Shinto,[lower-alpha 1] also known as Shintoism or kami-no-michi, is a religion originating from Japan. Classified as an East Asian religion by scholars of religion, its practitioners often regard it as Japan's indigenous religion. Scholars sometimes call its practitioners Shintoists, although adherents rarely use that term themselves.

Shinto is polytheistic and revolves around the kami ("gods" or "spirits"), supernatural entities believed to inhabit all things. The link between the kami and the natural world has led to Shinto being considered animistic and pantheistic. The kami are worshipped at kamidana household shrines, family shrines, and public shrines. The latter are staffed by priests who oversee offerings to the kami and the provision of religious paraphernalia such as amulets to the religion's adherents. Other common rituals include the kagura ritual dances, age specific celebrations, and seasonal festivals. These festivals and rituals are collectively called matsuri. A major conceptual focus in Shinto is ensuring purity by cleansing practices of various types including ritual washing or bathing. Shinto does not emphasize specific moral codes other than ritual purity, reverence for kami, and regular communion following seasonal practices. Shinto has no single creator or specific doctrinal text, but exists in a diverse range of localised and regionalised forms.

Belief in kami can be traced to the Yayoi period (1000 BCE to 300 CE), although their veneration was more simplistic than in later periods. At the end of the Kofun period (300 to 538 CE), Buddhism entered Japan and influenced kami veneration. Through Buddhist influence, kami came to be depicted anthropomorphically and were situated within Buddhist cosmology. Religious syncretisation made kami worship and Buddhism functionally inseparable, a process called Shinbutsu-shūgō. The earliest written tradition regarding kami worship was recorded in the eighth-century Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. In ensuing centuries, Shinbutsu-shūgō was adopted by Japan's Imperial household. During the Meiji era (1868 to 1912 CE), Japan's leadership expelled Buddhist influence from Shinto and formed State Shinto, which they utilized as a method for fomenting nationalism and imperial worship. Shrines came under growing government influence, and the Emperor of Japan was elevated to a particularly high position as a kami. With the formation of the Japanese Empire in the early 20th century, Shinto was exported to other areas of East Asia. Following Japan's defeat in World War II, Shinto was formally separated from the state.

Shinto is primarily found in Japan, where there are around 80,000 public shrines; the country's shrine organization claims 113 million adherents. Shinto is also practiced elsewhere, in smaller numbers. Only a minority of Japanese people identify as religious, although most of the population take part in Shinto matsuri and Buddhist activities, especially festivals, and seasonal events. This reflects a common view in Japanese culture that the beliefs and practices of different religions need not be exclusive. Aspects of Shinto have also been incorporated into various Japanese new religious movements.


There is no universally agreed definition of Shinto.[1] However, the authors Joseph Cali and John Dougill stated that if there was "one single, broad definition of Shinto" that could be put forward, it would be that "Shinto is a belief in kami", the supernatural entities at the centre of the religion.[2] The Japanologist Helen Hardacre stated that "Shinto encompasses doctrines, institutions, ritual, and communal life based on kami worship",[3] while the scholar of religion Inoue Nobutaka observed the term was "often used" in "reference to kami worship and related theologies, rituals and practices."[4]

Many scholars refer to Shinto as a religion.[5] However, religion as a concept arose in Western countries and many of the connotations that the term has in Western culture "do not readily apply" to Shinto.[6] Unlike religions familiar in the West, such as Christianity and Islam, Shinto has no single founder.[7] Western religions have tended to stress exclusivity, but in Japan, it has long been considered acceptable to practice different religious traditions simultaneously.[8] Shinto incorporates elements borrowed from religious traditions imported into Japan from mainland Asia, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese divination practices.[2] It bears many similarities with other East Asian religions, in particular through its belief in many different deities.[9]

Western scholars have referred to practitioners of Shinto as Shintoists.[10] The philosopher Stuart D. B. Picken thought this term to be "untranslatable" and "meaningless" in the Japanese language.[10] Some people prefer to view Shinto not as a religion but as a "way",[11] partly as a pretence for attempting to circumvent the modern Japanese separation of religion and state and restore the historical links between Shinto and the Japanese state.[12]

Scholars have debated at what point in history it is legitimate to start talking about Shinto as a specific phenomenon. The scholar of religion Ninian Smart for instance suggested that one could "speak of the kami religion of Japan, which lived symbiotically with organized Buddhism, and only later was institutionalized as Shinto."[13] The scholar of religion Brian Bocking stressed that the term should "be approached with caution", particularly when it was applied to periods before the Meiji era,[14] Inoue Nobutaka stated that "Shinto cannot be considered as a single religious system that existed from the ancient to the modern period",[15] while the historian Kuroda Toshio noted that "before modern times Shinto did not exist as an independent religion".[16]

Some scholars suggest we talk about types of Shintō such as popular Shintō, folk Shintō, domestic Shintō, sectarian Shintō, imperial house Shintō, shrine Shintō, state Shintō, new Shintō religions, etc. rather than regard Shintō as a single entity. This approach can be helpful but begs the question of what is meant by 'Shintō' in each case, particularly since each category incorporates or has incorporated Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, folk religious and other elements.

— Scholar of religion Brian Bocking[17]

Inoue argued for categorizing Shinto "as a member of the family of East-Asian religions".[18] Picken suggested that Shinto could be classed as a world religion,[19] while the historian H. Byron Earhart called it "the only major religion to originate on Japanese soil".[20] Shinto is often referred to as an indigenous religion,[21] although this results in debates over the various different definitions of "indigenous" in the Japanese context.[22] Earhart noted that Shinto's history, which involved incorporating a great deal of Buddhist and Chinese influence, was "too complex to be labelled simply" as an "indigenous religion".[20] The notion of Shinto as Japan's "indigenous religion" stemmed from the growth of modern nationalism in the Edo period to the Meiji era.[23] As a result, the idea that Shinto was an ancient tradition was promoted throughout the population.[23] Associated with this idea of Shinto as Japan's indigenous religion, many priests and practitioners regard it as a prehistoric belief system that has continued uninterrupted throughout Japanese history, regarding it as something like the "underlying will of Japanese culture".[24]

Nelson noted that Shinto was "not a unified, monolithic entity that has a single center and system all its own".[22] Bocking noted that the term "Shinto" was akin to the term "Hinduism" in that it was "a portmanteau term for widely varying types and aspects of religion".[1] Various different types of Shinto have been identified. "Shrine Shinto" refers to the practices centred around shrines.[22] Some scholars have used the term "Folk Shinto" to designate localised Shinto practices,[25] or the practices of individuals outside of an institutionalised setting.[22] In various eras of the past, there was also a "State Shinto", in which Shinto beliefs and practices were closely interwoven with the operations of the Japanese state.[22]

Shinto is considered one of the two main religions of Japan, the other being Buddhism.[26] Whereas Buddhism places a focus on transcending the cosmos, which it regards as being replete with suffering, Shinto focuses on adapting to the pragmatic requirements of life.[27]


The term "Shinto" is often translated into English as "the way of the kami".[28] It derives from the combination of two Chinese characters: shen, which means kami in Chinese, and dao, which means do in Chinese.[29] The word Shintō was adopted, originally as Jindō[30] or Shindō,[31] from the written Chinese Shendao (神道, pinyin: shéndào),[note 1] combining two kanji: shin (), meaning "spirit" or kami; and michi (), "path", meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào).[32] The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the sixth century.[31]

Among the term's earliest known appearance in Japan is in the Nihon Shoki, an eighth-century text. Here, it may simply be used in reference to popular belief, and not merely that of Japan.[33] Alternatively, it is possible that in this Japanese context, the early uses of Shinto were also a reference to Taoism, as many Taoist practices had recently been imported to Japan.[34] It is apparent that in these early Japanese uses, the word Shinto did not apply to a distinct religious tradition nor to anything seen as being uniquely Japanese.[35] In the Konjaku monogatarishui, composed in the eleventh-century, references are made to a woman in China practicing Shinto rather than Buddhism, indicating that at this time the term Shinto was not used in reference to purely Japanese traditions.[36] The same text also referred to people in India worshipping kami, reflecting use of that term to describe localised deities outside of Japan.[36]

In medieval Japan, kami-worship was generally seen as being part of Japanese Buddhism, with the kami themselves often being interpreted as Buddhas.[37] At this point, the term Shinto increasingly referred to "the authority, power, or activity of a kami, being a kami, or, in short, the state or attributes of a kami."[38] It appears in this form in texts such as Nakatomi no harai kunge and Shintoshu tales.[38] In the Japanese Portuguese Dictionary of 1603, Shinto is defined as referring to "kami or matters pertaining to kami."[39]

In the seventeenth century, under the influence of Edo period thinkers, the practice of kami worship came to be seen as distinct from Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.[23] The term Shinto only gained common use from the early twentieth century onward, when is superseded the term taikyō ('great religion') as the name for the Japanese state religion.[1] The term Shinto has been used in different ways throughout Japanese history.[40]

A range of other terms have been used as synonyms for Shinto. These include kami no michi ("Way of the Kami"), kannagara no michi ("way of the divine transmitted from time immemorial"), Kodō ("the ancient way"), Daidō ("the great way"), and Teidō ("the imperial way").[41]



Shinto is a polytheistic belief system involving the veneration of many deities, known as kami.[2] The Japanese language makes no distinction between singular and plural, and hence the term kami refers both to individual kami and the collective group of kami.[42] This term has varyingly been translated into English as "god", "deity", or "spirit",[43] although Earhart noted that there was "no exact English equivalent" for the word kami[44] and Bocking thought it "a term best left untranslated".[45] An alternative term used for the kami is jingi.[46] According to Japanese mythology, there are eight million kami.[47] They are not regarded as omnipotent, omniscient, or necessarily immortal.[48] Kami have been venerated since prehistory, although it was only under the influence of Buddhism that they were depicted anthropomorphically.[3] In the Yayoi period, they were regarded as being formless and invisible.[49]

The term kami is "conceptually fluid",[48] and Shinto practitioners believe that kami are present everywhere.[3] They are believed to inhabit both the living and the dead, organic and inorganic matter, and natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and plagues.[2] Their presence is seen in natural forces such as the wind, rain, fire, and sunshine,[25] and in Japanese the term kami is often applied to the power of phenomena that inspire a sense of wonder and awe in the beholder.[50] Accordingly, Nelson commented that Shinto regards "the actual phenomena of the world itself" as being "divine".[51] The Shinto understanding of kami has also been characterised as being both pantheistic,[2] and animistic.[52]

Kami are often associated with a specific place, often one that is noted as a prominent feature in the landscape such as a waterfall, volcano, large rock, or distinctive tree.[25] The kami is seen as being represented in the shrine by the go-shintai,[53] and its presence may be symbolised by an object such as a mirror or a sword.[54] Kami are believed to be capable of both benevolent and destructive deeds.[55] Offerings and prayers are given to the kami to gain their blessings and to dissuade them from engaging in destructive actions.[2] Shinto seeks to cultivate and ensure a harmonious relationship between humans and the kami and thus with the natural world.[56] More localised kami may be subject to feelings of intimacy and familiarity from members of the local community that are not directed towards more widespread kami like Amaterasu.[57]

Kami are not understood as being metaphysically different from humanity,[48] and in Shinto it is seen as possible for humans to become kami.[44] Dead humans are sometimes venerated as kami, being regarded as protector or ancestral figures.[58] One of the most prominent examples is that of the Emperor Ōjin, who on his death was enshrined as the kami Hachiman, believed to be a protector of Japan and a god of war.[25] In Japanese culture, ancestors can be viewed as a form of kami.[59] In Western Japan, the term jigami is used to describe the enshrined kami of a village founder.[60] In some cases, living human beings were also viewed as kami.[2] In the State Shinto system of the Meiji era, the Emperor of Japan was declared to be a kami,[44] while several Shinto sects have also viewed their leaders as living kami.[44]

Although some kami are venerated only in a single location, others have shrines devoted to them across many areas of Japan.[61] Hachiman for instance has around 25,000 shrines dedicated to him.[25] The act of establishing a new shrine to a kami who already has one is called bunrei ("dividing the spirit").[62] As part of this, the kami is invited to enter a new place, where it can be venerated, with the instalment ceremony being known as a kanjo.[61] The new, subsidiary shrine is known as a bunsha.[63] Individual kami are not believed to have their power diminished by their residence in multiple locations, and there is no limit on the number of places a kami can be enshrined.[61] In some periods, fees were charged for the right to enshrine a particular kami in a new place.[61] Shrines are not necessarily always designed as permanent structures.[3]

Many kami are believed to have messengers, known as kami no tsukai or tsuka washime, and these are generally depicted as taking animal form.[61] The messenger of Inari, for example, is depicted as a fox, while the messenger of Hachiman is a dove.[61] Shinto cosmology also includes bakemono, spirits who cause malevolent acts.[64] Bakemono include oni, tengu, kappa, mononoke, and yamanba.[64] Japanese folklore also incorporates belief in the goryō or onryō, unquiet or vengeful spirits, particularly of those who have died violently and without appropriate funerary rites.[65] These are believed to inflict suffering on the living, meaning that they must be pacified, usually through Buddhist rites but sometimes through enshrining them as a kami.[65]


The origin of the kami and of Japan itself are recounted in two eighth-century texts, Kojiki and Nihon shoki.[66] These were texts commissioned by ruling elites to legitimate and consolidate their rule,[67] and drew heavily upon Chinese influence.[68] These texts were never of great importance to the religious life of the Japanese.[68] Views regarding the truth of the cosmological stories recounted in these texts have varied. In the early twentieth century, for instance, the Japanese government proclaimed that it was irrefutable history.[69]

These texts recount that the universe started with ame-tsuchi, the separation of light and pure elements (ame, "heaven") from heavy elements (tsuchi, "earth").[70] Three kami then appeared: Amenominakanushi, Takamimusuhi no Mikoto, and Kamimusuhi no Mikoto.[69] Other kami followed, including a brother and sister, Izanagi and Izanami.[69] The kami then instructed Izanagi and Izanami to create land on earth. To this end, the siblings stirred the briny sea with a jewelled spear, from which Onogoro Island was formed.[71] Izanagi and Izanami then descended to Earth, where she gave birth to further kami. One of these was a fire kami, whose birth killed Izanami.[72] Izanagi then descended to the netherworld (yomi) to retrieve his sister-come-lover, but there he saw her body putrefying. Embarrassed to be seen in this state, she chased him out of yomi, and he closed its entrance with a boulder.[73][74]

Izanagi then bathed in the sea to rid himself from the pollution brought about by witnessing Izanami's putrefaction. Through this act, further kami emerged from his body: Amaterasu (the sun kami) was born from his left eye, Tsukiyomi (the moon kami) from his right eye, and Susanoo (the storm kami) from his nose.[74][73] Susanoo behaved in a destructive manner, and to escape him Amaterasu hid herself within a cave, plunging the earth into darkness. The other kami eventually succeeded in coaxing her out.[75] Susanoo was then banished to earth, where he married and had children.[76] With humans now living on Earth, the "age of the gods" came to an end.[76]

In Shinto, the creative principle permeating all life is known as mutsubi.[77]

Purity and impurity

A key theme in Shinto thought is the importance of avoiding kegare ("pollution" or "impurity"),[78] while ensuring harae ("purity").[79] In Japanese thought, kegare is seen as being a temporary condition, and can be corrected through achieving harae.[80] Rites of purification are conducted so as to restore an individual to "spiritual" health and render them useful to society.[81] Shinto teaches that certain deeds create a kind of ritual impurity that one should want cleansed for one's own peace of mind and good fortune rather than because impurity is wrong. Wrong deeds are called "impurity" (穢れ, kegare), which is opposed to "purity" (清め, kiyome). Normal days are called "day" (ke), and festive days are called "sunny" or, simply, "good" (hare).[82]

This notion of purity is present in many facets of Japanese culture, such as the focus it places on bathing.[83] Purification is for instance regarded as important in preparation for the planting season,[84] while performers of noh theatre undergo a purification rite before they carry out their performances.[85] Among the things regarded as particular pollutants in Shinto are death, disease, witchcraft, the flaying alive of an animal, incest, bestiality, excrement, and blood associated with either menstruation or childbirth.[86] To avoid kegare, priests and other practitioners may engage in abstinence and avoid various activities prior to a festival or ritual.[80] Various words, termed imi-kotoba, are also regarded as taboo, and people avoid speaking them when at a shrine; these include shi (death), byō (illness), and shishi (meat).[87]

Full immersion in the sea is often regarded as the most ancient and efficacious form of purification.[88] This act links with the mythological tale in which Izanagi immersed himself in the sea to purify himself after discovering his deceased wife; it was from this act that other kami sprang from his body.[89] Salt is often regarded as a purifying substance;[90] some Shinto practitioners will for instance sprinkle salt on themselves after a funeral,[91] while those running restaurants may put a small pile of salt outside before business commences each day.[92] Fire, also, is perceived as a source of purification.[93]

Kannagara, morality, and ethics

In Shinto, kannagara ("way of the kami") describes the law of the natural order.[94] Shinto incorporates morality tales and myths but no over-arching, codified ethical doctrine.[2] Its views of kannagara influence certain ethical views, focused on sincerity (makoto) and honesty (tadashii).[94] Shinto's flexibility regarding morality and ethics has been a source of frequent criticism, especially from those arguing that Shinto can readily become a pawn for those wishing to use it to legitimise their authority and power.[95] Cali and Dougill noted that Shinto had long been associated with "an insular and protective view" of Japanese society.[96] They added that in the modern world, Shinto tends toward conservatism and nationalism.[96] In the late 1990s, Bocking noted that "an apparently regressive nationalism still seems the natural ally of some central elements" of Shinto.[97] As a result of these associations, Shinto is still viewed suspiciously by various civil liberties groups in Japan and by many of Japan's neighbours.[97]

The priests of Shinto shrines may face various ethical conundrums. In the 1980s, for instance, the priests at the Suwa Shrine in Nagasaki debated whether to invite the crew of a U.S. Navy vessel docked at the port city to their festival celebrations given the sensitivities surrounding the 1945 U.S. use of the atomic bomb on the city.[98] Another issue of considerable debate has been the activities of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine is devoted to Japan's war dead, and in 1979 it enshrined 14 men, including Hideki Tojo, who were declared Class-A defendants at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. This generated both domestic and international condemnation, particularly from China and Korea.[99]


Shinto tends to focus on behavior rather than doctrine.[96] The philosophers James W. Boyd and Ron G. Williams stated that Shinto is "first and foremost a ritual tradition".[100] As observed by Picken, "Shinto is interested not in credenda but in agenda, not in things that should be believed but in things that should be done."[101] It is often difficult to distinguish Shinto practices from Japanese customs more broadly,[102] with Picken observing that the "worldview of Shinto" provided the "principal source of self-understanding within the Japanese way of life".[101] Nelson stated that "Shinto-based orientations and values[…] lie at the core of Japanese culture, society, and character".[103]


Public spaces in which the kami are worshipped are often known under the generic term jinja ("kami-place");[104] this term applies to the location rather than to a specific building.[105] Jinja is usually translated as "shrine" in English,[106] although in earlier literature was sometimes translated as "temple",[10] a term now more commonly reserved for Japan's Buddhist structures.[106] By the late twentieth century, the Association of Shinto Shrines estimated that there were approximately 80,000 shrines affiliated to it across Japan,[107] with another 20,000 being unaffiliated.[108] They are found all over the country, from isolated rural areas to dense metropolitan ones.[109] Some of the grand shrines with imperial associations are termed jingū.[110]

The architectural styles of Shinto shrines had largely developed by the Heian period.[111] The inner sanctuary in which the kami is believed to live is known as a honden.[112] Typically, human worshippers carry out their acts outside of the honden.[26] Near the honden can sometimes be found a subsidiary shrine, the bekkū, to another kami; the kami inhabiting this shrine is not necessarily perceived as being inferior to that in the honden.[113] At some places, halls of worship have been erected, termed haiden.[114] On a lower level can be found the hall of offerings, known as a heiden.[115] Together, the building housing the honden, haiden, and heiden is called a hongū.[116] In some shrines, there is a separate building in which to conduct additional ceremonies, such as weddings, known as a gishikiden,[117] or a specific building in which the kagura dance is performed, known as the kagura-den.[118] The precincts of the shrine are known as the keidaichi.[119]

The entrance to shrines are marked out by a two-post gateway with either one or two crossbeams atop it, which are known as torii.[109] These are regarded as demarcating the area where the kami resides.[26] More broadly, torii have also become internationally-recognised symbols of Japan.[26] Their architectural form is distinctly Japanese, although the decision to paint most of them in vermillion reflects a Chinese influence dating from the Nara period.[120]

Shrines are often set within gardens, even in cities.[121] The shrine office is known as a shamusho,[122] while various kiosks sell amulets to visitors.[123] Since the late 1940s, shrines have had to be financially self-sufficient, relying on the donations of worshippers and visitors.[124] These funds are used to pay the wages of the priests, to finance the upkeep of the buildings, to cover the shrine's membership fees of various regional and national Shinto groups, and to contribute to disaster relief funds.[124]

In Shinto, it is seen as important that the places in which kami are venerated be kept clean and not neglected.[125] Through to the Edo period, it was common for Shinto shrines to be demolished and rebuilt at a nearby location so as to remove any pollutants and ensure purity.[126] This has continued into recent times at certain sites, such as the Ise Grand Shrine, which is moved to an adjacent site every two decades.[111] Separate shrines can also be merged in a process known as jinja gappei.[127] Shrines may have legends about their foundation, which are known as en-gi. These sometimes also record miracles associated with the shrine.[128] From the Heian period on, the en-gi were often retold on picture scrolls known as emaki-mono.[128]

Priesthood and miko

Shrines may be cared for by priests, by local communities, or by families on whose property the shrine is found.[26] Shinto priests are known in Japanese as Kannushi, meaning "proprietor of kami".[129] Many kannushi take on the role in a line of hereditary succession traced down specific families.[47] In contemporary Japan, there are two main training universities for those wishing to become Shinto priests, at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and at Kogakkan University in Mie Prefecture.[47][130] Priests can rise through the ranks over the course of their careers.[131] The number of priests at a particular shrine can vary; some shrines can have over 12 priests, and others have none, instead being administered by local lay volunteers.[132] Some priests earn a living administering to multiple small shrines, sometimes over ten or more.[133]

Priestly dress includes a tall, rounded hat known as an eboshi,[134] and black lacquered wooden clogs known as asa-gutsu.[135] Also part of standard priestly attire is a hiōgi fan.[136] The outer garment worn by a priest, usually colored black, red, or light blue, is the ,[137] or the ikan.[87] A white silk version of the ikan, used for formal occasions, is known as the saifuku.[87] Another priestly robe is the kariginu, which is modelled on Heian-style hunting garments.[138]

The chief priest at a shrine is known as a gūji.[139] As with teachers, instructors, and Buddhist clergy, Shinto priests are often referred to as sensei by lay practitioners.[140] Historically, there were various female priests although they were largely pushed out of their positions in 1868.[141] During the Second World War, women were again allowed to become priests to fill the void caused by large numbers of men being enlisted in the military.[142] In the early twenty-first century, male priests have still dominated Shinto institutions.[143] Male priests are free to marry and have children.[142] Before certain major festivals, priests may undergo a period of abstinence from sexual relations.[144] Some of those involved in festivals also abstain from a range of other things, such as consuming tea, coffee, or alcohol, immediately prior to the events.[89]

The priests are assisted by jinja miko, sometimes referred to as "shrine-maidens" in English.[145] These miko are typically unmarried,[146], although not necessarily virgins.[147] In many cases they are the daughters of a priest or a practitioner.[145] They are subordinate to the priests in the shrine hierarchy.[148] Their most important role is in the kagura dance, known as otome-mai.[149] Miko receive only a small salary but gain respect from members of the local community and learn skills such as cooking, calligraphy, painting, and etiquette which can benefit them when later searching for employment or a marriage partner.[149] They generally do not live at the shrines.[149] Sometimes they fill other roles, such as being secretaries in the shrine offices or clerks at the information desks, or as waitresses at the naorai feasts. They also assist Kannushi in ceremonial rites.[149]

Visits to shrines

Individual worship conducted at a shrine is known as hairei.[150] A visit to a shrine, which is known as jinja mairi in Japanese, typically takes only a few minutes.[151] Some individuals visit the shrines every day, often as on their route to work each morning.[151] The general procedure entails an individual approaching the honden, where they place a monetary offering in a box before ringing a bell to call the attention of the kami. Then, they bow, clap, and stand while silently offering a prayer.[151] The clapping is known as kashiwade or hakushu.[152] The prayers or supplications offered to the kami are known as kigan.[153] When at the shrine, individuals offering prayers are not necessarily praying to a specific kami.[151] A worshipper may not know the name of a kami residing at the shrine nor how many kami are believed to dwell there.[151] Unlike in certain other religious traditions such as Christianity and Islam, Shinto shrines do not have weekly services that practitioners are expected to attend.[154]

Some Shinto practitioners do not offer their prayers to the kami directly, but rather request that a priest offer them on their behalf; these prayers are known as kitō.[155] Many individuals approach the kami asking for pragmatic requests.[156] Requests for rain, known as amagoi ('rain-soliciting') have been found across Japan, with Inari a popular choice for such requests.[157] Other prayers reflect more contemporary concerns. For instance, people may ask that the priest approaches the kami so as to the purify their car in the hope that this will prevent it from being involved in an accident.[156] Before a building is constructed, it is common for either private individuals or the construction company to employ a Shinto priest to come to the land being developed and perform the jichinsai, or earth sanctification ritual. This purifies the site and asks the kami to bless it.[158]

People often ask the kami to help offset inauspicious events that may affect them. For instance, in Japanese culture, the age 33 is seen as being unlucky for women and the age 42 for men, and thus people can ask the kami to offset any ill-fortune associated with being this age.[159] Certain directions can also be seen as being inauspicious for certain people at certain times and thus people can approach the kami asking them to offset this problem if they have to travel in one of these unlucky directions.[159]

Shinto also features pilgrimages to shrines, known as junrei.[160] A round of pilgrimages, whereby individuals visit a series of shrines and other sacred sites that are part of an established circuit, is known as a junpai.[160] For many centuries, people have also visited the shrines for primarily cultural and recreational reasons, as opposed to spiritual ones.[151] Many of the shrines are recognised as sites of historical importance and some are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[151]

Harae and hōbei

Shinto rituals begin with a process of purification, or harae.[161] This entails an individual sprinkling water on the face and hands, a procedure known as temizu,[162] using a font known as a temizuya.[163] Another form of purification at the start of a Shinto rite entails waving a white paper streamer or wand known as the haraigushi.[164] When not in use, the haraigushi is usually kept in a stand.[162] The priest waves the haraigushi horizontally over a person or object being purified in a movement known as sa-yu-sa ("left-right-left").[162] Sometimes, instead of a haraigushi, the purification is carried out with a o-nusa, a branch of evergreen to which strips of paper have been attached.[162]

The acts of purification accomplished, petitions known as norito are spoken to the kami.[165] This is followed by an appearance by the miko, who commence in a slow circular motion before the main altar.[165]

Following the purification procedure, offerings are presented to the kami by being placed on a table.[165] This act is known as hōbei.[137] Historically, the offerings given the kami included food, cloth, swords, and horses.[166] In the contemporary period, lay worshippers usually give gifts of money to the kami while priests generally offer them food, drink, and sprigs of the sacred sakaki tree.[25] A common offering in the present are sprigs of the sakaki tree.[167] Animal sacrifices are not considered appropriate offerings, as the shedding of blood is seen as a vile act that necessitates purification.[168] The offerings presented are sometimes simple and sometimes more elaborate; at the Grand Shrine of Ise, for instance, 100 styles of food are laid out as offerings.[165]

After the offerings have been given, people often sip rice wine known as o-miki.[165] Drinking the o-miki wine is seen as a form of communion with the kami.[169] On important occasions, a feast is then held, known as naorai, inside a banquet hall attached to the shrine complex.[170]

The Kami are believed to enjoy music.[171] One style of music performed at shrines is gagaku.[172] Instruments used include three reeds (fue, sho, and hichiriki), the yamato-koto, and the "three drums" (taiko, kakko, and shōko).[173] Other musical styles performed at shrines can have a more limited focus. At shrines such as Ōharano Shrine in Kyoto, azuma-asobi ('eastern entertainment') music is performed on April 8th.[64] Also in Kyoto, various festivals make use of the dengaku style of music and dance, which originated from rice-planting songs.[174] During rituals, people visiting the shrine are expected to sit in the seiza style, with their legs tucked beneath their bottom.[175] To avoid cramps, individuals who hold this position for a lengthy period of time may periodically move their legs and flex their heels.[176]

Home Shrines

Many people also have a kamidana or family shrine in their home.[177] The popularity of such kamidana increased greatly during the Meiji era.[178] Kamidana can also be found in work-places, restaurants, shops, and ocean-going ships.[179] These often feature small shrines enshrining the kami of a nearby public shrine as well as a tutelary kami associated with the house's occupants or their profession.[178] They can be decorated with miniature torii and shimenawa and include amulets obtained from public shrines;[178] some public shrines sell entire kamidana.[180] Daily offerings of rice, salt, and water are often made at kamidana, with sake and other items also being offered on special days.[178] Along with the kamidana, many Japanese households also have butsudan, Buddhist altars enshrining the ancestors of the family.[181]

Household Shinto can focus attention on the dōzoku-shin, kami who are perceived to be ancestral to the dōzoku or extended kinship group.[182] Small village shrines containing the tutelary kami of an extended family are known as iwai-den.[183]

In addition to the temple shrines and the household shrines, Shinto also features small wayside shrines known as hokora.[116] Other open spaces used for the worship of kami are iwasaka, an area surrounded by sacred rocks.[184]

Amulets and talismans

The use of amulets are widely sanctioned and popular in Japan.[154] These may be made of paper, wood, cloth, metal, or plastic.[154] Ema are small wooden plaques that wishes or desires are written upon and left at a place in the shrine grounds so that one may get a wish or desire fulfilled.[185] They have a picture on them and are frequently associated with the larger Shrines.[186] At new year, many shrines sell hamaya ("evil-destroying arrows") which people can purchase and keep in their home over the coming year to bring good luck.[187]

Ofuda are talismans—made of paper, wood, or metal—that are issued at shrines. They are inscribed with the names of kami and are used for protection in the home. They are typically placed in the home at a kamidana. Ofuda may be kept anywhere, as long as they are in their protective pouches, but there are several rules about the proper placement of kamidana. They are also renewed annually.[186] Omamori are personal-protection amulets that are sold by shrines. They are frequently used to ward off bad luck and to gain better health. More recently, there are also amulets to promote good driving, good business, and success at school. Their history lies with Buddhist practice of selling amulets.[186] Omamori and ofuda are sometimes placed within a charm bag known as a kinchaku, typically worn by small children.[153]

Omikuji are paper lots upon which personal fortunes are written.[186] The fortunes can range from daikichi (大吉), meaning "great good luck," to daikyou (大凶), meaning "great bad luck."[188]

A daruma is a round, paper doll of the Indian monk, Bodhidharma. The recipient makes a wish and paints one eye; when the goal is accomplished, the recipient paints the other eye. While this is a Buddhist practice, darumas can be found at shrines, as well. These dolls are very common.[186]

Other protective items include dorei, which are earthenware bells that are used to pray for good fortune. These bells are usually in the shapes of the zodiacal animals:[186] hamaya, which are symbolic arrows for the fight against evil and bad luck;[186] and Inuhariko, which are paper dogs that are used to induce and to bless good births.[186]


Kagura describes the music and dance performed for the kami.[189] There is a mythological tale of how kagura dance came into existence. According to the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, Ame-no-Uzume performed a dance to entice Amaterasu out of the cave in which she had hidden herself.[189] The word "kagura" is thought to be a contracted form of kami no kura or "seat of the kami" or the "site where the kami is received."[190]

There are two broad types of kagura.[189] One is Imperial kagura, also known as mikagura. This style was developed in the imperial court and is still performed on imperial grounds every December.[191] It is also performed at the Imperial harvest festival and at major shrines such as Ise, Kamo, and Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū. It is performed by singers and musicians using shakubyoshi wooden clappers, a hichiriki, a kagura-bue flute, and a six-stringed zither.[118] The other main type is sato-kagura, descended from mikagura and performed at shrines across Japan. Depending on the style, it is performed by miko or by actors wearing masks to portray various mythological figures.[118] These actors are accompanied by a hayashi band using flutes and drums.[118]

There are also other, regional types of kagura.[118]

Music plays a very important role in the kagura performance. Everything from the setup of the instruments to the most subtle sounds and the arrangement of the music is crucial to encouraging the kami to come down and dance. The songs are used as magical devices to summon the gods and as prayers for blessings. Rhythm patterns of five and seven are common, possibly relating to the Shinto belief of the twelve generations of heavenly and earthly deities. There is also vocal accompaniment called kami uta in which the drummer sings sacred songs to the gods. Often the vocal accompaniment is overshadowed by the drumming and instruments, reinforcing that the vocal aspect of the music is more for incantation rather than aesthetics.[192]

In both ancient Japanese collections, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, Ame-no-uzeme's dance is described as asobi, which in the old Japanese language means a ceremony that is designed to appease the spirits of the departed, and which was conducted at funeral ceremonies. Therefore, kagura is a rite of tama shizume, of pacifying the spirits of the departed. In the Heian period, this was one of the important rites at the Imperial Court and had found its fixed place in the tama shizume festival in the eleventh month. At this festival people sing as accompaniment to the dance: "Depart! Depart! Be cleansed and go! Be purified and leave!"[193] This rite of purification is also known as chinkon. It was used for securing and strengthening the soul of a dying person. It was closely related to the ritual of tama furi (shaking the spirit), to call back the departed soul of the dead or to energize a weakened spirit. Spirit pacification and rejuvenation were usually achieved by songs and dances, also called asobi. The ritual of chinkon continued to be performed on the emperors of Japan, thought to be descendants of Amaterasu. It is possible that this ritual is connected with the ritual to revive the sun goddess during the low point of the winter solstice.[194]


Public festivals are known as matsuri.[195] Picken suggested that the festival was "the central act of Shinto worship" because Shinto was a "community- and family-based" religion.[196] According to a traditional view of the lunar calendar, Shinto shrines should hold their festival celebrations on hare-no-hi or "clear" days", the days of the new, full, and half moons.[197] Other days, known as ke-no-hi, were generally avoided for festivities.[197] However, since the late 20th century, many shines have held their festival celebrations on the Saturday or Sunday closest to the date so that fewer individuals will be working and will be able to attend the festivities.[198]

Spring festivals are called haru-matsuri and often incorporate prayers for a good harvest.[197] They sometimes incorporate ta-asobi ceremonies, in which rice is ritually planted.[197] Autumn festivals are known as aki-matsuri and primarily focus on thanking the kami for the rice or other harvest.[199] The Niiname-sai, or festival of new rice, is held across many Shinto shrines on 23 November.[200] Winter festivals, called fuyu no matsuri often feature on welcoming in the spring, expelling evil, and calling in good influences for the future.[201] There is little difference between winter festivals and specific new year festivals.[201]

Many people visit shrines to celebrate new year;[202] this "first visit" of the year is known as hatsumōde or hatsumairi.[203] There, they buy amulets and talismans to bring them good fortune over the coming year.[204] To celebrate this festival, many Japanese put up rope known as shimenawa on their hopes and places of business.[205] Some also put up kadomatsu ("gateway pine"), an arrangement of pine branches, plum tree, and bamboo sticks.[206] Also displayed are kazari, which are smaller and more colourful; their purpose is to keep away misfortune and attract good fortune.[80] In many places, new year celebrations incorporate hadaka matsuri ("naked festivals") in which men dressed only in a fundoshi loincloth, engage in a particular activity, such as fighting over a specific object or immersing themselves in a river.[207]

Many festivals are specific to particular shrines or regions. The Aoi Matsuri festival, held on May 15th to pray for an abundant grain harvest, takes place at shrines in Kyoto.[208]

Processions or parades during Shinto festivals are known as gyōretsu.[209] During public processions, the kami travel in portable shrines known as mikoshi.[88] The processions for matsuri can be raucous, with many of the participants being drunk.[210] They are often understood as having a regenerative effect on both the participants and the community.[211] In various cases the mikoshi undergo hamaori ("going down to the beach"), a process by which they are carried to the sea shore and sometimes into the sea, either by bearers or a boat.[212] In the Okunchi festival held in the southwestern city of Nagasaki, the kami of the Suwa Shrine are paraded down to Ohato, where they are placed in a shrine there for several days before being paraded back to Suwa.[213]

Rites of passage

The formal recognition of events is given great importance in Japanese culture.[214] A common ritual, the hatsumiyamairi, entails a child's first visit to a Shinto shrine.[215] A tradition holds that if a boy, the child should be brought to the shrine on the thirty-second day after birth, and if a girl it should be brought on the thirty-third day.[203] Historically, the child was commonly brought to the shrine not by the mother, who was considered impure after birth, but by another female relative; since the late 20th century it has been more common for the mother to do so.[203] Another, the saiten-sai, is a coming of age ritual marking the transition to adulthood and occurs when an individual is around twenty.[216]

Wedding ceremonies are often carried out at Shinto shrines.[217] In Japan, funerals tend to take place at Buddhist temples;[217] Bocking noted that most Japanese people are "still 'born Shinto' yet 'die Buddhist'."[97] In Shinto thought, contact with death is seen as imparting impurity (kegare); the period following this contact is known as kibuku and is associated with various taboos.[218] In cases when dead humans are enshrined as kami, the physical remains of the dead are not stored at the shrine.[219] Shinto funerals were established during the Tokugawa period and focused on two themes: concern for the fate of the corpse and maintenance of the relationship between the living and the dead.[220] There are at least twenty steps involved in burying the dead. Mourners wear solid black in a day of mourning called Kichu-fuda and a Shinto priest will perform various rituals. People will give monetary gifts to the deceased's family called Koden, and Kotsuge is the gathering of the deceased's ashes. Some of the ashes are taken by family members to put in their home shrines at the step known as Bunkotsu.[221]

Divination and spirit mediumship

Divination is the focus of many Shinto rituals.[222] Among the ancient forms of divination found in Japan are rokuboku and kiboku.[223]

Shinto practitioners believe that the kami can possess a human being and then speak through them, a process known as kami-gakari.[224] Several new religious movements drawing upon Shinto, such as Tenrikyo and Oomoto, were founded by individuals claiming to be guided by a possessing kami.[225] The itako and ichiko are blind women who train to become spiritual mediums in the northern Tohoku region of Japan.[226] In the late twentieth century, they were present in Japanese urban centers.[226] Itako train in the role under other itako from childhood, memorialising sacred texts and prayers, fasting, and undertaking acts of severe asceticism, through which they are believed to cultivate supernatural powers.[226] In an initiation ceremony, a kami is believed to possess the young woman, and the two are then ritually "married". After this, the kami becomes her tutelary spirit and she will henceforth be able to call upon it, and a range of other spirits, in future. Through contacting these spirits, she is able to convey their messages to the living.[226] Itako usually carry our their rituals independent of the shrine system.[227]

Today, itako are most commonly associated with Mount Osore in Aomori Prefecture. There, an annual festival is held beside the Entsuji Buddhist temple, which hangs signs disavowing any connection to the itako.[228] Itako gather there to channel the dead for thousands of tourists.[229]:31 In contemporary Japan, itako are on the decline. In 2009, less than 20 remained, all over the age of 40.[230] Contemporary education standards have all but eradicated the need for specialized training for the blind.[230]


Before Shinto

Earhart commented that Shinto ultimately "emerged from the beliefs and practices of prehistoric Japan".[231] The historian Helen Hardacre noted that it was the Yayoi period of Japanese prehistory which was the "first to leave artifacts that can reasonably be linked to the later development of Shinto".[232] Kami were worshipped at various landscape features during this period; at this point, their worship consisted largely of beseeching and placating them, with little evidence that they were viewed as compassionate entities.[49] In the subsequent Kofun period, Korean migration to Japan brought with it both Confucianism and Buddhism.[233] Buddhism had a particular impact on the kami cults.[234] Migrant groups and Japanese who increasingly aligned with these foreign influences built Buddhist temples in various parts of the Japanese islands.[234] Several rival clans who were more hostile to these foreign influences began adapting the shrines of their kami to more closely resemble the new Buddhist structures.[234]

From the early sixth century CE, the style of ritual favored by the Yamato clan began spreading to other kami shrines around Japan as the Yamato extended their territorial influence.[235] Buddhism was also growing. According to the Nihon Shoki, in 587 Emperor Yōmei converted to Buddhism and under his sponsorship Buddhism spread.[236]

From the eighth century, Shinto and Buddhism were thoroughly intertwined in Japanese society.[102]

Kofun Period

The great bells and drums, Kofun burial mounds, and the founding of the imperial family are important to this period. This is the period of the development of the feudal state, and the Yamato and Izumo cultures. Both of these dominant cultures have a large and central shrine which still exists today, Ise Shrine in the North East and Izumo Taisha in the South West. This time period is defined by the increase of central power in Naniwa, now Osaka, of the feudal lord system. Also there was an increasing influence of Chinese culture which profoundly changed the practices of government structure, social structure, burial practices, and warfare. The Japanese also held close alliance and trade with the Gaya confederacy which was in the south of the peninsula. The Paekche in the Three Kingdoms of Korea had political alliances with Yamato, and in the 5th century imported the Chinese writing system to record Japanese names and events for trade and political records. In 513 they sent a Confucian scholar to the court to assist in the teachings of Confucian thought. In 552 or 538 a Buddha image was given to the Yamato leader which profoundly changed the course of Japanese religious history, especially in relation to the undeveloped native religious conglomeration that was Shinto. In the latter 6th century, there was a breakdown of the alliances between Japan and Paekche but the influence led to the codification of Shinto as the native religion in opposition to the extreme outside influences of the mainland. Up to this time Shinto had been largely a clan ('uji') based religious practice, exclusive to each clan.[32]

Asuka Period

The Theory of Five Elements in Yin and Yang philosophy of Taoism and the esoteric Buddhism had a profound impact on the development of a unified system of Shinto beliefs. In the early Nara period, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki were written by compiling existing myths and legends into a unified account of Japanese mythology. These accounts were written with two purposes in mind: the introduction of Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist themes into Japanese religion; and garnering support for the legitimacy of the Imperial house, based on its lineage from the sun goddess, Amaterasu. Much of modern Japan was under only fragmentary control by the Imperial family, and rival ethnic groups. The mythological anthologies, along with other poetry anthologies like the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves (Man'yōshū) and others, were intended to impress others with the worthiness of the Imperial family and their divine mandate to rule.[32]

In particular the Asuka rulers of 552–645 saw disputes between the more major families of the clan Shinto families. There were disputes about who would ascend to power and support the imperial family between the Soga and Mononobe/Nakatomi Shinto families. The Soga family eventually prevailed and supported Empress Suiko and Prince Shōtoku, who helped impress Buddhist faith into Japan. However, it was not until the Hakuho ruling period of 645–710 that Shinto was installed as the imperial faith along with the Fujiwara Clan and reforms that followed.[32]

Hakuho Period

Beginning with Emperor Tenmu (672–686), continuing through Empress Jitō (686–697) and Emperor Monmu (697–707) Court Shinto rites are strengthened and made parallel to Buddhist beliefs in court life. Prior to this time clan Shinto had dominated and a codification of "Imperial Shinto" did not exist as such. The Nakatomi family are made the chief court Shinto chaplains and chief priests at Ise Daijingū which held until 1892. Also the practice of sending imperial princesses to the Ise shrine begins.[32] This marks the rise of Ise Daijingū as the main imperial shrine historically. Due to increasing influence from Buddhism and mainland Asian thought, codification of the "Japanese" way of religion and laws begins in earnest. This culminates in three major outcomes: Taihō Code (701 but started earlier), the Kojiki (712), and the Nihon Shoki (720).[32]

The Taiho Code also called Ritsuryō (律令) was an attempt to create a bulwark to dynamic external influences and stabilize the society through imperial power. It was a liturgy of rules and codifications, primarily focused on regulation of religion, government structure, land codes, criminal and civil law. All priests, monks, and nuns were required to be registered, as were temples. The Shinto rites of the imperial line were codified, especially seasonal cycles, lunar calendar rituals, harvest festivals, and purification rites. The creation of the imperial Jingi-kan or Shinto Shrine office was completed.[32]

Nara Period

This period hosted many changes to the country, government, and religion. The capital is moved again to Heijō-kyō (modern-day Nara), in AD 710 by Empress Genmei due to the death of the Emperor. This practice was necessary due to the Shinto belief in the impurity of death and the need to avoid this pollution. However, this practice of moving the capital due to "death impurity" is then abolished by the Taihō Code and rise in Buddhist influence.[32] The establishment of the imperial city in partnership with Taihō Code is important to Shinto as the office of the Shinto rites becomes more powerful in assimilating local clan shrines into the imperial fold. New shrines are built and assimilated each time the city is moved. All of the grand shrines are regulated under Taihō and are required to account for incomes, priests, and practices due to their national contributions.[32]

During this time, Buddhism becomes structurally established within Japan by Emperor Shōmu (r. 724–749), and several large building projects are undertaken. The Emperor lays out plans for the Buddha Dainichi (Great Sun Buddha), at Tōdai-ji assisted by the Priest Gyogi (or Gyoki) Bosatsu. The priest Gyogi went to Ise Daijingu Shrine for blessings to build the Buddha Dainichi. They identified the statue of Viarocana with Amaterasu (the sun goddess) as the manifestation of the supreme expression of universality.[32]

The priest Gyogi is known for his belief in assimilation of Shinto Kami and Buddhas. Shinto kami are commonly being seen by Buddhist clergy as guardians of manifestation, guardians, or pupils of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.[32] The priest Gyogi conferred boddhisattva precepts on the Emperor in 749 effectively making the Imperial line the head of state and divine to Shinto while beholden to Buddhism.[237]

Syncretism with Buddhism

With the introduction of Buddhism and its rapid adoption by the court in the 6th century, it was necessary to explain the apparent differences between native Japanese beliefs and Buddhist teachings. One Buddhist explanation saw the kami as supernatural beings still caught in the cycle of birth and rebirth (reincarnation). The kami are born, live, die, and are reborn like all other beings in the karmic cycle. However, the kami played a special role in protecting Buddhism and allowing its teachings of compassion to flourish.

This explanation was later challenged by Kūkai (空海, 774–835), who saw the kami as different embodiments of the Buddhas themselves (honji suijaku theory). For example, he linked Amaterasu (the sun goddess and ancestor of the Imperial family) with Dainichi Nyorai, a central manifestation of the Buddhists, whose name means literally "Great Sun Buddha". In his view, the kami were just Buddhas by another name.

From the eighth century onward up until the Meiji era, the kami were incorporated into a Buddhist cosmology in various ways.[238] One view is that the kami realised that like all other life-forms, they too were trapped in the cycle of samsara (rebirth) and that to escape this they had to follow Buddhist teachings.[238] Alternative approaches viewed the kami as benevolent entities who protected Buddhism, or that the kami were themselves Buddhas, or beings who had achieved enlightenment. In this, they could be either hongaku, the pure spirits of the Buddhas, or honji suijaku, transformations of the Buddhas in their attempt to help all sentient beings.[238]


Buddhism and Shinto coexisted and were amalgamated in the Shinbutsu-shūgō and Kūkai's syncretic view held wide sway up until the end of the Edo period. There was no theological study that could be called "Shinto" during medieval and early modern Japanese history, and a mixture of Buddhist and popular beliefs proliferated. At that time, there was a renewed interest in "Japanese studies" (kokugaku), perhaps as a result of the closed country policy.

In the 18th century, various Japanese scholars, in particular Motoori Norinaga (本居 宣長, 1730–1801), tried to isolate ideas and beliefs that were uniquely Japanese, which included tearing apart the "real" Shinto from various foreign influences, especially Buddhism. The attempt was largely unsuccessful; however, the attempt did set the stage for the arrival of State Shinto, following the Meiji Restoration (c. 1868), when Shinto and Buddhism were separated (shinbutsu bunri).

State Shinto

Fridell argues that scholars call the period 1868–1945 the "State Shinto period" because, "during these decades, Shinto elements came under a great deal of overt state influence and control as the Japanese government systematically utilized shrine worship as a major force for mobilizing imperial loyalties on behalf of modern nation-building."[239] However, the government had already been treating shrines as an extension of government before Meiji; see for example the Tenpō Reforms. Moreover, according to the scholar Jason Ānanda Josephson, It is inaccurate to describe shrines as constituting a "state religion" or a "theocracy" during this period since they had neither organization, nor doctrine, and were uninterested in conversion.[240]

The Meiji Restoration reasserted the importance of the emperor and the ancient chronicles to establish the Empire of Japan, and in 1868 the government attempted to recreate the ancient imperial Shinto by separating shrines from the temples that housed them. During this period, numerous scholars of kokugaku believed that this national Shinto could be the unifying agent of the country around the Emperor while the process of modernization was undertaken with all possible speed. The psychological shock of the Western "Black Ships" and the subsequent collapse of the shogunate convinced many that the nation needed to unify in order to resist being colonized by outside forces.

In 1871, a Ministry of Rites (jingi-kan) was formed and Shinto shrines were divided into twelve levels with the Ise Shrine (dedicated to Amaterasu, and thus symbolic of the legitimacy of the Imperial family) at the peak and small sanctuaries of humble towns at the base. The following year, the ministry was replaced with a new Ministry of Religion, charged with leading instruction in "shushin" (moral courses). As part of the Great Promulgation Campaign, priests were officially nominated and organized by the state, and they instructed the youth in a form of Shinto theology based on the official dogma of the divinity of Japan's national origins and its Emperor. However, this propaganda did not succeed, and the unpopular Ministry of Rites was dissolved in the mid-1870s.

Although the government sponsorship of shrines declined, Japanese nationalism remained closely linked to the legends of foundation and emperors, as developed by the kokugaku scholars. In 1890, the Imperial Rescript on Education was issued, and students were required to ritually recite its oath to "offer yourselves courageously to the State" as well as to protect the Imperial family. Such processes continued to deepen throughout the early Shōwa era, coming to an abrupt end in August 1945 when Japan lost the war in the Pacific. On 1 January 1946, Emperor Shōwa issued the Ningen-sengen, in which he quoted the Five Charter Oath of Emperor Meiji and declared that he was not an akitsumikami (a deity in human form).


During the U.S. occupation, a new constitution was drawn up. This both enshrined freedom of religion in Japan and initiated the separation of church and state, a measure designed to eradicate "state Shinto" (kokka shinto).[241] As part of this, the Emperor formally declared that he was not a kami.[242] This disestablishment meant that the government subsidies to shrines ceased, although it also provided shrines with renewed freedom to organise their own affairs.[242] In 1946 many shrines then formed a voluntary organisation, the Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honchō), through which they could coordinate their efforts.[243] In 1956 the association issued a creedal statement, the keishin seikatsu no kōryō ("general characteristics of a life lived in reverence of the kami"), to summarise what they regarded as the principles of Shinto practice.[119] By the late 1990s around 80% of Japan's Shinto shrines were part of this association.[244]

In the post-war decades, many Japanese blamed Shinto for encouraging the militaristic policy which had resulted in defeat and occupation.[242] Concerns have been repeatedly expressed that sectors of Japanese society are conspiring to restore the State Shinto system.[245] Post-war, various legal debates have occurred over the involvement of public officials in Shinto.[246] In the post-war period, Shinto themes were often blended into Japanese new religious movements.[247]

Shinto has also spread abroad to a limited extent, and a few non-Japanese Shinto priests have been ordained. A relatively small number of people practice Shinto in America. There are several Shinto shrines in America. Shrines were also established in Taiwan and Korea during the period of Japanese imperial rule, but following the war, they were either destroyed or converted into some other use. The Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, was the first to establish a branch abroad: the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, initially located in California and then moved to Granite Falls, Washington.[133]


Shinto is primarily found in Japan, although the period of the empire it was introduced to various Japanese colonies and in the present is also practiced by members of the Japanese diaspora.[20]

Most Japanese people participate in several religious traditions.[248] The main exceptions to this are members of smaller, minority religious groups, including Christianity and several new religions, which promote exclusivist worldviews.[249] Determining the proportions of the country's population who engage in Shinto activity is hindered by the fact that, if asked, Japanese people will often say "I have no religion".[249] Many Japanese people avoid the term "religion", in part because they dislike the connotations of the word which most closely matches it in the Japanese language, shūkyō. The latter term derives from shū ('sect') and kyō ('doctrine').[250]

As much as nearly 80% of the population in Japan participates in Shinto practices or rituals, but only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys.[251][252] This is because Shinto has different meanings in Japan. Most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional Shinto religion.[253] There are no formal rituals to become a practitioner of "folk Shinto". Thus, "Shinto membership" is often estimated counting only those who do join organised Shinto sects.[254] Shinto has about 81,000 shrines and about 85,000 priests in the country.[252] According to surveys carried out in 2006[255] and 2008,[256] less than 40% of the population of Japan identifies with an organised religion: around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of Shinto sects and derived religions. In 2008, 26% of the participants reported often visiting Shinto shrines, while only 16.2% expressed belief in the existence of a god or gods () in general.[256]

Outside Japan

Shinto has attracted interest outside of Japan, in part because it lacks the doctrinal focus of major religions found in other parts of the world.[257] Shinto was introduced to the United States largely by interested European Americans rather than by Japanese migrants.[257]

Study of Shinto

In the early twentieth century, and to a lesser extent in the second half, Shinto was depicted as monolithic and intensely indigenous by the Japanese State institution and there were various state induced taboos influencing academic research into Shinto in Japan.[258] Japanese secular academics who questioned the historical claims made by the Imperial institution for various Shinto historical facts and ceremonies, or who personally refused to take part in certain Shinto rituals, could lose their jobs and livelihood.[259] Following the Second World War, many scholars writing on Shinto were also priests; they wrote from the perspective of active proponents. The result of this practice was to depict the actual history of a dynamic and diverse set of beliefs interacting with knowledge and religion from mainland China as static and unchanging formed by the imperial family centuries ago.[259] Some secular scholars accused these individuals of blurring theology with historical analysis.[260] In the late 1970s and 1980s the work of a secular historian Kuroda Toshio attempted to frame the prior held historical views of Shinto not as a timeless "indigenous" entity, but rather an amalgam of various local beliefs infused over time with outside influences through waves of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Part of his analysis is that this obfuscation was a cloak for Japanese ethnic nationalism used by state institutions especially in the Meiji and post war era to underpin the Japanese national identity.[260]

See also


  1. During the history of China, at the time of the spread of Buddhism to the country, the name Shendao was used to identify what is currently known as "Shenism", the Chinese indigenous religion, distinguishing it from the new Buddhist religion. (Brian Bocking. A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Routledge, 2005. ASIN B00ID5TQZY p. 129)
  1. 神道, Shintō, Japanese pronunciation: [ɕiꜜntoː]



  1. Bocking 1997, p. viii.
  2. Cali & Dougill 2013, p. 13.
  3. Hardacre 2017, p. 1.
  4. Inoue 2003, p. 1.
  5. Picken 1994, p. xvii; Nelson 1996, p. 26.
  6. Picken 1994, p. xix.
  7. Picken 2011, p. 1; Cali & Dougill 2013, p. 13.
  8. Picken 1994, p. xxx.
  9. Inoue 2003, p. 7.
  10. Picken 1994, p. xviii.
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  • Bocking, Brian (1997). A Popular Dictionary of Shinto (revised ed.). Richmond: Curzon. ISBN 9780700710515.
  • Boyd, James W.; Williams, Ron G. (2005). "Japanese Shinto: An Interpretation of a Priestly Perspective". Philosophy East and West. 55 (1): 33–63. doi:10.1353/pew.2004.0039.
  • Cali, Joseph; Dougill, John (2013). Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0824837136.
  • Earhart, H. Byron (2004). Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity (fourth ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 978-0-534-17694-5.
  • Hardacre, Helen (2017). Shinto: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-062171-1.
  • Kuroda, Toshio (1981). "Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion". Journal of Japanese Studies. 7 (1). Translated by James C. Dobbins and Suzanne Gay. pp. 1–21.
  • Inoue, Nobutaka (2003). "Introduction: What is Shinto?". In Nobutaka Inoue (ed.). Shinto: A Short History. Translated by Mark Teeuwan and John Breen. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 1–10. ISBN 978-0415319133.
  • Picken, Stuart D. B. (1994). Essentials of Shinto: An Analytical Guide to Principal Teachings. Westport and London: Greenwood. ISBN 978-0313264313.
  • Picken, Stuart D. B. (2011). Historical Dictionary of Shinto (second ed.). Lanham: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0810871724.
  • Teeuwen, Mark (2002). "From Jindō to Shintō. A Concept Takes Shape". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 29 (3–4). pp. 233–263.

Further reading

  • Averbuch, Irit (1995). The Gods Come Dancing: A Study of the Japanese Ritual Dance of Yamabushi Kagura. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University. ISBN 978-1-885445-67-4. OCLC 34612865.
  • Averbuch, Irit (1998). "Shamanic Dance in Japan: The Choreography of Possession in Kagura Performance". Asian Folklore Studies. 57 (2): 293–329. doi:10.2307/1178756. JSTOR 1178756.
  • Blacker, Dr. Carmen (2003). "Shinto and the Sacred Dimension of Nature". Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
  • Bowker, John W (2002). The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions. New York City: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81037-1. OCLC 47297614.
  • Breen, John; Teeuwen, Mark (2010). A New History of Shinto. Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405155168.
  • Breen, John; Mark Teeuwen, eds. (2000). Shintō in History: Ways of the Kami. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2362-7.
  • Endress, Gerhild (1979). "On the Dramatic Tradition in Kagura: A Study of the Medieval Kehi Songs as Recorded in the Jotokubon". Asian Folklore Studies. 38 (1): 1–23. doi:10.2307/1177463. JSTOR 1177463.
  • Engler, Steven; Grieve, Gregory P. (2005). Historicizing "Tradition" in the Study of Religion. Walter de Gruyter, Inc. pp. 92–108. ISBN 978-3110188752.
  • Havens, Norman (2006). "Shinto". In Paul L. Swanson; Clark Chilson (eds.). Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 14–37. ISBN 978-0-8248-3002-1. OCLC 60743247.
  • Herbert, Jean (1967). Shinto The Fountainhead of Japan. New York: Stein and Day.
  • Josephson, Jason Ānanda (2012). The Invention of Religion in Japan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226412344. OCLC 774867768.
  • Kamata, Tōji (2017). Myth and Deity in Japan: The Interplay of Kami and Buddhas. Tokyo: Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture. ISBN 978-4-916055-84-2.
  • Kitagawa, Joseph Mitsuo (1987). On Understanding Japanese Religion. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691102290.
  • Kobayashi, Kazushige; Knecht, Peter (1981). "On the Meaning of Masked Dances in Kagura". Asian Folklore Studies. 40 (1): 1–22. doi:10.2307/1178138. JSTOR 1178138.
  • Littleton, C. Scott (2002). Shinto: Origins, Rituals, Festivals, Spirits, Sacred Places. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-521886-2. OCLC 49664424.
  • Nelson, John K. Enduring Identities: The Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
  • Ueda, Kenji (1999). "The Concept of Kami". In John Ross Carter (ed.). The Religious Heritage of Japan: Foundations for Cross-Cultural Understanding in a Religiously Plural World. Portland, OR: Book East. pp. 65–72. ISBN 978-0-9647040-4-6. OCLC 44454607.
  • Williams, George; Bhar, Ann Marie B.; Marty, Martin E. (2004). Shinto (Religions of the World). Chelsea House. ISBN 978-0791080979.
  • Yamakage, Motohisa (2007). The Essence of Shinto, Japan's Spiritual Heart. Tokyo; New York; London: Kodansha International. ISBN 978-4-7700-3044-3.
  • Victoria Bestor, Theodore C. Bestor, Akiko Yamagata. Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society. Routledge, 2011. ASIN B004XYN3E4, ISBN 0415436494
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