The Shinto religion was started in the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) of Japanese history.  The Tokugawa Enlightenment inspired a group of people who studied kokugaku, which roughly translated means nativism, Japanese Studies, or Native Studies.  Kokugakus intent was to recover Japanese character to what it was before the early influences of foreigners, especially the Chinese.

Some of these influences include Confucianism (Chinese), Taoism (Chinese), Buddhism (Indian and Chinese), and Christianity (Western European).  The kokugakushu (nativist) focused most of their efforts on recovering the Shinto religion, the native Japanese religion, from fragments of texts and popular religious practices. However, Shintoism is probably not a native religion of Japan (since the Japanese were not the original natives of Japan).  There really is no one thing that can be called Shinto, The name itself is a bit misleading because it is made up of two Chinese words meaning the way of the gods(Shen : spiritual power, divinity; Tao : the way or path).  The word for this in Japanese is kannagara : “the way of the kami .”    Many things can be said about Shinto.  First, it was a tribal religion, not a state one. However, even when the tribes were organized into coherent states, they still retained their Shinto beliefs.  Second, all Shinto cults believe in Kami (the divine) Individual clans worshipped a single Kami which was regarded as the principal ancestor of the clan.  As the clan spread, it still worshipped its Kami, but when one clan conquered another clan-the defeated clan had to worship the Kami of the victorious clan.

What the Kami consist of is hard to define.  Kami refers to the gods of Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld.  But Kami also are all those things that have divinity in them to some degree.  Third, all Shinto involve some sort of shrine worship, the most important was the Izumo Shrine on the coast of the Japan Sea.  Originally, these shrines were himorogi (unpolluted land surrounded by trees) or iwasaka  (unpolluted land surrounded by stones).  Shinto shrines are usually single rooms raised off the ground, with religious objects placed inside, and on the outside there was a torii (wash-basin).  The torii was used for the misorgi, which is washing the hands and sometimes the face before entering the shrine.  Someone worships a shrine by attending it, or devoting oneself  to the object that is being worshipped, and by giving offerings to it:  the offerings can be anything from vegetables to great riches.

Almost nothing at all is known about early Shinto because nothing was written about it.  Early Shinto may just be a name given to a large number of unrelated local religions that combined with the the centralized states.  The two texts of Shintoism, the Kojiki (The records of Ancient matters) and the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan), were written down around 700 A.D., two centuries after Japan had declared Buddhism the state religion.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Japanese government campaigned to make Shinto the national religion.  However many people were unhappy with Shintoism.  During that time Christianity arrived in Japan.  Between 1868 and 1873 Christianity was severely attacked as the government shut out foreigners and their ideas. Many active Christians were killed.  In 1912 the Japanese got religious freedom. In 1990 the number of followers for religions in Japan are :Shintoists -112,200,000, Buddhists – 93,400,000, Christians – 1,422,000, and others – 11,412,000. Therefore, about 120 million people adhere to 2 or more religions at the same time.

Works Cited

Shinto Online. 5       June 1995.  Hishida, Miki. Religions in Japan. 15 Dec 1995. Online posting:  Internet.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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