Shinto (Shinto religion) (神道)

Shinto (or Kannagara no michi) is an ethnical religious framework in Japan and a polytheistic religion that is unique to Japan.


Shinto is a religion originating in particular cultural traditions that have been believed since ancient Japan. Shinto is based on traditional ethnic and natural beliefs that naturally generated and grew among ethnic groups living in Japan and has been gradually growing in conjunction with central and local systems of politics carried out by groups of local ruling families.

Shinto has neither a specific creed nor specific scriptures, and Japanese classics such as "Kojiki" (the Records of Ancient Matters), "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan), "Kogo-shui" (History of the Inbe clan) and "imperial edict," which are called 'Shinten,' are norms. According to Shinto's idea, the Kami (Shinto) exists in Shinrabansho (all things in nature, the whole creation) and religious services are considered important, with Amatsu kami (god of heaven), Kunitsukami (gods of the land), and Sorei (ancestral spirit, collective of ancestral spirits that have lost their individualities, ancestors deified as kami, spirit of a kami) enshrined. The type of virtue practiced in Shinto religion is Jyomyoseichoku (clean and clear, cheerful, honest, and straightforward). As compared with other religions, shinto religion is more inclined to secularism and belief in the innate goodness of man and seems to have a characteristic that a strong sense of solidarity has been built up between an enshrined subject (Kami (God)) and worshipers (believers).

There is a big difference between Shinto and Buddhism, and while people have believed in Shinto for the purpose of having Kami (God) protect communities (tribes and villages) connected by territorial and blood ties, like Kami (God)s do in mythologies, people have believed in Buddhism for the purpose of securing individuals' Anjin-ryomyo (spiritual peace and enlightenment) and have their souls relieved and keep the state's peace and security.

Shinto is supported by approximately 16 million people in Japan (Agency for Cultural Affairs' "Shukyo Nenkan") and there are approximately 85,000 recorded shrines.


The following are denominations of shinto religion
Imperial House Shinto
It is Shinto for the Imperial Court; that is, the Imperial family, centered on the Three Shrines in the Imperial Palace.

Shrine Shinto
This is a type of belief putting an emphasis on the implementation of religious services and ceremonies, mainly by shrines and other organs consisting of Ujiko (shrine parishioners) and revering persons.

Sect Shinto (the 13 Shinto sects)
A religion based on religious experiences of a founder or originator of the sect. Sect Shinto is slightly different in character from other Shinto religions.

Koshinto (as practiced prior to the introduction of Confucianism and Buddhism to Japan)
It is also called 'Minkan Shinto and Minzoku Shinto' (Folk Shinto and the Folk or Popular Shinto,) Primitive Shinto, Jomon Shinto (縄文神道) and Kodo (ancient moral teachings) (Primitive Confucianism of Chinese Civilization is the same in meaning, but it is excluded here), and means things that have been continued by common people in Japan from the olden times and events of faith related to Buddhism or Sutra syncretized with Koshinto, such as Shugen or Koshinto incorporating the thoughts of Taoism.
After the Meiji period, only Koshinto was separated and established as a new religion, so it can be classified as Fukko shinto (returning to the ancient Shinto.)

Nowadays, when speaking of 'Shrine Shinto' alone, it means Shrine Shinto.

Also, based on the things emphasized, it is classified as:
Shajin Shinto (社人神道) - centering on ceremonies
School sect Shinto - centering on education and learning.

Particularly, 'State Shinto' was a name of a denomination of Shinto religion which was supported by the state in Japan from the Restoration of Imperial Rule of 1868 (Japan) to the end of World War II. As for Sect Shinto, 'the way with the Kami (God) which was separated from "all sects of Shinto" is particularly called State Shinto, and persons of law and government practitioners have usually called it shrine for a long time,' and before World War II, simply speaking 'shrine' meant State Shinto which was managed by the state.
As a result of separation of government and religion, the meaning of the word 'shrine' has changed and there is really very little chance to simply call State Shinto 'shrine.'
In addition, there is a misleading opinion that GHQ (General Headquarters of the Allied Forces) fabricated the tradition or story of State Shinto.

Furthermore, Shinto can also be classified as follows:

Festival-type Shinto
Imperial House Shinto - religious services in imperial court
Shrine Shinto - common religious services in shrines
Koshinto - Doso-shin (traveler's guardian deity), Tanokami (deity of rice fields and harvests,) mountain Kami (God) and Kamadogami (the tutelary deity of the hearth), etc. Onmyodo line (way of Yin and Yang; occult divination system based on the Taoist theory of the five elements) - Tsuchimikado Shinto (Shinto of Tsuchimikado school) and Izanagi-ryu, etc.
Teaching-type Shinto
School sect Shinto
Fukko Shinto (reform Shinto (prominent 18th century form of Shinto, based on the classics, and free from Confucian and Buddhist influences)) - Atsutane HIRATA, etc. Theory Shinto - Ise Shinto and Yuiitsu Shinto (One-and-Only Shinto), etc. Syncretism of Shinto and Buddhism - Ryobu Shinto (a fusion of Shinto and the Shingon sect of Buddhism) and Sannou Ichijitsu Shinto, etc. The Unity of Shinto and Confucianism line - Juka Shinto (teachings on Shinto as expounded by Japanese Confucianists) and Rigaku Shinto (Shinto of the fundamental principle), etc.
Sect Shinto
Mountain religion line - Jikko-kyo (sect of Shinto) and Ontake-kyo (sect of Shinto), etc. Reiji line - Kurozumikyo sect, Konkokyo sect, and Tenrikyo sect, etc. Tradition Shinto line - Izumo Oyashiro-kyo (sect of Shinto) and Shinto Shusei-ha (sect of Shinto), etc. New thought/idea line: Oomoto, Seicho-No-Ie, Byakko Shinko Kai (White Light Association,) Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan (World Divine Light Organization,) Sukyo Mahikari, Suhikari Koha Sekai Shindan, Shindo Tenkokyo, etc.

Origin and creed

The term 'Shinto' appears in "I Ching" (the Book of Changes) and "Jin shu" (History of the Jin Dynasty) in China and the term means 'Ayashiki michi ' (神しき道.)
This idea is different in character from the conception of Shinto in Japan.

The first appearance of 'Shinto' in Japan was '天皇信佛法尊神道' (Emperor believes in Buddhism and respects Shinto) in the descriptions of Emperor Yomei in "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan.)
Accordingly, Shinto represented a Japanese peculiar belief which was opposed to Buddhism as a foreign religion.

It was thought in China that belief progressed in four phases, Kido, Shinto, '真道' and '聖道' and that Buddhism reached '聖道' as the most advanced phase.
The lowest phase was 'Kido' and this term appears in Gishi wajin den (the first written record of Japan's commerce.)
The next phase is 'Shinto' ('Ayashiki michi' (神しき道.)
Given the above, the term Shinto (Ayashiki michi) in "I Ching" and "Jin shu" is a derogatory term describing that Shinto was more advanced than Kido, but was of very low level. Shinto' in Japan is more conservative than Chinese Taoism with the advanced phases of '真道' and '聖道,' and remains in the situation close to fundamentalism of other religions by substituting '祈祷' for '鬼' even if '鬼' was considered a derogatory term.

In 1887, European and modern religious conceptions were imported in Japan, and the religious term 'Shinto' began to be settled. In 1897, philosophy of religion was actually introduced and the word 'Shinto' was established in the academic field.

Originally, there was no charismatic founder for Shinto like Jesus Christ or Shakyamuni. Although the integration of a native ethnic belief and politics was forced to be implemented by the government for Shinto, Shinto did not spread and establish the doctrine in language in a uniform manner, and it seems to be because it has been '神在随 事擧不為國' since the ancient times. Therefore, it is believed that Shinto had a nature to be easily fused with foreign religions. However, examples that a native ethnic belief such as Shinto and religions of various schools exist together are observed in various areas in the world, and the Japanese case is not very rare.

In fact, after Buddhism was first publicly imported to Japan, there were conflicts between the Mononobe clan in the anti-Buddhist faction and the Soga clan in the pro-Buddhist faction.
In the medieval period, various schools such as Ise Shinto and Yoshida Shinto established a complicated framework of theories such as Han honji suijaku setsu (the theory of converse origin and traces.)
In the late medieval period, Atsutane HIRATA developed Yumei shinpan shiso, which was ideologically influenced by the Last Judgment in Christianity and an idea of henotheism with Ame no Minakanushi as god of creation, and the development of the theories provided a way leading to the modern era. After Juka Shinto (teachings on Shinto as expounded by Japanese Confucianists) made significant progress in the medieval period, it gradually gained support bases among the public and made the antiforeign imperialism widely known, which became a foundation or principle for the nation to attack the shogunate.

Although there was a heated theory war called State Shinto Shinto Office, Saishin Dispute (国家神道神道事務局 祭神論争) in the modern period, the government finally recognized that it was impossible to form a theory system/framework which was common to Shinto and that it was impossible to control the public directly based on a theory of Fukko shinto (returning to the ancient Shinto) and therefore, religious liberty was reluctantly allowed in the Constitution of the Empire of Japan. There was another reason that Japan had to clearly demonstrate to powerful European countries and the U.S.A. that Japan was a modern state. As it was impossible to clearly unify the theories of Shrine Shinto, there exists 'Difficulty of grasping' in Shinto, and it is the appearance of behaviors focusing on the physical senses, continued for a long time and still succeeded in Japan's modern society, because Shrine Shinto cannot be completely absorbed into foreign religions that heavily depend on language. Consequently, after Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity were approved, Shinto-related aspects continued to exist in the wide scope of people's spiritual lives in Japan.
When overviewing these, it can be said that embracing aspects has been succeeded by Izumo (Shinto) and social controlling aspects were succeeded by Ise (Shinto.)

Kami (God) in Shinto

While Shinto is a polytheistic religion, it has a strong aspect of admiring Sorei (ancestral spirit, collective of ancestral spirits who have lost their individualities, ancestors deified as kami, spirit of a kami) and respects older things. Ise-jingu Shrine won a case related to 国家神道神道事務局 祭神論争 based on Emperor Meiji's judgment in 1881and Amaterasu Omikami (the Sun Goddess) was given the highest divinity, but there remain beliefs taking on the character of Izumo Shinto, which was a loser of the case, and also many beliefs taking on local aspects, such as Ujigami belief.

It recognizes that Kami exists in everything, including weather, geography, and landscape.
That is, 'Yao yorozu no kami' (eight million gods.)
This aspect is common for the religion of Ainu. Please see Kami (Shinto) for more details.
Moreover, there is a custom that a shrine was built, in which a person who performed outstanding accomplishments before the person died was enshrined as Kami (Kami of person.)

On the other hand, it has a nature to take in foreign 'god' by itself, and many of 'gods' of primitive religions who were from the Eurasian Continent are enshrined as 'Kami' in Shinto. Among them, some 'gods' which should have conflicted with one another exist simultaneously.
Furthermore, many of saints which were from other countries are regarded as 'god.'
In the medieval period, this custom was disappearing because belief was getting less important due to the industrial revolution and progress in means of information transmission, but the custom lasts in a cultural way like the cross as an essence of Christianity has been generally recognized as 'sacrament' and essences such as the moon (particularly, new moon and Islam) and Rokubosei (Hexagram) (Judaism) have been regarded as 'a symbol of existence beyond human wisdoms.'

Shinto research

People in Izumo were likely to discuss relations with Japanese myths before the Heian period, and those characteristics can be clearly identified in Izumo "Fudoki" (ancient record of the features of Izumo), unlike Fudoki in other areas.

In the Kamakura period, Shinto priests of Ise-jingu Shrine started academic research, and the shrine gradually made changes and reached the current style of Shingi belief (神祇信仰.)
Ise school managed to establish the practice of visiting Ise-jingu Shrine in the late Edo period with their earnest efforts and gained support of part of ordinary people with stronger Sorei nature, rather than intellectual people. Meanwhile, Norinaga MOTOORI succeeded in interpretation of "Kojiki" (the Records of Ancient Matters), which had been left undecipherable in the Edo period, and contributed in forming the origin of the study of Japanese classical literature. Shinto and interest in the study of Japanese classical literature raised awareness for Japan and formed part of the trend of thoughts which led the Meiji Restoration to success in Asia where there were increasing plantations by powerful countries such as America and European countries. During the process of the establishment of Shinto, the ancient times were deeply influenced by Buddhism, and in the modern times, the entry of Confucianism into Japan was significant. It should be considered that what Ise school achieved was efforts of people on the Shinto side who were opposing the party.

Shinto of the modern period

Shinto of the modern period is controlled, centering on the gods enshrined by Yamato Court (Yamato sovereignty (the ancient Japan sovereignty)) from the ancient period as seen in Enkishiki (an ancient book for codes and procedures on national rites and prayers,) and looks to hold a large and nationwide network and a peculiar world by integrating Buddhism and local gods (originally, Ujigami, etc.)
Shinto of the modern period has been strongly affected by Confucianism Shinto and Fukko Shinto in the Edo period and State Shinto in the Meiji period.

A building where gods belonging to Shinto are enshrined is called Jinja, and most of the Jinja in Japan are controlled by Jinja-Honcho (神社本庁) (the Association of Shinto Shrines.)
Although the name Jinja-Honcho (神社本庁) includes 'cho (庁)', it is not an administrative organ but a religious corporation.

Imperial Court and Shinto

Nowadays, as a result of the separation of government and religion, it will hardly occur that the Imperial Court and Shinto will be apparently connected with each other, but it is a historical fact that the Imperial Court and Shinto were closely related to each other. While many Japanese people practice and have belief in Buddhism and Shinto at the same time, since the Meiji period the Imperial Court has been more inclined to Shinto. An emperor (including sosen shin (ancestral god)) is more likely to be a subject of belief in Shinto.

Simple way of behaving at a shrine

The following briefly describes the common steps and manners with respect to visiting Shinto shrines in Japan. However, the steps and manners may differ depending on shrines. Usually, there is a posted sign of how to make a prayer at the shrine.

It is recommended to visit a shrine on either the 1st or the 15th or both days every month. Before reaching the offering hall, visitors are required to go through a purification ritual to make their bodies and spirits fresh. That is because the Kami (God) is believed not to avoid 'impurity' and therefore it is advisable for visitors to take a bath or shower before visiting a shrine. Before walking through under a Torii (an archway to a Shinto shrine) after arriving at a shrine, visitors are supposed to perform 'Isson' (deeply bowing at forty-five degrees) in front of the Torii. Before bowing deeply, check your clothing to look nice and neat.

Next, rinse your mouth and hands with fresh water at the purification fountain. This is intended to purify your mouth and hands (also spirit) used for clapping and telling Norito and is one of getting rid of impurity.
The steps to use the purifying water are:

First, take one of the ladles by your right hand, fill it with water, and rinse the left hand by pouring some of the water over the hand three times.

Second, grasp the ladle with your left hand and rinse the right hand three times with some of the remaining water.

Third, grasp the ladle with your right hand again, fill some of the remaining water in the cupped left hand, and rinse the mouth. Finally, rinse the left hand again with the remaining water. Don't transfer the water directly to your mouth.

After rinsing is over, hold the ladle vertically and rinse it by pouring some water over its shaft. To rinse the shaft is intended to think of the next user, too.

Put the cleaned ladle back to the place upside down and dry your mouth and hands with tissue paper or handkerchief.

If assisted by a female attendant, behave in manners as advised by her. After the rinsing steps, head for the main shrine to pray, walking on Sando (an approach to a main shrine) and when walking on Sando, it is advisable to walk on the parts other than the center. The central of Sando is called 'Seichu', which is a way of the Kami. At the main shrine, first, throw a coin into the offering box for an offering to the Kami. Ring a bell near the offering box, which is believed to aim to remove evil and be a sign to call for the Kami and begin with a ceremony.

Bow and pray after ringing the bell.
A basic manner of prayer is 'Twice bowing, twice clapping and one-time bowing.'
Actual movements are:

Bow twice (bow the straight body from the waist at 90 degrees.)
Clap (Shinto) twice - to say more concretely, put both hands together in front of the chest, slide down the right hand a little (until the first joint of the left hand,) clap the hands twice to make a sound, slide up the right hand to the original place, pray, and drop down both hands.
Bow again (if serving Shinto prayers, bow after the prayers are over.)
Before and after practicing 'Twice bowing, twice clapping and one-time bowing,' it is much better to perform Ichiyu (a one-time little bow.)
In a prayer, it is common to speak (loud or at heart) the address, name, and wishes of the visitor just after clapping twice. If you want to express thankful feelings in a prayer, follow the same procedure as the above. Although the prayer manner was different in each shrine in the past, unification to the current method, twice bowing, twice clapping and one-time bowing' was implemented due to the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism in the Meiji period.
However, a few shrines practice different prayer manner; for example, Izumo Taisha Shrine and Usa Jingu Shrine practice 'four claps.'

When sacred wine or sake is offered, take it. Drinking sacred wine or sake is thought to get help from the Kami.


If a death occurs in the family, nobody of the family had better visit a shrine for fifty days (forty nine days based on Buddhism). This is because the idea of the impurity of death.

It is a rule to avoid serving cooked food for the Kami. This is because Izanami (the Female Who Invites) died of the birth of the Kami of fire (it varies by religious services and area.
Grains are excluded in many cases.)

The Kami of mountain does not hate the impurity of blood.

[Original Japanese]