Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters): 712 A.D.
Nihongi or Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan): 720 A.D.
Engishiki or Yengishiki (Procedures of the Engi Era): 927 A.D.
The Kojiki and Nihongi texts are not actually "sacred" by the traditional, religious definition. In other words, they are not comparable to the Bible for Christianity or the Torah for Judaism. However, they are useful to the Shinto religion because they contain the first comprehensive writings on the history of Japan and Japanese mythology, wherein Shintoism has its roots. The most significant myth to the Shinto religion is the creation myth, which is described in the beliefs section below.
The volumes of the Engishiki provide details of codes, national rites, and ancient prayers (norito).17 The Engishiki are not as important as the other two texts, but were listed here because they constitute some of the first writings specifically on Shinto.
Negative sentiments are typically implied when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts "cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will find additional links to related issues.
Worldwide Population of Shintoists by Six Continental Areas, Mid-1998: 1
Latin America: 7,000
North America: 55,000
Africa, Europe, Oceania: None reported0
Adherents in Japan Only:
"According to statistics published by the [Japan] Agency for Cultural Affairs in 1998, 49.2 percent of citizens adhered to Buddhism, 44.7 percent to Shintoism, 5.3 percent to so-called "new" religions, and 0.8 percent to Christianity. However, a 1996 Jiji Press Service poll showed that 46.6 percent of the population identified themselves with no particular religious group, 44.3 percent choose Buddhism, 3.2 percent Shintoism, 3.1 percent "new" religions, and 1.0 percent Christianity. A 1994 poll indicated that less than 7 percent of the population regularly took part in formal religious services. Shintoism and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive religions; most members claim to observe both." 13
Over time, Buddhism's influence over the Shinto faith grew as the Japanese people became enamored by the art and intricate philosophy that Buddhism held. Japanese law, social customs, and religion saw tremendous changes due to the growing influence of China. This led to the beginning of the Ritsuryo state (645-1185 A.D.), comprised of the Asuka, Nara, and Heian periods.4 During Shintoism's integration with Buddhism, known as Shin-Butsu Shugo, changes were quickly made in the shrines. Buddhist statues and art could be seen all over Shinto shrines. Buddhist priests resided over Shinto shrines, ceremonies, and festivals. Numerous Japanese Buddhist sects developed. The kami eventually were seen as manifestions of the Buddha.
During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), Buddhist institutions were incorporated in the structure of the feudal government and Neo-Confucianism was relied on for its guiding principles.6 Shintoism as the center of Japanese culture had become dominated by foreign influences. Many scholars set out to counter this trend with a revival of Shinto as a distinct religion with its own history and beliefs. Pioneering the movement to restore the pre-Buddhist and pre-Confucian meaning of Shinto was Kamo Mabuchi (1697-1769), though his ideas even reflected some Taoist influence. His disciple, Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), propogated absolute faith in the Kojiki and the divinity of the imperial family. Norinaga's disciple, Hirata Atsutane (1776-1843), continued the movement, emphasizing the notion of emperor-centered nationalism.6
In 1868, under the rule of Emperor Meiji, Shintoism was established as the state mandated religion of Japan in an effort known as the Meiji Restoration. Nearly all the Shinto priests and shrines came under the political and financial control of the Japanese government and the other "foreign" religions were suppressed. The Council of State ordered the removal of Buddhist statues, images, and implements from Shinto shrines, and the renaming of those shrines which had been given Buddhist names. All of the Japanese people were expected to accept the Emperor as a descendent of the gods and that the Japanese people as a whole were superior. Japanese children learned about Shinto traditions in school.5
During this time, Shinto was separated into two groups: Shrine (Jinja) and Sectarian (Kyoha). The government acknowledged the existence of thirteen sects, but claimed that only the Shrine (Jinja) was Pure Shinto. Thus, the sectarian shrines were not supported financially by the state.
Following World War II, on December 15, 1945, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) issued the Directive on the Abolition of Governmental Sponsorship, Support, Perpetuation, Control, and Dissemination of State Shinto, known simply as Shinto Directive. The purposes of the Directive were the separation of church and state, and the establishment of religious freedom. All public support of shrines, and any affiliated educational institutions, was abolished. The study of Shinto doctrine was removed from school curriculum, and public schools could no longer sponsor visits to shrines. Shrine Shinto was allowed to continue after cleansing itself of militaristic and ultra-nationalistic elements, but had been degraded to the same status as all other religions.14 On February 2, 1946, the Japanese government abolished the Shrine Board, and thus terminated the state control of Shrine Shinto. One of the two campuses of Kokugakuin University, established for the study of Shinto, was closed down.15 Two weeks following the the release of the Shinto Directive, Emperor Hirohito delivered his New Year's Rescript of 1946, wherein he renounced the divinity of the imperial family.
The establishment of complete religious freedom propelled new religious movements (Shinko Shukyo), including groups that were branched off from Sect Shinto and Buddhism. In general, these groups may be classified into the following categories:16
Despite its postwar pacification, Shrine or Jinja Shinto (formerly State Shinto) continues to function as one of many religions in Japan. Of the approximately 100,000 shrines that exist, a little over 80,000 now belong to the Association of Shrine Shinto, established after the abolishment of the Shrine Board. Devout Shintoists still perform their daily rituals, pay homage at the family shrine, and visit their tutelary shrines on special occasions.16 Today, Shinto may be divided into four forms: 1) Koshitsu Shinto (Shinto of the Imperial House), 2) Shuha Shinto (Sect Shinto), 3) Folk Shinto (Observances and Rites of Passage), and 4) Jinja Shinto (Shrine).7
The Creation Myth. According to the Kojiki, there were initially three kami that were born individually of primeval chaos in the Plain Of High Heaven (Takama-no-hara):
Afterwards, something in the form of reed-shoots sprouted, and from this, two more kami emerged:
Next, seven more generations of kami emerged, mostly in pairs. The last pair of these kami were the infamous Izanagi-no-kami (Deity the Male Who Invites), and his goddess wife, Izanami-no-kami (Deity the Female Who Invites).
The myth claims that while Izanagi and Izanami were standing on the heavenly floating bridge (sometimes identified as a rainbow or rainbow-like), Izanagi thrusted a jewelled spear into the waters below. When he lifted the spear, the dripping brine formed an island. The couple descended down to the island and proceeded to create the other islands of Japan. These two gods gave birth to many more gods, each having distinct responsibilities and representing different phenomena of nature, including the wind, trees, mountains, herbs, and grasses.
The myth further claims that Izanami died while giving birth to the god of fire and retreated to Yomi (Nether or Under World). When Izanagi, struck with grief, attempted to visit his wife, he was told never to look at her, for she had already attained a high state of decomposition. However, Izanagi disobeyed and was driven back to Earth.
Upon his return, Izanagi began a purification ritual, and gave birth to three new gods:
Amaterasu, the most revered and significant kami to the Shinto religion, was given reign over the Plain of High Heaven. It is believed that one of Susanoo's descendents, Okuninushi, was the the first to rule Japan. However, Amaterasu later sent her grandson Ninigi to take over. Ninigi's great-grandson, Jimmu Tenno, became the first human emperor of Japan in about 660 B.C. Thus, a link between the goddess Amaterasu and the imperial family was established. The belief that the imperial family descended from the gods remained until after the second World War.8
Much of the Shinto religion is based on worship of the kami, or "spirits." The gods described in the myth above are examples of kami, though kami exist in many different forms, both animate and inanimate. The kami are not considered to be good nor evil, but rather serve to protect and sustain.
Kami may be classified into three main types:9
Shintoists express their gratitude and respect for the kami through individual shrine worship, rituals, customs, and even festivals, some of which are held in conjunction with State holidays and celebrations.
Shrine worship generally consists of a purification ritual (washing), making an offering of food or money to the kami for which the shrine was erected, and saying a prayer.
A number of different festivals, called matsuri, are held to celebrate seasonal events, such as the fall harvest and the New Year.10 Many shrines also hold matsuri to honor their own particular purpose or history.
Ceremonies are also held for certain rites of passage, such as Hatsumiya-Mode, which is the visit of a newborn baby to a shrine to receive blessings. Another example is Shichi-Go-San, where boys aged five and girls aged three and seven visit a shrine to give thanks for their good health and receive blessings.7
Shintoism does not have a system of ethics or morals, but rather places emphasis on ritual and ceremony to express the joyful acceptance of nature. Life and death are viewed as natural processes. The general concept of good and evil does not exist. What is important is ritual, particularly rituals pertaining to purity, which are closely related to an individual's obligations to his superiors - ancestors, the emperor, family, Japan, and Shinto. The demonstration of loyalty is most important, and is expressed through the observance of rituals and taboos.5
The Four Affirmations of Shinto:11
This site provides a brief overview of Shinto history and details the basic beliefs and practices. It also offers a few links at the end to other Shinto-related sites.
This site provides more detail on the history of Shintoism, from the myth of Amaterasu to the Meiji Restoration and the present. There are also descriptions of Shinto ceremonies, shrines, shrine architecture, and purification rituals.
Basic Terms of Shinto
This site provides an alphabetical listing of terminology associated with Shintoism and is good for reference.
A Guide to Japan
This site contains numerous links within it on the history and culture of Japan. Descriptions are given on the all the different eras and events from the ancient Jomon and Yayoi periods to the present. There are also links that provides descriptions and examples of Shinto festivals, ceremonies, and shrines. Includes pictures.
Modern Shinto Classification
This site breaks down the four modern categories of Shinto: Koshitsu (Imperial), Shuha (Sect), Folk (Observances/Rites of Passage), and Jinja (Shrine).
Shinto and Buddhism: Wellsprings of Japanese Spirituality
Article written by Paul Watt for the Asia Society's Focus on Asian Studies, Vol. II, No. 1, Asian Religions, pp. 21-23, Fall 1982. Copyright AskAsia, 1996.
Shinto Shrine Photos
This site has links to numerous photographs of Shinto shrines and torii (sacred arch or gateway) in Japan.
Jingu Shrine in Ise
This page provides information on the Jingu Shrine in Ise, Mie Prefecture. This shrine was built in honor of Amaterasu, the Sun-Goddess, and remains the most revered and prestigious place of worship.
Yasakuni Jinja (Shrine)
This is the home page of the Yasakuni Jinja (shrine) located in Tokyo, Japan. This particular shrine maintained close ties to the Japanese government during World War II. They claim to have almost two and a half million kami enshrined here, many of whom are spirits historical figures and soldiers who died in service of the country.
Kannagara Jinjya: Branch of Tsubaki O'Kami Yashiro
This is a link to a Shinto shrine in America, the Kannagara Jinjya Shrine , located in Granite Falls, Washington. This shrine is the place of worship for the first American to become a fully licensed Shinto priest. Includes a few pictures.
Ancient Japanese Myths
This site contains links to several myths that are significant to Shinto, including the creation of heaven and earth, the myth of Izanagi and Izanami, and the conflict between Amaterasu and her brother Susanoo. They are taken from the Nihongi, translated by W.G. Aston.
Created by Stacy Buko
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
Fall Term, 2000
University of Virginia
Last modified: 01/10/01