An Introduction to Shinto
Dr. Meredith Sprunger
Shinto: The Religion of Nature Worship,
Emperor Worship, and Purity
Shinto (the way of the gods), traditionally dating back to 660 B. C.,
is a loosely organized religion of the Japanese people embracing a wide
variety of beliefs and practices. In its most basic sense Shinto is a religious
form of Japanese patriotism. The mythology of Shintoism teaches that Japan
and the Japanese people were brought into being by special divine creation
and that their emperors were literally descendants of the Sun Goddess.
In Japan a person may in good conscience be a Buddhist, a Confucian, and
a member of a Shinto sect at the same time. Today (1982) Shintoism reports
The two most important sacred books of Shintoism are the Kojiki (Chronicles
of Ancient Events) and the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan). The Kojiki mythology
reports that in the beginning were the kami (gods, mana, occult force).
Two of these primeval kami or deities were Izanagi (male-who-invites) and
Izanami (female who-invites). After giving birth to the land of Japan they
produced many other kami.
Izanami died after giving birth to the kami of fire. Izanagi journeyed
to Hades to find her. Finding her decayed body crawling with maggots he
fled in horror back to the land of the living. To purify himself he entered
a body of water and when he washed his left eye there came into existence
the Sun Goddess, the Great Kami Amaterasu; and when he washed his right
eye Tsukiyom the Moon Kami, emerged. After years of struggle the Japanese
people were waring against each other and the Sun Goddess sent her grandson,
Ninigi, to become the first emperor of Japan. Shinto is unique among the
religions of the world in representing the Supreme Being as feminine in
Although mythological tradition has the first Japanese emperor enthroned
in the seventh century B.C., modern scholars think the actual history of
Japan did not begin until the third century A. D. After the fourth century
A. D. the Japanese came under the influence of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
By the end of the sixth century Mahayana Buddhism had taken a firm foothold
on Japan. It was at this time that the term "Shinto" was introduced
to distinguish the native Japanese religion from the new foreign religion.
Little by little the boundaries between Buddhism and Shintoism were
obliterated. The concerns of day-to-day life became the domain of the Shinto
side of religion while the concerns of the afterlife were served by the
Buddhists.. The Japanese developed distinctive forms of Buddhism such as
Zen, Pure Land, and Nichiren.
Shinto almost died out as a viable religion but in the seventeenth century
it was revitalized by tough-minded military leaders. A combination of Shinto
and Confucianism was used to develop the warrior code of Bushido. The samurai
(knights) who followed this code emphasized loyalty, gratitude, courage,
justice, truthfulness, politeness, reserve, and honor. In Japan suicide
has often been encouraged to avoid dishonor, escape from a bad life situation,
or as a means of protest. When dishonored the Bushido warrior was expected
to kill himself by hara-kiri (disembowelment).
Shinto teaches the importance of personal cleanliness and the sense
of communal guilt. Apart from subservience to the Emperor, Shintoism has
no definite set of theological beliefs or code of morality. Morality and
theology are naturalistic. Motoori (1730-1801), one of the most important
scholars in the history of Shintoism, explains the lack of ethics in Shintoism:
"It is because the Japanese were truly moral in their practice that
they require no theory of morals."
After Commodore Perry in the mid nineteenth century opened Japan to
outside influence sweeping changes have occurred in the country. The Constitution
of 1889 established a state supported Shinto but other religions were allowed
to exist and propagate. State Shinto supported thousands of shrines and
priests. The grand imperial shrine at Ise was dedicated to the mother goddess
of Japan, Amaterasu. Every loyal Japanese citizen wishes to visit the Ise
Shrine at least once in their life time.
There are many Shinto sects which tend to be oriented in three major
categories. First, those whose emphasis is on mountain or nature worship.
Second, those who stress shamanism, divination, and faith healing such
as the Tenri-kyo (Teachings of Divine Reason) sect. The third type of sectarian
Shinto is more in tune with historic Shinto, reviving the myths of the
origin of Japan, stressing purification rites, fasting, breath control,
and other techniques similar to the Yoga cults of Hinduism. Domestic Shinto
is practiced in many homes. The kami-dana (god shelf) is found in residences.
Flowers or food may be placed before this altar daily or brief prayers
and devotions may take place.
Shinto had become such an inseparable part of Japanese militarism the
American occupation forces felt it necessary to direct the abolition of
state support of Shinto in December of 1945. New Year's Day 1946 Emperor
Hirohito disavowed the belief in his divine nature and complete religious
freedom was guaranteed to every citizen.
Index to the Full Series
If these topics are of interest to you, you may be
very interested in The Urantia Book.
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