (神) is defined in English as "god",
"spirit", or "spiritual essence", all these terms meaning "the energy
generating a thing". Since the
Japanese language does not
distinguish between singular and plural, kami refers to the divinity,
or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms. Rocks, trees,
rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the
nature of kami.
Kami and people exist within the same world and
share its interrelated complexity.
Early anthropologists called
Shinto "animistic" in which animate and
inanimate things have spirits or souls that are worshipped. The
concept of animism in
Shinto is no longer current, however. Shinto
gods are collectively called yaoyorozu no kami (八百万の神), an
expression literally meaning "eight million kami", but interpreted as
meaning "myriad", although it can be translated as "many kami". There
is a phonetic variation, kamu, and a similar word in the Ainu
language, kamui. An analogous word is mi-koto.
Kami refers particularly to the power of phenomena that inspire a
sense of wonder and awe in the beholder (the sacred), testifying to
the divinity of such a phenomenon. It is comparable to what Rudolf
Otto described as the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, which
translates as "fearful and fascinating mystery".
The kami reside in all things, but certain objects and places are
designated for the interface of people and kami: yorishiro, shintai,
shrines, and kamidana. There are natural places considered to have an
unusually sacred spirit about them and are objects of worship. They
are frequently mountains, trees, unusual rocks, rivers, waterfalls,
and other natural things. In most cases they are on or near a shrine
grounds. The shrine is a building in which the kami is enshrined
(housed). It is a sacred space, creating a separation from the
"ordinary" world. The kamidana is a household shrine that acts as a
substitute for a large shrine on a daily basis. In each case the
object of worship is considered a sacred space inside which the kami
spirit actually dwells, being treated with the utmost respect.
Shinto kannagara (惟神 or 随神), meaning "way [path] of
[expression] of the kami", refers to the law of the natural order.
It is the sense of the terms michi or to, "way", in the terms
"kami-no-michi" or "Shinto". Those who understand kannagara know
the divine, the human, and how people should live. From this
knowledge stems the ethical dimension of Shinto, focusing on sincerity
(makoto), honesty (tadashii) and purity.
Main article: Amenominakanushi
According to the Kojiki,
"All-Father of the Originating Hub", or 天之御中主神 "Heavenly
God of the Originating Heart of the Universe") is the first
kami, and the concept of the source of the universe according to
theologies. In mythology he is described as a "god who came
into being alone" (hitorigami), the first of the zōka sanshin("three
kami of creation"), and one of the five kotoamatsukami ("distinguished
Amenominakanushi had been considered a concept developed under the
influence of Chinese thought, but now most scholars believe
otherwise. With the flourishing of kokugaku the concept was
studied by scholars. The theologian
Hirata Atsutane identified
Amenominakanushi as the spirit of the North Star, master of the seven
stars of the Big Dipper. The god was emphasised by the Daikyōin
in the Meiji period, and worshiped by some
The god manifests in a duality, a male and a female function,
respectively Takamimusubi (高御産巣日神) and Kamimusubi
(神産巣日神). In other mythical accounts the originating kami
is called Umashiashikabihikoji (宇摩志阿斯訶備比古遅神 "God
of the Ashi [Reed]") or Kuninotokotachi (国之常立神 in Kojiki,
国常立尊 in Nihonshoki; Kunitokotachi-no-
Kuninotokotachi-no-Kami; the "
God Founder of the Nation"), the latter
used in the Nihon Shoki.
Creation of Japan
Main article: Japanese creation myth
Izanami-no-Mikoto and Izanagi-no-Mikoto, by Kobayashi Eitaku, late
The generation of the
Japanese archipelago is expressed mythologically
as the action of two gods:
Izanagi ("He-who-invites") and Izanami
("She-who-is-invited"). The interaction of these two principles
begets the islands of
Japan and a further group of kami.
The events are described in the
Kojiki as follows:
Izanagi-no-Mikoto (male) and
Izanami-no-Mikoto (female) were called by
all the myriad gods and asked to help each other to create a new land
which was to become Japan.
They were given a spear with which they stirred the water, and when
removed water dripped from the end, an island was created in the great
They lived on this island, and created a palace. Within the palace was
When they wished to bear offspring, they performed a ritual each
rounding a pole, male to the left and female to the right, the female
greeting the male first.
They had two children (islands) which turned out badly and they cast
them out. They decided that the ritual had been done incorrectly the
They repeated the ritual but according to the correct laws of nature,
the male spoke first.
They then gave birth to the eight perfect islands of the Japanese
After the islands, they gave birth to the other Kami.
Izanami-no-Mikoto died in childbirth, however, and Izanagi-no-Mikoto
tried to revive her.
His attempts to deny the laws of life and death have bad consequences.
In the myth, the birth of the god of fire (Kagu-Tsuchi) causes the
death of Izanami, who descends into Yomi-no-kuni, the netherworld.
Izanagi chases her there, but runs away when he finds the dead figure
of his spouse. As he returns to the land of the living, Amaterasu
(the sun goddess) is born from his left eye,
Tsukiyomi (the moon
deity) from his right eye, and
Susanoo (the storm deity) is born from
Shinto purification rite after a ceremonial children's sumo tournament
Kamigamo Jinja in Kyoto.
Shinto teaches that certain deeds create a kind of ritual impurity
that one should want cleansed for one's own peace of mind and good
fortune rather than because impurity is wrong. Wrong deeds are called
"impurity" (穢れ, kegare), which is opposed to "purity" (清め,
kiyome). Normal days are called "day" (ke), and festive days are
called "sunny" or, simply, "good" (hare).
Those who are killed without being shown gratitude for their sacrifice
will hold a grudge (怨み, urami) (grudge) and become powerful and
evil kami who seek revenge (aragami). Additionally, if anyone is
injured on the grounds of a shrine, the area must be ritually
Haraegushi (祓串) for purification
Jichinsai groundbreaking ceremony
Purification rites called
Harae are a vital part of Shinto. They are
done on a daily, weekly, seasonal, lunar, and annual basis. These
rituals are the lifeblood of the practice of Shinto. Such
ceremonies have also been adapted to modern life. New buildings made
Japan are frequently blessed by a
Shinto priest called kannushi
(神主) during the groundbreaking ceremony (Jichinsai 地鎮祭), and
many cars made in
Japan have been blessed as part of the assembly
process. Moreover, many Japanese businesses built outside
had ceremonies performed by a
Shinto priest, with occasionally an
annual visitation by the priest to re-purify.
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It is common for families to participate in ceremonies for children at
a shrine, yet have a
Buddhist funeral at the time of death. In old
Japanese legends, it is often claimed that the dead go to a place
called yomi (黄泉), a gloomy underground realm with a river
separating the living from the dead mentioned in the legend of Izanami
and Izanagi. This yomi very closely resembles the Greek Hades;
however, later myths include notions of resurrection and even
Elysium-like descriptions such as in the legend of
Shinto tends to hold negative views on death and corpses as a
source of pollution called kegare. However, death is also viewed as a
path towards apotheosis in Shintoism as can be evidenced by how
legendary individuals become enshrined after death. Perhaps the most
famous would be Emperor
Ojin who was enshrined as
War after his death.
Unlike many religions, one does not need to publicly profess belief in
Shinto to be a believer. Whenever a child is born in Japan, a local
Shinto shrine adds the child's name to a list kept at the shrine and
declares him or her a "family child" (氏子, ujiko). After death an
ujiko becomes a "family spirit", or "family kami" (氏神, ujigami).
One may choose to have one's name added to another list when moving
and then be listed at both places. Names can be added to the list
without consent and regardless of the beliefs of the person added to
the list. This is not considered an imposition of belief, but a sign
of being welcomed by the local kami, with the promise of addition to
the pantheon of kami after death.
Shinto Funeral were established during the Tokugawa period and focused
on two themes: concern for the fate of the corpse, and maintenance of
the relationship between the living and the dead. There are at
least twenty steps involved in burying the dead. Mourners wear solid
black in a day of mourning called Kichu-fuda and a
Shinto priest will
perform various rituals. People will give monetary gifts to the
deceased's family called Koden, and Kotsuge is the gathering of the
deceased's ashes. Some of the ashes are taken by family members to put
in their home shrines at the step known as Bunkotsu.
Shinto Shrines of Japan
Ise Grand Shrine—
Honden at Naiku. After 1871, it is the apex of the
Izumo-taisha—haiden and Honden, one of the oldest shrines in Japan
Tsubaki Grand Shrine—Haiden, one of the oldest shrines in Japan
Fushimi Inari-taisha—Main Gate, one of the oldest shrines in Japan
Haiden of Isonokami Shrine, a historically significant Imperial
The principal worship of kami is done at public shrines or worship at
small home shrines called kamidana (神棚, lit. "god-shelf"). The
public shrine is a building or place that functions as a conduit for
kami. A fewer number of shrines are also natural places called mori.
The most common of the mori are sacred groves of trees, or mountains,
or waterfalls. All shrines are open to the public at some times or
throughout the year.
While many of the public shrines are elaborate structures, all are
characteristic Japanese architectural styles of different periods
depending on their age. Shrines are fronted by a distinctive Japanese
gate (鳥居, torii) made of two uprights and two crossbars denoting
the separation between common space and sacred space. The torii have
20 styles and matching buildings based on the enshrined kami and
There are a number of symbolic and real barriers that exist between
the normal world and the shrine grounds including: statues of
protection, gates, fences, ropes, and other delineations of ordinary
to sacred space. Usually there will be only one or sometimes two
approaches to the Shrine for the public and all will have the torii
over the way. In shrine compounds, there are a haiden (拝殿) or
public hall of worship, heiden (幣殿) or hall of offerings and the
honden (本殿) or the main hall. The innermost precinct of the
grounds is the honden or worship hall, which is entered only by the
high priest, or worshippers on certain occasions. The honden houses
the symbol of the enshrined kami.
The heart of the shrine is periodic rituals, spiritual events in
parishioners' lives, and festivals. All of this is organized by
priests who are both spiritual conduits and administrators. Shrines
are private institutions, and are supported financially by the
congregation and visitors. Some shrines may have festivals that
attract hundreds of thousands, especially in the New Year season.
Main article: List of
Of the 80,000
Atsuta Shrine, Nagoya, shrine to the Imperial sword Kusanagi
Chichibu Shrine, Saitama Prefecture, dedicated to Omoikane and
Dazaifu Tenman-gū, dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane
Heian Jingū, Kyoto, dedicated to
Emperor Kanmu and Emperor Kōmei
Hikawa Shrine, Ōmiya-ku, Saitama
Hokkaido Shrine, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Ise Jingū, Ise, Mie, dedicated to
Amaterasu Omikami, also called
Gassan Shrine, Yamagata, dedicated to
Isonokami Shrine, Tenri, Nara
Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima Prefecture, a
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site and
one of the National Treasures of Japan
Iwashimizu Shrine, Yawata, Kyoto
Izumo Taisha, Izumo
Kasuga Shrine, Nara
Katori Shrine, Chiba Prefecture, dedicated to Futsunushi
Kumano Shrines, Wakayama Prefecture
Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, the shrine of Emperor Meiji
Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture
Hachiman Shrine, Miyagi Prefecture
Ōmiwa Shrine, Sakurai, Nara
Sendai Tōshō-gū, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture
Shiogama Shrine, Miyagi Prefecture
Three Palace Sanctuaries,
Kōkyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo
Hachiman Shrine, Kamakura, Kanagawa
Hachiman Shrine, Ōita Prefecture, dedicated to Hachimanno-Mikoto
Yasukuni Shrine (Tokyo), a shrine dedicated to Japan's war dead.
Temizu Basin—Itsukushima Jinja
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Any person may visit a shrine and one need not be
Shinto to do this.
Doing so is called Omairi. Typically there are a few basic steps to
visiting a shrine.
At any entrance gate, bow respectfully before passing through.
If there is a hand washing basin provided, perform Temizu: take the
dipper in your right hand and scoop up water. Pour some onto your left
hand, then transfer the dipper to your left hand and pour some onto
your right hand. Transfer the dipper to your right hand again, cup
your left palm, and pour water into it, from which you will take the
water into your mouth (never drink directly from the dipper), silently
swish it around in your mouth (do not drink), then quietly spit it out
into your cupped left hand (not into the reservoir). Then, holding the
handle of the dipper in both hands, turn it vertically so that the
remaining water washes over the handle. Then replace it where you
Approach the shrine; if there is a bell, you may ring the bell first
(or after depositing a donation); if there is a box for donations,
leave a modest one in relation to your means; then bow twice, clap
twice, and hold the second clap with your hands held together in front
of your heart for a closing bow after your prayers.
There is variation in how this basic visitation may go, and depending
on the time of year and holidays there may also be other rituals
attached to visitations.
Be sincere and respectful to the staff and other visitors, and if at
all possible, be quiet. Do be aware that there are places one should
not go on the shrine grounds. Do not wear shoes inside any buildings.
Main article: Harae
The rite of ritual purification, usually done daily at a shrine, is a
ceremony of offerings and prayers of several forms. Shinsen (food
offerings of fruit, fish, and vegetables), tamagushi (sakaki tree
branches), shio (salt), gohan (rice), mochi (rice cake), and sake
(rice wine) are all typical offerings. On holidays and other special
occasions the inner shrine doors may be opened and special offerings
Offerings to the kami
Tamagushi offering at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū
Tsubaki Grand Shrine
Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America
Mochi offered at Meiji Jingū
Sake offerings at Itsukushima Shrine
Tamagushi and food offerings (shinsen) offered at Katori-jingū
Main article: Misogi
Misogi means purification.
Misogi harai or
Misogi Shūhō (禊修法)
is the term for water purification.
The practice of purification by ritual use of water while reciting
prayers is typically done daily by regular practitioners, and when
possible by lay practitioners. There is a defined set of prayers and
physical activities that precede and occur during the ritual. This
will usually be performed at a shrine, in a natural setting, but can
be done anywhere there is clean running water.
The basic performance of this is the hand and mouth washing (Temizu
手水) done at the entrance to a shrine. The more dedicated believer
may perform misogi by standing beneath a waterfall or performing the
ritual ablutions in a river. This practice comes from Shinto
history, when the kami Izanagi-no-Mikoto first performed misogi after
returning from the land of Yomi, where he was made impure by
Izanami-no-Mikoto after her death.
Another form of ritual cleanliness is avoidance, which means that a
taboo is placed upon certain persons or acts. To illustrate, one would
not visit a shrine if a close relative in the household had died
recently. Killing is generally unclean and is to be avoided. When one
is performing acts that harm the land or other living things, prayers
and rituals are performed to placate the
Kami of the area. This type
of cleanliness is usually performed to prevent ill outcomes.
Amulets and talismans
A woman tying her fortune written on a white piece of paper (omikuji)
to a frame at Kasuga Shrine
Main article: Ema (Shinto)
Ema are small wooden plaques that wishes or desires are written upon
and left at a place in the shrine grounds so that one may get a wish
or desire fulfilled. They have a picture on them and are frequently
associated with the larger Shrines.
Ofuda are talismans—made of paper, wood, or metal—that are issued
at shrines. They are inscribed with the names of kami and are used for
protection in the home. They are typically placed in the home at a
Ofuda may be kept anywhere, as long as they are in their
protective pouches, but there are several rules about the proper
placement of kamidana. They are also renewed annually.
Omamori are personal-protection amulets that are sold by shrines. They
are frequently used to ward off bad luck and to gain better health.
More recently, there are also amulets to promote good driving, good
business, and success at school. Their history lies with Buddhist
practice of selling amulets. They are generally replaced once a
year, and old omamori are brought to a shrine so they can be properly
disposed of through burning by a priest.
Omikuji are paper lots upon which personal fortunes are written.
The fortunes can range from daikichi (大吉), meaning "great good
luck," to daikyou (大凶), meaning "great bad luck."
A daruma is a round, paper doll of the Indian monk, Bodhidharma. The
recipient makes a wish and paints one eye; when the goal is
accomplished, the recipient paints the other eye. While this is a
Buddhist practice, darumas can be found at shrines, as well. These
dolls are very common.
Other protective items include dorei, which are earthenware bells that
are used to pray for good fortune. These bells are usually in the
shapes of the zodiacal animals: hamaya, which are symbolic arrows
for the fight against evil and bad luck; and Inuhariko, which are
paper dogs that are used to induce and to bless good births.
Amulets and Protection
Kamidana (home shrine) with kagamimochi and Ofuda
Daruma of various sizes
Hamaya at Ikuta Shrine
Omamori from Shrines in
Tsubaki Grand Shrine
Tsubaki Grand Shrine of
Ema dedicated at Sewa Jinja
Kagura traditional dance, Katori Jingu, Katori City
Kagura is the ancient
Shinto ritual dance of shamanic origin. The word
"kagura" is thought to be a contracted form of kami no kura or "seat
of the kami" or the "site where the kami is received." There is a
mythological tale of how kagura dance came into existence. The sun
Amaterasu became very upset at her brother so she hid in a
cave. All of the other gods and goddesses were concerned and wanted
her to come outside. Ame-no-uzeme began to dance and create a noisy
commotion in order to entice
Amaterasu to come out. The kami (gods)
Amaterasu by telling her there was a better sun goddess in the
Amaterasu came out and light returned to the universe.
Music plays a very important role in the kagura performance.
Everything from the setup of the instruments to the most subtle sounds
and the arrangement of the music is crucial to encouraging the kami to
come down and dance. The songs are used as magical devices to summon
the gods and as prayers for blessings. Rhythm patterns of five and
seven are common, possibly relating to the
Shinto belief of the twelve
generations of heavenly and earthly deities. There is also vocal
accompaniment called kami uta in which the drummer sings sacred songs
to the gods. Often the vocal accompaniment is overshadowed by the
drumming and instruments, reinforcing that the vocal aspect of the
music is more for incantation rather than aesthetics.
In both ancient Japanese collections, the
Nihongi and Kojiki,
Ame-no-uzeme’s dance is described as asobi, which in old Japanese
language means a ceremony that is designed to appease the spirits of
the departed, and which was conducted at funeral ceremonies.
Therefore, kagura is a rite of tama shizume, of pacifying the spirits
of the departed. In the
Heian period (8th–12th centuries) this was
one of the important rites at the Imperial Court and had found its
fixed place in the tama shizume festival in the eleventh month. At
this festival people sing as accompaniment to the dance: "Depart!
Depart! Be cleansed and go! Be purified and leave!" This rite of
purification is also known as chinkon. It was used for securing and
strengthening the soul of a dying person. It was closely related to
the ritual of tama furi (shaking the spirit), to call back the
departed soul of the dead or to energize a weakened spirit. Spirit
pacification and rejuvenation were usually achieved by songs and
dances, also called asobi. The ritual of chinkon continued to be
performed on the emperors of Japan, thought to be descendents of
Amaterasu. It is possible that this ritual is connected with the
ritual to revive the sun goddess during the low point of the winter
There is a division between the kagura that is performed at the
Imperial palace and the shrines related to it, and the kagura that is
performed in the countryside. Folk kagura, or kagura from the
countryside is divided according to region. The following descriptions
relate to sato kagura, kagura that is from the countryside. The main
types are: miko kagura, Ise kagura, Izumo kagura, and shishi kagura.
A miko (woman consecrated to a
Shinto deity) at Inari Shrine.
Miko kagura is the oldest type of kagura and is danced by women in
Shinto shrines and during folk festivals. The ancient miko were
shamanesses, but are now considered priestesses in the service of the
Miko kagura originally was a shamanic trance dance,
but later, it became an art and was interpreted as a prayer dance. It
is performed in many of the larger
Shinto shrines and is characterized
by slow, elegant, circular movements, by emphasis on the four
directions and by the central use of torimono (objects dancers carry
in their hands), especially the fan and bells.
Ise kagura is a collective name for rituals that are based upon the
yudate (boiling water rites of
Shugendō origin) ritual. It includes
miko dances as well as dancing of the torimono type. The kami are
believed to be present in the pot of boiling water, so the dancers dip
their torimono in the water and sprinkle it in the four directions and
on the observers for purification and blessing.
Izumo kagura is centered in the Sada shrine of Izumo, Shimane
prefecture. It has two types: torimono ma, unmasked dances that
include held objects, and shinno (sacred No), dramatic masked dances
based on myths. Izumo kagura appears to be the most popular type of
Shishi kagura also known as the Shugen-No tradition, uses the dance of
a shishi (lion or mountain animal) mask as the image and presence of
the deity. It includes the Ise daikagura group and the yamabushi
kagura and bangaku groups of the Tohoku area (Northeastern Japan). Ise
daikagura employs a large red Chinese type of lion head which can move
its ears. The lion head of the yamabushi kagura schools is black and
can click its teeth. Unlike other kagura types in which the kami
appear only temporarily, during the shishi kagura the kami is
constantly present in the shishi head mask. During the Edo period, the
lion dances became showy and acrobatic losing its touch with
spirituality. However, the yamabushi kagura tradition has retained its
ritualistic and religious nature.
Originally, the practice of kagura involved authentic possession by
the kami invoked. In modern-day
Japan it appears to be difficult to
find authentic ritual possession, called kamigakari, in kagura dance.
However, it is common to see choreographed possession in the dances.
Actual possession is not taking place but elements of possession such
as losing control and high jumps are applied in the dance.
There is no core sacred text in Shinto, as the
Bible is in
Qur'an is in Islam. Instead there are books of lore
and history which provide stories and background to many Shinto
Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) The oldest book of Japanese
history, it describes the origin myths of
Japan and the Imperial
Family beginning from 628.
Shoku Nihongi and its
Nihon Shoki (Continuing Chronicles of Japan)
describes events up to 697. Some of the stories in the
more detailed, but contradictory, to the stories of the Kojiki.
Rikkokushi (Six National Histories) includes the
Shoku Nihongi and
Engishiki contains a section describing
Shinto rituals in thorough
Jinnō Shōtōki (a study of
Shinto and Japanese politics and
history) written in the 14th century
Further information: Koshinto
Shinto has very ancient roots in the Japanese islands. The recorded
history dates to the
Kojiki (712) and
Nihon Shoki (720), but
archeological records date back significantly further. Both are
compilations of prior oral traditions. The
Kojiki establishes the
Japanese imperial family
Japanese imperial family as the foundation of Japanese culture, being
the descendants of
Amaterasu Omikami. There is also a creation
myth and a genealogy of the gods. The Nihonshoki was more interested
in creating a structural system of government, foreign policy,
religious hierarchy, and domestic social order.
There is an internal system of historical
Shinto development that
configures the relationships between
Shinto and other religious
practices over its long history; the inside and outside Kami
(spirits). The inside or ujigami (uji meaning clan)
Kami roles that
supports cohesion and continuation of established roles and patterns;
and the hitogami or outside Kami, bringing innovation, new beliefs,
new messages, and some instability.
Jomon peoples of
Japan used natural housing, predated rice farming,
and frequently were hunter-gatherers; the physical evidence for ritual
practices are difficult to document. There are many locations of stone
ritual structures, refined burial practices and early
Torii that lend
to the continuity of primal Shinto. The
Jomon had a clan-based tribal
system developed similar to much of the world's indigenous people. In
the context of this clan based system, local beliefs developed
naturally and when assimilation between clans occurred, they also took
on some beliefs of the neighboring tribes. At some point there was a
recognition that the ancestors created the current generations and the
reverence of ancestors (tama) took shape. There was some trade amongst
the indigenous peoples within Japanese islands and the mainland, as
well as some varying migrations. The trade and interchange of people
helped the growth and complexity of the peoples spirituality by
exposure to new beliefs. The natural spirituality of the people
appeared to be based on the worship of nature forces or mono, and the
natural elements to which they all depended.
The gradual introduction of methodical religious and government
organizations from mainland Asia starting around 300 BCE seeded the
reactive changes in primal
Shinto over the next 700 years to a more
formalized system. These changes were directed internally by the
various clans frequently as a syncratic cultural event to outside
influences. Eventually as the Yamato gained power a formalization
process began. The genesis of the Imperial household and subsequent
creation of the
Kojiki helped facilitate the continuity needed for
this long term development through modern history. There is today a
balance between outside influences of Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist,
Hindu and secular beliefs. In more modern times
developed new branches and forms on a regular basis, including leaving
By the end of the Jōmon period, a dramatic shift had taken place
according to archaeological studies. New arrivals from the continent
seem to have invaded
Japan from the West, bringing with them new
technologies such as rice farming and metallurgy. The settlements of
the new arrivals seem to have coexisted with those of the Jōmon for
some time. Under these influences, the incipient cultivation of the
Jōmon evolved into sophisticated rice-paddy farming and government
control. Many other elements of Japanese culture also may date from
this period and reflect a mingled migration from the northern Asian
continent and the southern Pacific areas. Among these elements are
Shinto mythology, marriage customs, architectural styles, and
technological developments such as lacquerware, textiles, laminated
bows, metalworking, and glass making. The Jōmon is succeeded by the
Japanese culture begins to develop in no small part due to influences
from mainland trade and immigration from China. During this time in
the pre-writing historical period, objects from the mainland start
appearing in large amounts, specifically mirrors, swords, and jewels.
All three of these have a direct connection to the imperial divine
status as they are the symbols of imperial divinity and are Shinto
honorary objects. Also the rice culture begins to blossom throughout
Japan and this leads to the settlement of society, and seasonal
reliance of crops. Both of these changes are highly influential on the
Japanese people's relationship to the natural world, and likely
development of a more complex system of religion. This is also the
period that is referenced as the beginning of the divine imperial
Yayoi culture was a clan based culture that lived in
compounds with a defined leader who was the chief and head priest.
They were responsible for the relationship with their "gods"
if one clan conquered another, their "god" would be assimilated. The
earliest records of Japanese culture were written by Chinese traders
who described this land as "Wa". This time period led to the creation
of the Yamato culture and development of formal
The development of niiname or the (now)
Shinto harvest festival is
attributed to this period as offerings for good harvests of similar
format (typically rice) become common.
The great bells and drums,
Kofun burial mounds, and the founding of
the imperial family are important to this period. This is the period
of the development of the feudal state, and the Yamato and Izumo
cultures. Both of these dominant cultures have a large and central
shrine which still exists today,
Ise Shrine in the North East and
Izumo Taisha in the South West. This time period is defined by the
increase of central power in Naniwa, now Osaka, of the feudal lord
system. Also there was an increasing influence of Chinese culture
which profoundly changed the practices of government structure, social
structure, burial practices, and warfare. The Japanese also held close
alliance and trade with the
Gaya confederacy which was in the south of
the peninsula. The
Paekche in the
Three Kingdoms of Korea
Three Kingdoms of Korea had
political alliances with Yamato, and in the 5th century imported the
Chinese writing system to record Japanese names and events for trade
and political records. In 513 they sent a
Confucian scholar to the
court to assist in the teachings of
Confucian thought. In 552 or 538 a
Buddha image was given to the Yamato leader which profoundly changed
the course of Japanese religious history, especially in relation to
the undeveloped native religious conglomeration that was Shinto. In
the latter 6th century, there was a breakdown of the alliances between
Paekche but the influence led to the codification of Shinto
as the native religion in opposition to the extreme outside influences
of the mainland. Up to this time
Shinto had been largely a clan
('uji') based religious practice, exclusive to each clan.
The Theory of Five Elements in
Yin and Yang
Yin and Yang philosophy of
Buddhism had a profound impact on the development of a
unified system of
Shinto beliefs. In the early Nara period, the Kojiki
Nihon Shoki were written by compiling existing myths and
legends into a unified account of Japanese mythology. These accounts
were written with two purposes in mind: the introduction of Taoist,
Buddhist themes into Japanese religion; and garnering
support for the legitimacy of the Imperial house, based on its lineage
from the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Much of modern
Japan was under only
fragmentary control by the Imperial family, and rival ethnic groups.
The mythological anthologies, along with other poetry anthologies like
the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (Man'yōshū) and others, were
intended to impress others with the worthiness of the Imperial family
and their divine mandate to rule.
In particular the Asuka rulers of 552–645 saw disputes between the
more major families of the clan
Shinto families. There were disputes
about who would ascend to power and support the imperial family
between the Soga and Mononobe/Nakatomi
Shinto families. The Soga
family eventually prevailed and supported Empress Suiko and Prince
Shotoku, who helped impress
Buddhist faith into Japan. However, it was
not until the Hakuho ruling period of 645–710 was
as the imperial faith along with the Fujiwara Clan and reforms that
Emperor Tenmu (672–686), continuing through Empress
Jitō (686–697) and
Emperor Monmu (697–707) Court
Shinto rites are
strengthened and made parallel to
Buddhist beliefs in court life.
Prior to this time clan
Shinto had dominated and a codification of
"Imperial Shinto" did not exist as such. The Nakatomi family are made
the chief court
Shinto chaplains and chief priests at Ise Daijingū
which held until 1892. Also the practice of sending imperial
princesses to the Ise shrine begins. This marks the rise of Ise
Daijingū as the main imperial shrine historically. Due to increasing
Buddhism and mainland Asian thought, codification of
the "Japanese" way of religion and laws begins in earnest. This
culminates in three major outcomes: Taiho Code (701 but started
Kojiki (712), and the
Nihon Shoki (720).
The Taiho Code also called
Ritsuryō (律令) was an attempt to create
a bulwark to dynamic external influences and stabilize the society
through imperial power. It was a liturgy of rules and codifications,
primarily focused on regulation of religion, government structure,
land codes, criminal and civil law. All priests, monks, and nuns were
required to be registered, as were temples. The
Shinto rites of the
imperial line were codified, especially seasonal cycles, lunar
calendar rituals, harvest festivals, and purification rites. The
creation of the imperial
Shinto Shrine office was
This period hosted many changes to the country, government, and
religion. The capital is moved again to Heijō-kyō, or Nara, in AD
Empress Genmei due to the death of the Emperor. This practice
was necessary due to the
Shinto belief in the impurity of death and
the need to avoid this pollution. However, this practice of moving the
capital due to "death impurity" is then abolished by the Taihō Code
and rise in
Buddhist influence. The establishment of the imperial
city in partnership with
Taihō Code is important to
Shinto as the
office of the
Shinto rites becomes more powerful in assimilating local
clan shrines into the imperial fold. New shrines are built and
assimilated each time the city is moved. All of the grand shrines are
regulated under Taihō and are required to account for incomes,
priests, and practices due to their national contributions.
During this time,
Buddhism becomes structurally established within
Emperor Shōmu (reign 724–749), and several large building
projects are undertaken. The Emperor lays out plans for the Buddha
Dainichi (Great Sun Buddha), at Tōdai-ji assisted by the Priest Gyogi
(or Gyoki) Bosatsu. The priest Gyogi went to Ise Daijingu Shrine for
blessings to build the Buddha Dainichi. They identified the statue of
Amaterasu (the sun goddess) as the manifestation of the
supreme expression of universality.
The priest Gyogi is known for his belief in assimilation of Shinto
Kami and Buddhas.
Shinto kami are commonly being seen by Buddhist
clergy as guardians of manifestation, guardians, or pupils of Buddhas
and bodhisattvas. The priest Gyogi conferred boddhisattva precepts
on the Emperor in 749 effectively making the Imperial line the head of
state and divine to
Shinto while beholden to Buddhism.
Syncretism with Buddhism
Main article: Shinbutsu-shūgō
With the introduction of
Buddhism and its rapid adoption by the court
in the 6th century, it was necessary to explain the apparent
differences between native Japanese beliefs and
Buddhist explanation saw the kami as supernatural beings still
caught in the cycle of birth and rebirth (reincarnation). The kami are
born, live, die, and are reborn like all other beings in the karmic
cycle. However, the kami played a special role in protecting Buddhism
and allowing its teachings of compassion to flourish.
This explanation was later challenged by
Kūkai (空海, 774–835),
who saw the kami as different embodiments of the
(honji suijaku theory). For example, he linked
Amaterasu (the sun
goddess and ancestor of the Imperial family) with Dainichi Nyorai, a
central manifestation of the Buddhists, whose name means literally
"Great Sun Buddha". In his view, the kami were just
Buddhas by another
Shinto coexisted and were amalgamated in the shinbutsu
shūgō and Kūkai's syncretic view held wide sway up until the end of
the Edo period. There was no theological study that could be called
"Shinto" during medieval and early modern Japanese history, and a
Buddhist and popular beliefs proliferated. At that time,
there was a renewed interest in "Japanese studies" (kokugaku), perhaps
as a result of the closed country policy.
In the 18th century, various Japanese scholars, in particular Motoori
Norinaga (本居 宣長, 1730–1801), tried to tear apart the "real"
Shinto from various foreign influences. The attempt was largely
unsuccessful, since as early as the
Nihon Shoki parts of the mythology
were explicitly borrowed from
Taoism doctrines. For example, the
Izanagi are explicitly compared to yin
and yang. However, the attempt did set the stage for the arrival of
state Shinto, following the
Meiji Restoration (c.1868), when Shinto
Buddhism were separated (shinbutsu bunri).
Main article: State Shinto
Chōsen Jingū in Seoul
Fridell argues that scholars call the period 1868–1945 the "State
Shinto period" because, "during these decades,
Shinto elements came
under a great deal of overt state influence and control as the
Japanese government systematically utilized shrine worship as a major
force for mobilizing imperial loyalties on behalf of modern
nation-building." However, the government had already been
treating shrines as an extension of government before Meiji; see for
example the Tenpō Reforms. Moreover, according to the scholar Jason
Ānanda Josephson, It is inaccurate to describe shrines as
constituting a "state religion" or a "theocracy" during this period
since they had neither organization, nor doctrine, and were
uninterested in conversion.
Meiji Restoration reasserted the importance of the emperor and the
ancient chronicles to establish the Empire of Japan, and in 1868 the
government attempted to recreate the ancient imperial
separating shrines from the temples that housed them. During this
period, numerous scholars of kokugaku believed that this national
Shinto could be the unifying agent of the country around the Emperor
while the process of modernization was undertaken with all possible
speed. The psychological shock of the Western "Black Ships" and the
subsequent collapse of the shogunate convinced many that the nation
needed to unify in order to resist being colonized by outside forces.
In 1871, a Ministry of Rites (jingi-kan) was formed and
were divided into twelve levels with the
Ise Shrine (dedicated to
Amaterasu, and thus symbolic of the legitimacy of the Imperial family)
at the peak and small sanctuaries of humble towns at the base. The
following year, the ministry was replaced with a new Ministry of
Religion, charged with leading instruction in "shushin" (moral
courses). Priests were officially nominated and organized by the
state, and they instructed the youth in a form of
based on the official dogma of the divinity of Japan's national
origins and its Emperor. However, this propaganda did not take, and
the unpopular Ministry of Rites was dissolved in the mid-1870s.
Although the government sponsorship of shrines declined, Japanese
nationalism remained closely linked to the legends of foundation and
emperors, as developed by the kokugaku scholars. In 1890, the Imperial
Rescript on Education was issued, and students were required to
ritually recite its oath to "offer yourselves courageously to the
State" as well as to protect the Imperial family. Such processes
continued to deepen throughout the early Shōwa period, coming to an
abrupt end in August 1945 when
Japan lost the war in the Pacific. On 1
January 1946, Emperor Shōwa issued the Ningen-sengen, in which he
quoted the Five
Charter Oath of
Emperor Meiji and declared that he was
not an akitsumikami (a deity in human form).
The imperial era came to an abrupt close with the end of World War II,
when Americans declared that
Japanese nationalism had been informed by
something called "State Shinto", which they attempted to define with
Shinto Directive. The meaning of "State Shinto" has been a matter
of debate ever since.
In the post-war period, numerous "New Religions" cropped up, many of
them ostensibly based on Shinto, but on the whole, Japanese
religiosity may have decreased. However, the concept of religion in
Japan is a complex one. A survey conducted in the mid-1970s indicated
that of those participants who claimed not to believe in religion,
one-third had a
Shinto altar in their home, and about one
quarter carried an omamori (an amulet to gain protection by kami) on
their person. Following the war,
Shinto shrines tended to focus on
helping ordinary people gain better fortunes for themselves through
maintaining good relations with their ancestors and other kami. The
number of Japanese citizens identifying their religious beliefs as
Shinto has declined a great deal, yet the general practice of Shinto
rituals has not decreased in proportion, and many practices have
persisted as general cultural beliefs (such as ancestor worship), and
community festivals (matsuri)—focusing more on religious practices.
The explanation generally given for this anomaly is that, following
the demise of State Shinto, modern
Shinto has reverted to its more
traditional position as a traditional religion which is culturally
ingrained, rather than enforced. In any case,
Shinto and its values
continue to be a fundamental component of the Japanese cultural
Shinto has also spread abroad to a limited extent, and a few
Shinto priests have been ordained. A relatively small
number of people practice
Shinto in America. There are several Shinto
shrines in America. Shrines were also established in Taiwan and Korea
during the period of Japanese imperial rule, but following the war,
they were either destroyed or converted into some other use.
Within Shinto, there are a variety of sects which are not a part of
Shrine Shinto and the officially defunct State Shinto. Sect Shinto,
Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii
Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii and Konkokyo, have unique
practices which originated alongside older
Shinto practices before the
classification and separation of
Shinto practices of the
Meiji era in
Shinto sects and schools
Culture of Japan
Dol hareubang (Korean spirit)
Dryad (Greek mythology)
History of Japan
Iwakura (Shinto) – rock formation where a kami is invited to descend
Religion in Japan
Chinese folk religion
Chinese folk religion (Shendao)
Ryukyuan religion (Ryukyu Shinto)
Korean shamanism (Sindo)
Shinto in Taiwan
Women in Shinto
Shinto in popular culture
^ Both mean the 'way of the divine' or 'of the gods'.
Other names are:
kannagara-no-michi, 'way of the divine transmitted from time
Kodo, the 'ancient way';
Daido, the 'great way';
Teido, the 'imperial way'.
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Definitions from Wiktionary
Media from Wikimedia Commons
Texts from Wikisource
Data from Wikidata
Shinto at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Jinja Honcho – English – The Official Japanese Organization of
Kokugakuin University Encyclopedia of
Shinto and its Japanese Shinto
Chiga Yoshimi Gallery – The Scenery of Nara's Shrines and Temples
which were drawn by Chiga Yoshimi
Tsubaki Grand Shrine
Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America –
Tsubaki Grand Shrine
Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America:
Shinto in North America, branch of
Tsubaki Grand Shrine
Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Mie
Heian Jingu Shrine – Heian Shrine in
Kyoto City was built in 1895 in
commemoration of the 1100th anniversary of the move of Japanese
Capital from Nara to
Kyoto in 794
Meiji Jingu – Meiji Jingu Shrine in Yoyogi, Tokyo, commemorates
Emperor Taisho and his wife Empress Shoken
Yasukuni Jinja – A shrine for the honoring of Japanese War Dead
Shoin-Jinja – Shoin Shrine in
Tokyo enshrines Yoshida Shoin, a
spiritual leader of Meiji Restoration
Yushima Tenjin – A
Tokyo Shrine with and English site—Shrine for
Ameno-tajikaraono-mikoto and Sugawara Michizane
Editorial on Shintoism in Occupied
Japan following WWII (from Japanese
Major religious groups
Major religious groups and religious denominations
Eastern Catholic Churches
Church of the East
Assyrian Church of the East
Nation of Islam
Fon and Ewe
Apostasy / Disaffiliation
National religiosity levels
Irreligion by country
Separation of church and state
New religious movements
Religions and spiritual traditions