What is Shinto?
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What is Shinto?

         "The way of the gods," is the literal definition of the word Shinto. It is an ancient religion that "has been at the heart of Japanese culture for almost as long as there has been a political entity distinguishing itself as Japan" (Nelson 3). It is a combination of different beliefs and practices mostly before Japan became in contact with China. Once China began to introduce Buddhism into Japan around 520 BC, the two religions partially merged some of their practices to form what it is today (Malherbe). Shinto is mostly an expression of the Japanese people, being different from most of the Christian religions of the West. Shinto can hardly be compared to these other religions, which usually have their one "god" who they worship. Shinto instead has something similar in "Kamis," their "gods" of the religion. These Kamis come from divinities which are taken from forces of nature, animals or famous people
The Kami are believed to live in nature, such as in Japanese gardens.
(Malherbe). The most important of these though is the sun, which serves as a protection against invasions and can be seen on the Japanese flag itself. Believers of Shinto have very little superstitious belief in the Kamis, and do not even expect any rational reason for Shinto or its beliefs (Malherbe). Despite this though, the Kamis are an expression of belonging to the national community and prove their enthusiasm to maintain harmony in Japan.
         With Shinto being so old and mixed in its creation, there is no exact date when it was founded, and there is not even a founder. The religion is as old as its people, and because of its age does not have any sacred scriptures like the bible in Christian religion. Before anything was written its history was communicated orally to each new generation. There are, however, two main Shinto scriptures that were produced as a result of Buddhism and Confucianism coming into Japan: the Kojiki and the Nihongi or Nihon Shoki (Shinto Religion in Japan). These books of scriptures were produced in response to the introduction of Buddhism, as the native Japanese tried to preserve their primitive religion by "recording old myths and oral traditions." The scriptures contain complete writings of the history of Japan and the Japanese mythology that is the heart of the religion (Howdyshell). While these scriptures were produced as a response against Buddhism, the two religions soon were able to co-exist harmoniously and even complemented each other, with many Buddhists later arguing that the Kami were simply manifestations of Buddhas (Shinto Religion in Japan). Shinto does not believe in any propaganda or preaching, thus producing no real icon or symbol for the religion as it is mostly based off of traditions. Unlike western religions there is no real dogma, and instead the main focus becomes the worship of the Kami, the divine consciousness that runs through everything. In this way Shinto differs from the standard view of a religion that has a standard for the lives of its members. The concept of Kami is that it "involves all gods, all aspects of nature, supernatural power, and certain people" (Howdyshell). Shinto takes a more optimistic look at faith by believing that humans are basically good and that evil is caused by evil spirits. The Kami are the objects of worship, may it be the sun, mountains, trees, rocks or an ancestor. By worshiping these objects they become much more focused and forms a close bond with their everyday lives (What is Shinto in Brief).


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