Shintō,[a] also known as kami-no-michi,[b] 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 and as a nature religion. Scholars sometimes call its practitioners Shintoists, although adherents rarely use that term themselves. There is no central authority in control of the movement and much diversity exists among practitioners.
Shintō 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 Shintō being considered animistic and pantheistic. The kami are worshiped 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 Shintō is ensuring purity by cleansing practices of various types including ritual washing or bathing. Shintō does not emphasize specific moral codes other than ritual purity, reverence for kami, and regular communion following seasonal practices. Shintō has no single creator or specific doctrinal text, but exists in a diverse range of localized and regionalised forms.
Belief in kami can be traced to the Yayoi period (300 BCE – 300 CE), although similar concepts existed during the late Jōmon period. 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 – 1912 CE), Japan's leadership expelled Buddhist influence from Shintō and formed State Shintō, 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, Shintō was exported to other areas of East Asia. Following Japan's defeat in World War II, Shintō was formally separated from the state.
Shintō is primarily found in Japan, where there are around 80,000 public shrines; the country's shrine organization claims 113 million adherents. Shintō is also practised elsewhere, in smaller numbers. Only a minority of Japanese people identify as religious, although most of the population take part in Shintō 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 Shintō have also been incorporated into various Japanese new religious movements.
There is no universally agreed definition of Shintō. However, the authors Joseph Cali and John Dougill stated that if there was "one single, broad definition of Shintō" that could be put forward, it would be that "Shintō is a belief in kami", the supernatural entities at the centre of the religion. The Japanologist Helen Hardacre stated that "Shintō encompasses doctrines, institutions, ritual, and communal life based on kami worship", while the scholar of religion Inoue Nobutaka observed the term was "often used" in "reference to kami worship and related theologies, rituals and practices."
Various scholars have referred to practitioners of Shintō as Shintoists. The philosopher Stuart D. B. Picken thought this term to be "untranslatable" and "meaningless" in the Japanese language. Some people prefer to view Shintō not as a religion but as a "way", partly as a pretence for attempting to circumvent the modern Japanese separation of religion and state and restore the historical links between Shintō and the Japanese state.
Scholars have debated at what point in history it is legitimate to start talking about Shintō 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." 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, Inoue Nobutaka stated that "Shinto cannot be considered as a single religious system that existed from the ancient to the modern period", while the historian Kuroda Toshio noted that "before modern times Shinto did not exist as an independent religion".
Many scholars refer to Shintō as a religion. However, religion as a concept arose in Europe and many of the connotations that the term has in Western culture "do not readily apply" to Shintō. Unlike religions familiar in Western countries, such as Christianity and Islam, Shintō has no single founder, nor any single canonical text. Western religions have tended to stress exclusivity, but in Japan, it has long been considered acceptable to practice different religious traditions simultaneously. Japanese religion is therefore highly pluralistic. Shintō is often cited alongside Buddhism as one of the two main religions of Japan, and the two often differ in focus, with Buddhism emphasising the idea of transcending the cosmos, which it regards as being replete with suffering, while Shintō focuses on adapting to the pragmatic requirements of life. Shintō incorporates elements borrowed from religious traditions imported into Japan from mainland Asia, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese divination practices. It bears many similarities with other East Asian religions, in particular through its belief in many different deities.
— Scholar of religion Brian Bocking
Scholars of religion have debated how best to classify Shintō. Inoue argued for categorizing Shintō "as a member of the family of East-Asian religions". Picken suggested that Shintō could be classed as a world religion, while the historian H. Byron Earhart called it a "major religion". In the early 21st century it became increasingly common for practitioners to call Shintō a nature religion.
Shintō is often referred to as an indigenous religion, although this results in debates over the various different definitions of "indigenous" in the Japanese context. The notion of Shintō as Japan's "indigenous religion" stemmed from the growth of modern nationalism in the Edo period to the Meiji era. As a result, the idea that Shintō was an ancient tradition was promoted throughout the population. Associated with this idea of Shintō 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". The prominent Shintō theologian Sokyo Ono for instance stated that for the Japanese, kami worship was "an expression of their native racial faith which arose in the mystic days of remote antiquity", remaining "as indigenous as the people that brought the Japanese nation into existence and ushered in its new civilization". Many scholars have argued that this classification is inaccurate. Earhart noted that Shintō's history, which involved incorporating a great deal of Buddhist and Chinese influence, was "too complex to be labelled simply" as an "indigenous religion".
Shintō is internally diverse; Nelson noted it was "not a unified, monolithic entity that has a single center and system all its own". There is substantial localised variation in how Shintō is practised. In representing "a portmanteau term for widely varying types and aspects of religion", Bocking drew comparisons between the word "Shintō" and the term "Hinduism", which is also applied to a varied range of beliefs and practices. Various different types of Shintō have been identified. "Shrine Shintō" refers to the practices centred around shrines. Some scholars have used the term "Folk Shintō" to designate localised Shintō practices, or the practices of individuals outside of an institutionalised setting, and "Domestic Shintō" to the ways in which kami are venerated in the home. In various eras of the past, there was also a "State Shintō", in which Shintō beliefs and practices were closely interwoven with the operations of the Japanese state.
The term "Shintō" is often translated into English as "the way of the kami". It derives from the combination of two Chinese characters: shen, which means kami in Chinese, and dao, which means do in Chinese. The word Shintō was adopted, originally as Jindō or Shindō, from the written Chinese Shendao (神道, pinyin: shéndào),[note 1] combining two kanji: shin (神), meaning kami; and michi (道), "path", meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào). The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the sixth century.
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. Alternatively, it is possible that in this Japanese context, the early uses of Shintō were also a reference to Taoism, as many Taoist practices had recently been imported to Japan. It is apparent that in these early Japanese uses, the word Shintō did not apply to a distinct religious tradition nor to anything seen as being uniquely Japanese. In the Konjaku monogatarishui, composed in the eleventh-century, references are made to a woman in China practicing Shintō rather than Buddhism, indicating that at this time the term Shintō was not used in reference to purely Japanese traditions. The same text also referred to people in India worshipping kami, reflecting use of that term to describe localised deities outside of Japan.
In medieval Japan, kami-worship was generally seen as being part of Japanese Buddhism, with the kami themselves often being interpreted as Buddhas. At this point, the term Shintō increasingly referred to "the authority, power, or activity of a kami, being a kami, or, in short, the state or attributes of a kami." It appears in this form in texts such as Nakatomi no harai kunge and Shintōshu tales. In the Japanese Portuguese Dictionary of 1603, Shintō is defined as referring to "kami or matters pertaining to kami."
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. The term Shintō 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. The term Shintō has been used in different ways throughout Japanese history.
A range of other terms have been used as synonyms for Shintō. 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").
Shintō is a polytheistic belief system involving the veneration of many deities, known as kami, or sometimes as jingi. As is often the case in the Japanese language, no distinction is made here between singular and plural, and hence the term kami refers both to individual kami and the collective group of kami. This term has varyingly been translated into English as "god" or "spirit". However, Earhart noted that there was "no exact English equivalent" for the word kami, and Kitagawa stated that such English translations were "quite unsatisfactory and misleading". Several scholars have argued against translating kami into English. According to Japanese mythology, there are eight million kami, and Shinto practitioners believe that they are present everywhere. They are not regarded as omnipotent, omniscient, or necessarily immortal. Some kami, referred to as the magatsuhi-no-kami or araburu kami, are regarded as being essentially malevolent and destructive.
The term kami is "conceptually fluid", and "vague and imprecise". In Japanese it is often applied to the power of phenomena that inspire a sense of wonder and awe in the beholder. Kitagawa referred to this as "the kami nature", stating that he thought it "somewhat analogous" to the Western ideas of the numinous and the sacred. Kami are seen to inhabit both the living and the dead, organic and inorganic matter, and natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and plagues; their presence is seen in natural forces such as the wind, rain, fire, and sunshine. Accordingly, Nelson commented that Shintō regards "the actual phenomena of the world itself" as being "divine". The Shintō understanding of kami has also been characterised as being both pantheistic, and animistic.
In Japan, kami have been venerated since prehistory, and in the Yayoi period were regarded as being formless and invisible. It was only under the influence of Buddhism that they were depicted anthropomorphically.
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. The kami is seen as being represented in the shrine by the go-shintai, objects commonly chosen for this purpose include mirrors, swords, stones, beads, and inscribed tablets. Many practitioners visiting the shrine never see the go-shintai, which is concealed from their view. Kami are believed to be capable of both benevolent and destructive deeds. Offerings and prayers are given to the kami to gain their blessings and to dissuade them from engaging in destructive actions. Shintō seeks to cultivate and ensure a harmonious relationship between humans and the kami and thus with the natural world. 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.
Kami are not understood as being metaphysically different from humanity, and in Shintō it is seen as possible for humans to become kami. Dead humans are sometimes venerated as kami, being regarded as protector or ancestral figures. 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 kami of war. In Japanese culture, ancestors can be viewed as a form of kami. In Western Japan, the term jigami is used to describe the enshrined kami of a village founder. In some cases, living human beings were also viewed as kami; these were called akitsumi kami or arahito-gami. In the State Shintō system of the Meiji era, the Emperor of Japan was declared to be a kami, while several Shintō sects have also viewed their leaders as living kami.
Although some kami are venerated only in a single location, others have shrines devoted to them across many areas of Japan. Hachiman for instance has around 25,000 shrines dedicated to him. The act of establishing a new shrine to a kami who already has one is called bunrei ("dividing the spirit"). 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. The new, subsidiary shrine is known as a bunsha. 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. In some periods, fees were charged for the right to enshrine a particular kami in a new place. Shrines are not necessarily always designed as permanent structures.
Many kami are believed to have messengers, known as kami no tsukai or tsuka washime, and these are generally depicted as taking animal form. The messenger of Inari, for example, is depicted as a fox (kitsune), while the messenger of Hachiman is a dove. Shintō cosmology also includes bakemono, spirits who cause malevolent acts. Bakemono include oni, tengu, kappa, mononoke, and yamanba. 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. 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.
Cosmology and afterlife
The origin of the kami and of Japan itself are recounted in two eighth-century texts, Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. These were texts commissioned by ruling elites to legitimize and consolidate their rule, and drew heavily upon Chinese influence. These texts were never of great importance to the religious life of the Japanese. 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.
These texts recount that the universe started with ame-tsuchi, the separation of light and pure elements (ame, "heaven") from heavy elements (tsuchi, "earth"). Three kami then appeared: Amenominakanushi, Takamimusuhi no Mikoto, and Kamimusuhi no Mikoto. Other kami followed, including a brother and sister, Izanagi and Izanami. The kami 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. 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. Izanagi then descended to the netherworld (yomi) to retrieve his sister, 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.
Izanagi 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. 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. Susanoo was then banished to earth, where he married and had children. With humans now living on Earth, the "age of the kami" came to an end. According to these texts, Amaterasu then sent her grandson, Ninigi, to rule Japan, giving him curved beads, a mirror, and a sword: the symbols of Japanese imperial authority.
In Shintō, the creative principle permeating all life is known as musubi. Within traditional Japanese thought, there is no concept of an overarching duality between good and evil. The concept of aki encompasses misfortune, unhappiness, and disaster, although does not correspond precisely with the Western concept of evil.
Texts such as the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki attest to the presence of multiple realms in Shintō cosmology. These present a universe divided into three parts: the Plain of High Heaven (Takama-no-hara), where the kami live; the Phenomenal or Manifested World (Utsushi-yo), where humans dwell; and the Nether World (Yomotsu-kuni), where unclean spirits reside. The mythological texts nevertheless do not draw firm demarcations between these realms. Shintō places greater emphasis on this life than on any afterlife. As the historian of religion Joseph Kitagawa noted, "Japanese religion has been singularly preoccupied with this world, with its emphasis on finding ways to cohabit with the kami and with other human beings". A common view among Shintō priests is that the dead continue to inhabit our world and work towards the prosperity of their descendants and the land. One traditional belief formerly widespread in Japan was that the spirits of the dead resided in the mountains, from where they would descend to take part in agricultural events.
Purity and impurity
A key theme in Shintō thought is the importance of avoiding kegare ("pollution" or "impurity"), while ensuring harae ("purity"). In Japanese thought, humans are seen as fundamentally pure. Kegare is therefore seen as being a temporary condition that can be corrected through achieving harae. Rites of purification are conducted so as to restore an individual to "spiritual" health and render them useful to society.
This notion of purity is present in many facets of Japanese culture, such as the focus it places on bathing. Purification is for instance regarded as important in preparation for the planting season, while performers of noh theatre undergo a purification rite before they carry out their performances. Among the things regarded as particular pollutants in Shintō are death, disease, witchcraft, the flaying alive of an animal, incest, bestiality, excrement, and blood associated with either menstruation or childbirth. To avoid kegare, priests and other practitioners may engage in abstinence and avoid various activities prior to a festival or ritual. 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).
Full immersion in the sea is often regarded as the most ancient and efficacious form of purification. 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. An alternative is immersion beneath a waterfall. Salt is often regarded as a purifying substance; some Shintō practitioners will for instance sprinkle salt on themselves after a funeral, while those running restaurants may put a small pile of salt outside before business commences each day. Fire, also, is perceived as a source of purification.
Kannagara, morality, and ethics
In Shintō, kannagara ("way of the kami") describes the law of the natural order. Shintō incorporates morality tales and myths but no overarching, codified ethical doctrine; Offner noted that Shintō specified no "unified, systematized code of behaviour". Its views of kannagara influence certain ethical views, focused on sincerity (makoto) and honesty (tadashii). Shintō sometimes includes reference to four virtues known as the akaki kiyoki kokoro or sei-mei-shin. Makoto is regarded as a cardinal virtue in Japanese religion more broadly. Offner believed that in Shintō, ideas about goodness linked to "that which possesses, or relates to, beauty, brightness, excellence, good fortune, nobility, purity, suitability, harmony, conformity, [and] productivity." Shintō's flexibility regarding morality and ethics has been a source of frequent criticism, especially from those arguing that Shintō can readily become a pawn for those wishing to use it to legitimise their authority and power.
Throughout Japanese history, the notion of saisei-itchi, or the union of religious authority and political authority, has long been prominent. Cali and Dougill noted that Shintō had long been associated with "an insular and protective view" of Japanese society. They added that in the modern world, Shintō tends toward conservatism and nationalism. In the late 1990s, Bocking noted that "an apparently regressive nationalism still seems the natural ally of some central elements" of Shintō. As a result of these associations, Shintō is still viewed suspiciously by various civil liberties groups in Japan and by many of Japan's neighbours.
The priests of Shintō 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. In other cases, priests have opposed construction projects on shrine-owned land, sometimes putting them at odds with other interest groups. At Kaminoseki in the early 2000s, a priest opposed the sale of shrine lands to build a nuclear power plant; he was eventually pressured to resign over the issue. 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.
In the 21st century, Shintō has increasingly been portrayed as a nature-centred spirituality with environmentalist credentials. Shintō shrines have increasingly emphasised the preservation of the forests surrounding many of them, and several shrines have collaborated with local environmentalist campaigns. In 2014, an international interreligious conference on environmental sustainability was held at the Ise shrine, attended by United Nations representatives and around 700 Shintō priests. Critical commentators have characterised the presentation of Shintō as an environmentalist movement as a rhetorical ploy rather than a concerted effort by Shintō institutions to become environmentally sustainable. The scholar Aike P. Rots suggested that the repositioning of Shintō as a "nature religion" may have grown in popularity as a means of disassociating the religion from controversial issues "related to war memory and imperial patronage."
Shintō tends to focus on ritual behavior rather than doctrine. The philosophers James W. Boyd and Ron G. Williams stated that Shintō is "first and foremost a ritual tradition", while Picken observed that "Shintō is interested not in credenda but in agenda, not in things that should be believed but in things that should be done." The scholar of religion Clark B. Offner stated that Shintō's focus was on "maintaining communal, ceremonial traditions for the purpose of human (communal) well-being". It is often difficult to distinguish Shintō practices from Japanese customs more broadly, with Picken observing that the "worldview of Shintō" provided the "principal source of self-understanding within the Japanese way of life". Nelson stated that "Shintō-based orientations and values[…] lie at the core of Japanese culture, society, and character".
Public spaces in which the kami are worshipped are often known under the generic term jinja ("kami-place"); this term applies to the location rather than to a specific building. Jinja is usually translated as "shrine" in English, although in earlier literature was sometimes translated as "temple", a term now more commonly reserved for Japan's Buddhist structures. By the late twentieth century, the Association of Shintō Shrines estimated that there were approximately 80,000 shrines affiliated to it across Japan, with another 20,000 being unaffiliated. They are found all over the country, from isolated rural areas to dense metropolitan ones. Some of the grand shrines with imperial associations are termed jingū.
The architectural styles of Shintō shrines had largely developed by the heian period. The inner sanctuary in which the kami is believed to live is known as a honden. Typically, human worshippers carry out their acts outside of the honden. 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. At some places, halls of worship have been erected, termed haiden. On a lower level can be found the hall of offerings, known as a heiden. Together, the building housing the honden, haiden, and heiden is called a hongū. In some shrines, there is a separate building in which to conduct additional ceremonies, such as weddings, known as a gishikiden, or a specific building in which the kagura dance is performed, known as the kagura-den. The precincts of the shrine are known as the keidaichi.
Shrine entrances are marked by a two-post gateway with either one or two cross beams atop it, known as torii. The exact details of these torii varies and there are at least twenty different styles. These are regarded as demarcating the area where the kami resides; passing under them is often viewed as a form of purification. More broadly, torii are internationally recognised symbols of Japan. 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. Also set at the entrances to many shrines are Komainu, statues of lion or dog like animals perceived to scare off malevolent spirits; typically these will come as a pair, one with its mouth open, the other with its mouth closed.
Shrines are often set within gardens, even in cities. Others are surrounded by wooded groves, referred to as chinju no mori ("forest of the tutelary kami"). These vary in size, from just a few trees to sizeable areas of woodland stretching over mountain slopes. Shrines often have an office, known as a shamusho, and other buildings such as a priests' quarters and a storehouse. Various kiosks often sell amulets to visitors. Since the late 1940s, shrines have had to be financially self-sufficient, relying on the donations of worshippers and visitors. 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 Shintō groups, and to contribute to disaster relief funds.
In Shintō, it is seen as important that the places in which kami are venerated be kept clean and not neglected. Through to the Edo period, it was common for Shintō shrines to be demolished and rebuilt at a nearby location so as to remove any pollutants and ensure purity. 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. Separate shrines can also be merged in a process known as jinja gappei. Shrines may have legends about their foundation, which are known as en-gi. These sometimes also record miracles associated with the shrine. From the heian period on, the en-gi were often retold on picture scrolls known as emakimono.
Priesthood and miko
Shrines may be cared for by priests, by local communities, or by families on whose property the shrine is found. Shintō priests are known in Japanese as Kannushi, meaning "proprietor of kami". Many kannushi take on the role in a line of hereditary succession traced down specific families. In contemporary Japan, there are two main training universities for those wishing to become Shintō priests, at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and at Kogakkan University in Mie Prefecture. Priests can rise through the ranks over the course of their careers. 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. Some priests earn a living administering to multiple small shrines, sometimes over ten or more.
Priestly dress includes a tall, rounded hat known as an eboshi, and black lacquered wooden clogs known as asagutsu. Also part of standard priestly attire is a hiōgi fan. The outer garment worn by a priest, usually colored black, red, or light blue, is the hō, or the ikan. A white silk version of the ikan, used for formal occasions, is known as the saifuku. Another priestly robe is the kariginu, which is modeled on heian-style hunting garments.
The chief priest at a shrine is known as a gūji. Larger shrines may also have an assistant head priest, the gon-gūji. As with teachers, instructors, and Buddhist clergy, Shintō priests are often referred to as sensei by lay practitioners. Historically, there were various female priests although they were largely pushed out of their positions in 1868. 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. In the early twenty-first century, male priests have still dominated Shintō institutions. Male priests are free to marry and have children. At smaller shrines, priests often have other full-time jobs, and serve only as priests during special occasions. Before certain major festivals, priests may undergo a period of abstinence from sexual relations. 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.
The priests are assisted by jinja miko, sometimes referred to as "shrine-maidens" in English. These miko are typically unmarried,, although not necessarily virgins. In many cases they are the daughters of a priest or a practitioner. They are subordinate to the priests in the shrine hierarchy. Their most important role is in the kagura dance, known as otome-mai. 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. They generally do not live at the shrines. 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.
Visits to shrines
Individual worship conducted at a shrine is known as hairei. A visit to a shrine, which is known as jinja mairi in Japanese, typically takes only a few minutes. Some individuals visit the shrines every day, often as on their route to work each morning. These rituals usually take place not inside the honden itself but in an oratory in front of it. The general procedure entails an individual approaching the honden, where the practitioners places 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. The clapping is known as kashiwade or hakushu; the prayers or supplications as kigan. When at the shrine, individuals offering prayers are not necessarily praying to a specific kami. A worshipper may not know the name of a kami residing at the shrine nor how many kami are believed to dwell there. Unlike in certain other religious traditions such as Christianity and Islam, Shintō shrines do not have weekly services that practitioners are expected to attend.
Some Shintō 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. Many individuals approach the kami asking for pragmatic requests. Requests for rain, known as amagoi ('rain-soliciting') have been found across Japan, with Inari a popular choice for such requests. 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. Similarly, transport companies often request purification rites for new buses or airplanes which are about to go into service. Before a building is constructed, it is common for either private individuals or the construction company to employ a Shintō 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.
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. 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.
Pilgrimage has long been an important facet of Japanese religion, and Shintō features pilgrimages to shrines, which are known as junrei. 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. For many centuries, people have also visited the shrines for primarily cultural and recreational reasons, as opposed to spiritual ones. Many of the shrines are recognised as sites of historical importance and some are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Shrines such as Shimogamo Jinja and Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, Meiji Jingū in Tokyo, and Atsuta Jingū in Nagoya are among Japan's most popular tourist sites.
Harae and hōbei
Shintō rituals begin with a process of purification, or harae. This entails an individual sprinkling water on the face and hands, a procedure known as temizu, using a font known as a temizuya. Another form of purification at the start of a Shintō rite entails waving a white paper streamer or wand known as the haraigushi. When not in use, the haraigushi is usually kept in a stand. The priest waves the haraigushi horizontally over a person or object being purified in a movement known as sa-yu-sa ("left-right-left"). Sometimes, instead of a haraigushi, the purification is carried out with an o-nusa, a branch of evergreen to which strips of paper have been attached.
The acts of purification accomplished, petitions known as norito are spoken to the kami. This is followed by an appearance by the miko, who commence in a slow circular motion before the main altar.
Following the purification procedure, offerings are presented to the kami by being placed on a table. This act is known as hōbei. Historically, the offerings given the kami included food, cloth, swords, and horses. 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. A common offering in the present are sprigs of the sakaki tree. Animal sacrifices are not considered appropriate offerings, as the shedding of blood is seen as a vile act that necessitates purification. 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.
After the offerings have been given, people often sip rice wine known as o-miki. Drinking the o-miki wine is seen as a form of communion with the kami. On important occasions, a feast is then held, known as naorai, inside a banquet hall attached to the shrine complex.
The Kami are believed to enjoy music. One style of music performed at shrines is gagaku. Instruments used include three reeds (fue, sho, and hichiriki), the yamato-koto, and the "three drums" (taiko, kakko, and shōko). 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. Also in Kyoto, various festivals make use of the dengaku style of music and dance, which originated from rice-planting songs. During rituals, people visiting the shrine are expected to sit in the seiza style, with their legs tucked beneath their bottom. To avoid cramps, individuals who hold this position for a lengthy period of time may periodically move their legs and flex their heels.
Many Shintō practitioners also have a kamidana or family shrine in their home. These usually consist of shelves placed at an elevated position in the living room. The popularity of kamidana increased greatly during the Meiji era. Kamidana can also be found in workplaces, restaurants, shops, and ocean-going ships. Some public shrines sell entire kamidana. Along with the kamidana, many Japanese households also have butsudan, Buddhist altars enshrining the ancestors of the family; ancestral reverence remains an important aspect of Japanese religious tradition.
Kamidana often enshrine the kami of a nearby public shrine as well as a tutelary kami associated with the house's occupants or their profession. They can be decorated with miniature torii and shimenawa and include amulets obtained from public shrines. They often contain a stand on which to place offerings; daily offerings of rice, salt, and water are placed there, with sake and other items also offered on special days. Prior to giving these offerings, practitioners often bathe, rinse their mouth, or wash their hands as a form of purification.
Household Shintō can focus attention on the dōzoku-shin, kami who are perceived to be ancestral to the dōzoku or extended kinship group. Small village shrines containing the tutelary kami of an extended family are known as iwai-den.
In addition to the temple shrines and the household shrines, Shintō also features small wayside shrines known as hokora. Other open spaces used for the worship of kami are iwasaka, an area surrounded by sacred rocks.
Ema, divination, and amulets
A common feature of Shintō shrines is the provision of ema, small wooden plaques onto which practitioners will write a wish or desire that they would like to see fulfilled. The practitioner's message is written on one side of the plaque, while on the other is usually a printed picture or pattern related to the shrine itself. Ema are provided both at Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan; unlike most amulets, which are taken away from the shrine, the ema are typically left there as a message for the resident kami. Those administering the shrine will then often burn all of the collected ema at new year.
A form of divination that is popular at Shintō shrines are the omikuji. These are small slips of paper which are obtained from the shrine (for a donation) and which are then read to reveal a prediction for the future. Those who receive a bad prediction often then tie the omikuji to a nearby tree or frame set up for the purpose. This act is seen as rejecting the prediction, a process called sute-mikuji, and thus avoiding the misfortune it predicted.
The use of amulets are widely sanctioned and popular in Japan. These may be made of paper, wood, cloth, metal, or plastic. Ofuda act as amulets to keep off misfortune and also serve as talismans to bring benefits and good luck. They typically comprise a tapering piece of wood onto which the name of the shrine and its enshrined kami are written or printed. The ofuda is then wrapped inside white paper and tied up with a colored thread. Ofuda are provided both at Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples. Another type of amulet provided at shrines and temples are the omamori, which are traditionally small, brightly colored drawstring bags with the name of the shrine written on it. Omamori and ofuda are sometimes placed within a charm bag known as a kinchaku, typically worn by small children.
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. 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. 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. Inuhariko are paper dogs that are used to induce and to bless good births. Collectively, these talismans through which home to manipulate events and influence spirits, as well as related mantras and rites for the same purpose, are known as majinai.
Kagura describes the music and dance performed for the kami. Throughout Japanese history, dance has played an important culture role and in Shintō it is regarded as having the capacity to pacify kami. 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. 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."
There are two broad types of kagura. 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. 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. 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. These actors are accompanied by a hayashi band using flutes and drums. There are also other, regional types of kagura.
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 kami and as prayers for blessings. Rhythm patterns of five and seven are common, possibly relating to the Shintō 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 kami. 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.
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!" 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 kami during the low point of the winter solstice.
Public festivals are known as matsuri. Picken suggested that the festival was "the central act of Shintō worship" because Shintō was a "community- and family-based" religion. According to a traditional view of the lunar calendar, Shintō shrines should hold their festival celebrations on hare-no-hi or "clear" days", the days of the new, full, and half moons. Other days, known as ke-no-hi, were generally avoided for festivities. 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.
Spring festivals are called haru-matsuri and often incorporate prayers for a good harvest. They sometimes incorporate ta-asobi ceremonies, in which rice is ritually planted. Autumn festivals are known as aki-matsuri and primarily focus on thanking the kami for the rice or other harvest. The Niiname-sai, or festival of new rice, is held across many Shintō shrines on 23 November. The Emperor also conducts a ceremony to mark this festival, at which he presents the first fruits of the harvest to the kami at midnight. Winter festivals, called fuyu no matsuri often feature on welcoming in the spring, expelling evil, and calling in good influences for the future. There is little difference between winter festivals and specific new year festivals.
Many people visit shrines to celebrate new year; this "first visit" of the year is known as hatsumōde or hatsumairi. There, they buy amulets and talismans to bring them good fortune over the coming year. To celebrate this festival, many Japanese put up rope known as shimenawa on their hopes and places of business. Some also put up kadomatsu ("gateway pine"), an arrangement of pine branches, plum tree, and bamboo sticks. Also displayed are kazari, which are smaller and more colourful; their purpose is to keep away misfortune and attract good fortune. 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.
Processions or parades during Shintō festivals are known as gyōretsu. During public processions, the kami travel in portable shrines known as mikoshi. The processions for matsuri can be raucous, with many of the participants being drunk. They are often understood as having a regenerative effect on both the participants and the community. 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. 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.
Rites of passage
The formal recognition of events is given great importance in Japanese culture. A common ritual, the hatsumiyamairi, entails a child's first visit to a Shintō shrine. A tradition holds that, if a boy he should be brought to the shrine on the thirty-second day after birth, and if a girl she should be brought on the thirty-third day. 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. Another, the saiten-sai, is a coming of age ritual marking the transition to adulthood and occurs when an individual is around twenty.
Wedding ceremonies are often carried out at Shintō shrines. In Japan, funerals tend to take place at Buddhist temples; with Shintō funerals being rare. Bocking noted that most Japanese people are "still 'born Shintō' yet 'die Buddhist'." In Shintō 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. In cases when dead humans are enshrined as kami, the physical remains of the dead are not stored at the shrine. Although not common, there have been examples of funerals conducted through Shintō rites. The earliest examples are known from the mid-seventeenth century; these occurred in certain areas of Japan and had the support of the local authorities. Following the Meiji Restoration, in 1868 the government recognised specifically Shintō funerals for Shintō priests. Five years later, this was extended to cover the entire Japanese population. Despite this Meiji promotion of Shintō funerals, the majority of the population continued to have Buddhist funeral rites. Ancestral reverence remains an important part of Japanese religious custom.
Divination and spirit mediumship
Divination is the focus of many Shintō rituals. Among the ancient forms of divination found in Japan are rokuboku and kiboku. Several forms of divination entailing archery are also practised in Shintō, known as yabusame and omato-shinji. Kitagawa stated that there could be "no doubt" that various types of "shamanic diviners" played a role in early Japanese religion.
Shintō practitioners believe that the kami can possess a human being and then speak through them, a process known as kami-gakari. Several new religious movements drawing upon Shintō, such as Tenrikyo and Oomoto, were founded by individuals claiming to be guided by a possessing kami. The itako and ichiko are blind women who train to become spiritual mediums in the northern Tohoku region of Japan. In the late twentieth century, they were present in Japanese urban centers. 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. 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. Itako usually carry our their rituals independent of the shrine system.
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. Itako gather there to channel the dead for thousands of tourists.:31 In contemporary Japan, itako are on the decline. In 2009, less than 20 remained, all over the age of 40. Contemporary education standards have all but eradicated the need for specialized training for the blind.
Earhart commented that Shintō ultimately "emerged from the beliefs and practices of prehistoric Japan", although Kitagawa noted that it was questionable whether prehistoric Japanese religions could be accurately termed "early Shintō". 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 Shintō". 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. In the subsequent Kofun period, Korean migration to Japan brought with it both Confucianism and Buddhism. Buddhism had a particular impact on the kami cults. Migrant groups and Japanese who increasingly aligned with these foreign influences built Buddhist temples in various parts of the Japanese islands. 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.
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. Buddhism was also growing. According to the Nihon Shoki, in 587 Emperor Yōmei converted to Buddhism and under his sponsorship Buddhism spread.
From the eighth century, Shintō and Buddhism were thoroughly intertwined in Japanese society.
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 Shintō. In the latter 6th century, there was a breakdown of the alliances between Japan and Paekche but the influence led to the codification of Shintō as the native religion in opposition to the extreme outside influences of the mainland. Up to this time Shintō had been largely a clan ('uji') based religious practice, exclusive to each clan.
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 Shintō 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 kami, 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.
In particular the Asuka rulers of 552–645 saw disputes between the more major families of the clan Shintō families. There were disputes about who would ascend to power and support the imperial family between the Soga and Mononobe/Nakatomi Shintō 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 Hakuhō period of 645–710 that Shintō was installed as the imperial faith along with the Fujiwara Clan and reforms that followed.
Beginning with Emperor Tenmu (672–686), continuing through Empress Jitō (686–697) and Emperor Monmu (697–707), Court Shintō rites are strengthened and made parallel to Buddhist beliefs in court life. Prior to this time clan Shintō had dominated and a codification of "Imperial Shintō" did not exist as such. The Nakatomi family are made the chief court Shintō chaplains and chief priests at Ise Daijingū which held until 1892. Also the practice of sending imperial princesses to the Ise shrine begins. 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).
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 Shintō 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 Shintō Shrine office was completed.
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 Shintō 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. The establishment of the imperial city in partnership with Taihō Code is important to Shintō as the office of the Shintō 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.
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 kami) as the manifestation of the supreme expression of universality.
The priest Gyogi is known for his belief in assimilation of Shintō Kami and Buddhas. Shintō kami are commonly being seen by Buddhist clergy as guardians of manifestation, guardians, or pupils of Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The priest Gyogi conferred boddhisattva precepts on the Emperor in 749 effectively making the Imperial line the head of state and divine to Shintō while beholden to Buddhism.
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 kami 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. 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. 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.
Buddhism and Shintō 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 "Shintō" 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" Shintō from various foreign influences, especially Buddhism. The attempt was largely unsuccessful; however, the attempt did set the stage for the arrival of State Shintō, following the Meiji Restoration (c. 1868), when Shintō and Buddhism were separated (shinbutsu bunri).
Fridell argues that scholars call the period 1868–1945 the "State Shintō period" because, "during these decades, Shintō 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." 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.
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 Shintō by separating shrines from the temples that housed them. During this period, numerous scholars of kokugaku believed that this national Shintō 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 Shintō 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 Shintō 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.
In 1882, the Meiji government designated 13 religious movements that were neither Buddhist nor Christian to be forms of "Sect Shintō". The number and name of the sects given this formal designation varied.
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 Shintō" (kokka Shintō). As part of this, the Emperor formally declared that he was not a kami; any Shintō rituals performed by the imperial family became their own private affair. This disestablishment meant that the government subsidies to shrines ceased, although it also provided shrines with renewed freedom to organise their own affairs. In 1946 many shrines then formed a voluntary organisation, the Association of Shintō Shrines (Jinja Honchō), through which they could coordinate their efforts. 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 Shintō practice. By the late 1990s around 80% of Japan's Shintō shrines were part of this association.
In the post-war decades, many Japanese blamed Shintō for encouraging the militaristic policy which had resulted in defeat and occupation. Conversely, many Shintō practitioners remained nostalgic for the State Shintō system, and concerns were repeatedly expressed that sectors of Japanese society were conspiring to restore it. Post-war, various legal debates have occurred over the involvement of public officials in Shintō. In 1965, for instance, the city of Tsu, Mie Prefecture paid four Shintō priests to purify the site where the municipal athletic hall was to be built. Critics brought the case to court, claiming it contravened the constitutional separation of church and state; in 1971 the high court ruled that the city administration's act had been unconstitutional. In the post-war period, Shintō themes were often blended into Japanese new religious movements; of the Sect Shintō groups, Tenrikyo was probably the most successful in the post-war decades, although in 1970 it repudiated its Shintō identity.
Shintō has also spread abroad to a limited extent, and a few non-Japanese Shintō priests have been ordained. A relatively small number of people practice Shintō in America. There are several Shintō 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. Shintō perspectives also exerted an influence on popular culture. The film director Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli for instance acknowledged Shintō influences on his creation of films such as Spirited Away.
Shintō is primarily found in Japan, although the period of the empire it was introduced to various Japanese colonies and in the present is also practised by members of the Japanese diaspora.
Most Japanese people participate in several religious traditions. The main exceptions to this are members of smaller, minority religious groups, including Christianity and several new religions, which promote exclusivist worldviews. Determining the proportions of the country's population who engage in Shintō activity is hindered by the fact that, if asked, Japanese people will often say "I have no religion". 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').
As much as nearly 80% of the population in Japan participates in Shintō practices or rituals, but only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys. This is because Shintō has different meanings in Japan. Most of the Japanese attend Shintō shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional Shintō religion. There are no formal rituals to become a practitioner of "folk Shintō". Thus, "Shintō membership" is often estimated counting only those who do join organised Shintō sects. Shintō has about 81,000 shrines and about 85,000 priests in the country. According to surveys carried out in 2006 and 2008, less than 40% of the population of Japan identifies with an organised religion: around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of Shintō sects and derived religions. In 2008, 26% of the participants reported often visiting Shintō shrines, while only 16.2% expressed belief in the existence of kami in general.
Jinja established outside of Japan itself are known as kaigai jinja ("overseas shrines"), a term coined by Ogasawara Shōzō. These were established both in territories throughout Asia conquered by the Japanese and in areas across the world where Japanese migrants settled. At the time that the Japanese Empire collapsed in the 1940s, there were over 600 public shrines, and over 1000 smaller shrines, within Japan's conquered territories. Following the collapse of the empire, many of these shrines were disbanded.
Japanese migrants established several shrines in Brazil. Shintō has attracted interest outside of Japan, in part because it lacks the doctrinal focus of major religions found in other parts of the world. Shintō was introduced to the United States largely by interested European Americans rather than by Japanese migrants.
Study of Shintō
In the early twentieth century, and to a lesser extent in the second half, Shintō was depicted as monolithic and intensely indigenous by the Japanese State institution and there were various state induced taboos influencing academic research into Shintō in Japan. Japanese secular academics who questioned the historical claims made by the Imperial institution for various Shintō historical facts and ceremonies, or who personally refused to take part in certain Shintō rituals, could lose their jobs and livelihood. Following the Second World War, many scholars writing on Shintō 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. Some secular scholars accused these individuals of blurring theology with historical analysis. In the late 1970s and 1980s the work of a secular historian Kuroda Toshio attempted to frame the prior held historical views of Shintō 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.
- Chinese folk religion
- Culture of Japan
- Department of Divinities
- Dol hareubang (Korean spirit)
- History of Japan
- Iwakura (Shinto) – rock formation where a kami is invited to descend
- Kodama (spirit)
- Korean shamanism
- List of Japanese deities
- Ryukyuan religion (Ryukyu Shinto)
- Shide (Shinto)
- Shinto shrine
- Shinto in popular culture
- Shinto architecture
- Shinto in Taiwan
- Shinto music
- Twenty-Two Shrines
- Women in Shinto
- 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)
- 神道, Shintō, Japanese pronunciation: [ɕiꜜntoː]
- 神の道, Kami no michi
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- 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.
- 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
- Shinto at Curlie
- Jinja Honcho – English – The Official Japanese Organization of 80,000 Shintō Shrines
- Kokugakuin University Encyclopedia of Shintō and its Japanese Shintō Jinja Database
- Chiga Yoshimi Gallery – The Scenery of Nara's Shrines and Temples which were drawn by Chiga Yoshimi
- Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America – Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America: Jinja Shintō in North America, branch of Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Mie Japan
- Heian Jingu Shrine – Heian Shrine in Kyoto City was built in 1895 in commemoration of the 1100th anniversary of the move of Japanese Capital from Nara to Kyoto in 794
- Meiji Jingu – Meiji Jingu Shrine in Yoyogi, Tokyo, commemorates Emperor Taisho and his wife Empress Shoken
- Yasukuni Jinja – A shrine for the honoring of Japanese War Dead (English)
- Shoin-Jinja – Shoin Shrine in Tokyo enshrines Yoshida Shoin, a spiritual leader of Meiji Restoration
- Yushima Tenjin – A Tokyo Shrine with and English site—Shrine for Ameno-tajikaraono-mikoto and Sugawara Michizane
- Editorial on Shintoism in Occupied Japan following WWII (from Japanese Press Translations)