Japan's Oldest Religion: The Way of The Gods

Basic Characteristics

  • Mostly practice in Japan
  • A minimum of over 5 million followers-- ranking Shintoism at 15.
  • Since Shintoism is prominent in Japan, their population is neither shrinking nor increasing, but exactly replacing itself.
  • Because Shintoism is an ethnic religion, it has only diffused and spread exclusively within the country.
  • They are primarily animistic.
  • No real founders.


To become a Shinto, one should visit shrines and worship them, and celebrate Shinto's holy days. Obtaining a Kamidana, which is having a small home shrine or simply a sacred place in your home, is also vital. Shinto does not have an organized system of theology. However, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits through purification, prayers, and offerings.


  • Many people are attracted to this religion because not only do they accept other gods of a variety of other religions, but they deepen the connection between human and nature.
  • Shinto is also a very a flexible religion due to having no formalized list of ethics, system of dogmatic beliefs and creeds, or even an organized system of theology. At the same time, their rituals requires a lot immersion of the culture.
  • Additionally, they acknowledges that nobody is perfect and views humans as good.
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The History

Shinto has no founder, official sacred texts, any written documents before the 8th century CE and formalized system of doctrine. So a lot of ancient dates are "accepted" by scholar, rather than exact information.

Additionally, a lot of beliefs in Shintoism is a mix of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.

  1. Shintos believe that Izanami and Izanagi are the two most important kami since they are the creators of Earth. Izanami is a female kami whereas Izanagi is male. They balance each other out, as their children do with one another, i.e. fire and water or earth and netherworld.
  2. Formed around 500 B.C, right after Buddhism was officially brought to Japan. Shinto faiths and traditions took on Buddhist elements, and later, Confucian ones. Some Shinto shrines became Buddhist temples, existed within Buddhist temples, and/or had Buddhist priests in charge.
  3. During the 7th and 8th centuries, the emperor, descendant of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu became an official doctrine. It lead to the establishment of the Ise shrines as the shrines of the divine imperial family.
  4. The Grand Shrine at Ise came to creation in 631 A.D. Even though it was not the first shrine, it was the first major one.
  5. In A.D. 712, the Kojiki, a compilation of Japan history, was officially written, documenting ancient times.
  6. Around 1467, the Onin War ravages Kyoto. It lead an increased in rituals practices.
  7. In 1882, Shinto was divided into two: state shrines (supervised and somewhat supported by the government) and sectarian churches.
  8. The Meiji restoration occurs in 1868. This made a huge impact on Shinto traditions by reestablishing a lot of identity and structure as a religion. This really began the division off of Buddhism.
  9. During the restoration, Shinto became the official state religion of Japan.
  10. In 1886, they declared themselves as "non-religous."
  11. Shinto was disestablished in 1946 (after WWII), when the Emperor lost his divine status as part of the Allied reformation of Japan.
  12. After WWII, Japan's new constitutions stated that "No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious acts, celebration, rite or practice. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority."
  13. Today, even though Shintoism isn't Japan's official state religion anymore, Shintoism is still a crucial player in Japanese spirituality and everyday life.

The Myth of Izanagi and Izanami

As Izanagi and Izanami thrust a jewelled spear into the ocean, the first land formed where the spear touched the water-- creating the central island of Japan.

They got married and their offspring included the other islands of Japan and some of the kami.

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Cultural Landscape

Shinto places of worship are shrines.

There are over 80,000 shrines all over Japan and each shrine worship a certain kami, like the sun and the moon or fire and water. Yearly festival are held in which people pay their respects to the kami and celebrate with food and drink. Worship also happens in homes and at work through simple offerings of rice and tea.

Their burials takes a lot of planning and has 20 procedures since one's ancestors are highly respected. The dead was often burn to ashes and then stored to place on shrines. Also, they hold anniversary ceremonies on the first, third, seventh, 13th, and 33rd years following someone’s death.

Central Belief

Shinto beliefs focus on the existence and power of the kami, sacred or divine beings, that exist in the world, in nature, and especially in Japan.

They focus on a distinct sensibility that underlies an entire approach to life and the world.

  • Makato - sincerity, the grounding of all ethical thoughts and behaviors
  • To live in harmonious with nature
  • "Shinto is wholly devoted to life in this world and emphasises man's essential goodness."
  • The distinguish between the visible world (kenkai) and the invisible world (yukai).
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