Shinto, as a religion, has no founder. It is said to date back to
prehistoric times. Myths and legends surrounding the creation of the nation of
Japan are thought to be the foundations for this socio-religious institution.
Shinto is an indigenous, national, socio-religious institution, which
highly values the traditions and history of Japan. The word Shinto is derived
from the Chinese word shen-tao, and means way of the gods (kami-no-michi in
Japanese). The basis of Shinto is worship of the kami. Kami is roughly
translated as deity, but it applies to deities and noble people from history,
including the ancestors of the Japanese people and the Japanese imperial
dynasties. Shrines are the center of Shinto, with each shrine being dedicated
to a specific kami. To enter a shrine, one passes through a torii, a gateway
that is the demarcation between the finite (profane) world and the infinite
(sacred) world of the gods. Most homes have an altar (kami-dana, shelf of
gods) dedicated to worshiping the family kami and ancestors.
Shinto is said to have always existed in Japan, in some form. At present,
there are three types of Shinto in Japan. They are:
- Shrine Shinto, with prehistoric origins. It included, until 1945, State
Shinto, which is closely tied to government and the Japanese imperial
- Sectarian Shinto. There are 13 sects in Sectarian Shinto, each with a
founder or systematizer who organized it in the 19th century. Sectarian
Shinto also includes sects which formed after World War II.
- Folk Shinto. Folk Shinto does not have an organized religious body, nor
does it have any doctrinal formulas. It is, instead, tied to the numerous
practices of the individual families.
All three types are interrelated. Folk Shinto is the substructure of Shinto
faith, the foundation, of sorts. A member of Sectarian Shinto is likely to
also worship at a shrine associated with Shrine Shinto.
Where: Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan, and has not spread from
Japan to a great extent (only about 60,000 adherents are thought to live
outside of Japan). Japanese immigrants in other countries have brought Shinto
with them, but they are few in number. Efforts have been made to increase the
knowledge of and respect for Shinto in the international community.
Who Is God?
There are many kami (deities) in Shinto, although no one deity has been
ascribed the designation of God, in terms of being chief, or creator. The most
revered deity is Amaterasu, the sun goddess. She is the daughter of Izanagi
and Izanami, who, according to legend, created the islands of Japan. Amaterasu
is considered a direct ancestor to the Japanese imperial line.
Where Did We Come From?
Shinto’s legends about creation are limited to the islands of Japan. Japan
was created by Izanagi and Izanami, who then chose to dwell there. This gives
Japan a prominence in the eyes of its people, who feel that it is the best
place to live. Shinto has been influenced by Confucianism, Taoism and
Buddhism, and feels that all deities (kami), even those from other religions,
are valid. Confucianism and Taoism state that the Tao is the cause of all that
is, and Shinto would accept that as valid, even while retaining its own
Why Are We Here?
How Do We Know?
There is little established scripture in Shinto. Many traditions and
rituals were passed down through the family alone. They were not codified
until the seventh century CE. The first attempt to codify the myths and
traditions of the families and clans was the Kujiki, or the Chronicle of Old
Events. It traced the history of the emperors from Jimmu Tenno onward, and was
written in 620 CE (Common Era, formerly AD, Anno Domini, year of our Lord). In
712 CE, the Kojiki, or Chronicle of Ancient Events, was written. It aimed at
presenting a history of Japan from the creation of the world until the middle
of the seventh century CE. Around the same time, the Nihongi, or Chronicles of
Japan, were released (720 CE) with slight variations and additions to the
Kojiki. In 806 CE the Kogoshui, or Gleanings from Ancient Sources, was
published to defend the practices of one of the Shinto priestly guilds. In the
beginning of the tenth century CE, the Engi-shiki, was written, a compendium
of Shinto rites and ceremonies, particularly those related to the imperial
There are also several history books considered important in Shinto. They
Rokkokushi, or the Six National Histories
Shoku Nihongi and Nihon Shoki, the continuing Chronicles of Japan
Jinno Shotoki, a study of Shinto and Japanese politics and history
What Do We Have To Do?
The basis of Shinto is honoring one’s family kami and ancestors. There are
rituals to accomplish this, both at a shrine, or in the home. Shinto, as a
national religion, also calls for obedience to and respect for Japan. Its
patriotism is a natural extension of the love that Japanese people have for
their homeland. Shinto leaders are also focusing on the necessity of
international cooperation, and are working toward helping adherents to become
global citizens, thus extending one’s patriotic duties to the entire planet.
Shinto also holds the environment in very high accord, and many adherents feel
moved to be involved in various environmental protection programs.
What's Going On Today?
Shinto today is similar to its original form, but has incorporated ideas
from several other traditions, including Confucianism and Buddhism. Today,
many adherents of Shinto are also adherents of Buddhism. For this reason, it
is difficult to determine just how many adherents there are. Some sources
place the number at around three million. Others note, however, that anywhere
from forty to eight percent of Japanese citizens still consider themselves
part of Shinto. This would cause the number to rise to between fifty and one
How Do We Recognize It?
Shinto is recognized by the torii, a distinctive arch or gate erected at
the entrance to the sacred precincts of a shrine. The torii separates the
inner area of the shrine from the profane world surrounding it.
Compiled, written and edited by Jonathan Ketcham.