Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


Key Ideas:

The Religions of India, China, and Japan










Shinto shrine in Fujiyoshida





Key Ideas:

The Religions of India, China, and Japan



All present-day world religions originated in Asia. The three major monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated in the Near East, and Hinduism and Buddhism, both polytheistic religions, find their roots in India. While  Buddhism has also become popular in the Western world today, religions such as Hinduism in India, Confucianism in China, and Shinto in Japan are closely tied to, and have also significantly influenced, the cultures and social structures of their respective countries and regions.




The 10 Shinto religion was tied to the national identity and monarchy of Japan.

The story of Japan's origin and the 9 descent of the emperor Jimmu Tenno from the sun goddess Amaterasu plays a determining role in the religion.

Ancestor worship, along with the worship of innumerable deities (kami)—primarily clan divinities and spirits of nature—is the most important element of Shinto.
The values and behavioral forms transmitted by the Shinto belief system characterize many of the traditions of Japanese society. When Buddhism reached Japan, the two belief systems became closely intertwined, and both continue to coexist to this day.

10 Gate leading to Shimogamo Shinto temple in Kyoto, Japan

9 Heaven's king standing on a demon,
Tang dynasty



A torii at Itsukushima Shrine


Typical Shinto shrine with paper streamers made out of unprocessed hemp fibre


A bride at a Shinto wedding in Kamakura


Shinto shrine


Shinto Priests Welcoming Kami Spirits




(Encyclopaedia Britannica)



Nature and varieties
Shintō consists of the traditional Japanese religious practices as well as the beliefs and life attitudes that are in accord with these practices. Shintō is more readily observed in the social life of the Japanese people and in their personal motivations than in a pattern of formal belief or philosophy. It remains closely connected with the Japanese value system and the Japanese people’s ways of thinking and acting.

Shintō can be roughly classified into the following three major types: Shrine Shintō, Sect Shintō, and Folk Shintō. Shrine Shintō (Jinja Shintō), which has been in existence from the beginning of Japanese history to the present day, constitutes a main current of Shintō tradition. Shrine Shintō includes within its structure the now defunct State Shintō (Kokka Shintō)—based on the total identity of religion and state—and has close relations with the Japanese Imperial family. Sect Shintō (Kyōha Shintō) is a relatively new movement consisting of 13 major sects that originated in Japan around the 19th century and of several others that emerged after World War II. Each sect was organized into a religious body by either a founder or a systematizer. Folk Shintō (Minzoku Shintō) is an aspect of Japanese folk belief that is closely connected with the other types of Shintō. It has no formal organizational structure nor doctrinal formulation but is centred in the veneration of small roadside images and in the agricultural rites of rural families. These three types of Shintō are interrelated: Folk Shintō exists as the substructure of Shintō faith, and a Sect Shintō follower is usually also a parishioner (ujiko) of a particular Shintō shrine.

History to 1900
Much remains unknown about religion in Japan during the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. It is unlikely, however, that the religion of these ages has any direct connection with Shintō. Yayoi culture, which originated in the northern area of the island of Kyushu in about the 3rd or 2nd century bc, is directly related to later Japanese culture and hence to Shintō. Among the primary Yayoi religious phenomena were agricultural rites and shamanism.

History to 1900 » Early clan religion and ceremonies
In ancient times small states were gradually formed at various places. By the middle of the 4th century ad, a nation with an ancestor of the present Imperial Household as its head had probably been established. The constituent unit of society at that time was the uji (clan or family), and the head of each uji was in charge of worshiping the clan’s ujigami—its particular tutelary or guardian deity. The prayer for good harvest in spring and the harvest ceremony in autumn were two major festivals honouring the ujigami. Divination, water purification, and lustration (ceremonial purification), which are all mentioned in the Japanese classics, became popular, and people started to build shrines for their kami.

Ancient Shintō was polytheistic. People found kami in nature, which ruled seas or mountains, as well as in outstanding men. They also believed in kami of ideas such as growth, creation, and judgment. Though each clan made the tutelary kami the core of its unity, such kami were not necessarily the ancestral deities of the clan. Sometimes kami of nature and kami of ideas were regarded as their tutelary kami.

Two different views of the world were present in ancient Shintō. One was the three-dimensional view in which the Plain of High Heaven (Takama no Hara, the kami’s world), Middle Land (Nakatsukuni, the present world), and the Hades (Yomi no Kuni, the world after death) were arranged in vertical order. The other view was a two-dimensional one in which this world and the Perpetual Country (Tokoyo, a utopian place far beyond the sea) existed in horizontal order. Though the three-dimensional view of the world (which is also characteristic of North Siberian and Mongolian shamanistic culture) became the representative view observed in Japanese myths, the two-dimensional view of the world (which is also present in Southeast Asian culture) was dominant among the populace.

History to 1900 » Early Chinese influences on Shintō
Confucianism is believed to have reached Japan in the 5th century ad, and by the 7th century it had spread among the people, together with Chinese Taoism and yin-yang (harmony of two basic forces of nature) philosophy. All of these stimulated the development of Shintō ethical teachings. With the gradual centralization of political power, Shintō began to develop as a national cult as well. Myths of various clans were combined and reorganized into a pan-Japanese mythology with the Imperial Household as its centre. The kami of the Imperial Household and the tutelary kami of powerful clans became the kami of the whole nation and people, and offerings were made by the state every year. Such practices were systematized supposedly around the start of the Taika-era reforms in 645. By the beginning of the 10th century, about 3,000 shrines throughout Japan were receiving state offerings. As the power of the central government declined, however, the system ceased to be effective, and after the 13th century only a limited number of important shrines continued to receive the Imperial offerings. Later, after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the old system was revived.

History to 1900 » The encounter with Buddhism
Buddhism was officially introduced into Japan in ad 552 and developed gradually. In the 8th century there emerged tendencies to interpret Shintō from a Buddhist viewpoint. Shintō kami were viewed as protectors of Buddhism; hence shrines for tutelary kami were built within the precincts of Buddhist temples. Kami were made equivalent to deva (the Buddhist Sanskrit term for “gods”) who rank highest in the Realm of Ignorance, according to Buddhist notions. Thus kami, like other creatures, were said to be suffering because they were unable to escape the endless cycle of transmigration; help was therefore offered to kami in the form of Buddhist discipline. Buddhist temples were even built within Shintō shrine precincts, and Buddhist sutras (scriptures) were read in front of kami. By the late 8th century kami were thought to be avatars, or incarnations, of buddhas and bodhisattvas. Bodhisattva names were given to kami, and Buddhist statues were placed even in the inner sanctuaries of Shintō shrines. In some cases, Buddhist priests were in charge of the management of Shintō shrines.

From the beginning of the Kamakura period (1192–1333), theories of Shintō-Buddhist amalgamation were formulated. The most important of the syncretic schools to emerge were Ryōbu (Dual Aspect) Shintō and Sannō (“King of the Mountain,” a common name of the guardian deity of Tendai Buddhism) Shintō. According to Ryōbu Shintō—also called Shingon Shintō—the two realms of the universe in Shingon Buddhist teachings corresponded to the kami Amaterasu Ōmikami and Toyuke (Toyouke) Ōkami enshrined at the Ise-daijingū (Grand Shrine of Ise, commonly called Ise-jingū, or Ise Shrine) in Mie prefecture. The theorists of Sannō Shintō—also called Tendai Shintō—interpreted the Tendai belief in the central, or absolute, truth of the universe (i.e., the fundamental buddha nature) as being equivalent to the Shintō concept that the sun goddess Amaterasu was the source of the universe. These two sects brought certain esoteric Buddhist rituals into Shintō. Buddhistic Shintō was popular for several centuries and was influential until its extinction at the Meiji Restoration.

History to 1900 » Shintō reaction against Buddhism
Ise, or Watarai, Shintō was the first theoretical school of anti-Buddhistic Shintō in that it attempted to exclude Buddhist accretions and also tried to formulate a pure Japanese version. Watarai Shintō appeared in Ise during the 13th century as a reaction against the Shintō-Buddhist amalgamation. Konton (chaos), or Kizen (non-being), was the basic kami of the universe for Watarai Shintō and was regarded as the basis of all beings, including the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Purification, which had been practiced since the time of ancient Shintō, was given much deeper spiritual meanings. Shōjiki (defined as uprightness or righteousness) and prayers were emphasized as the means by which to be united with kami.

Yoshida Shintō, a school in Kyōto that emerged during the 15th century, inherited various aspects handed down from Watarai Shintō and also showed some Taoist influence. The school’s doctrines were largely the work of Yoshida Kanetomo (1435–1511). Its fundamental kami (the source of all things and beings in the universe) was Taigen Sonjin (the Great Exalted One). According to its teaching, if one is truly purified, his heart can be the kami’s abode. The ideal of inner purification was a mysterious state of mind in which one worshiped the kami that lived in one’s own heart. Although the Watarai and Yoshida schools were thus free of Buddhistic theories, the influence of Chinese thought was still present.

History to 1900 » Neo-Confucian Shintō
In 1603 the Tokugawa shogunate was founded in Edo (Tokyo), and contact between Shintō and Confucianism was resumed. Scholars tried to interpret Shintō from the standpoint of Neo-Confucianism, emphasizing the unity of Shintō and Confucian teachings. Schools emerged based on the teachings of the Chinese philosophers Chu Hsi and Wang Yang-ming, and Neo-Confucianism became an official subject of study for warriors. Yoshikawa Koretaru (1616–94) and Yamazaki Ansai (1619–82) were two representative scholars of Confucian Shintō. They added Neo-Confucian interpretations to the traditional theories handed down from Watarai Shintō, and each established a new school. The T’ai Chi (Supreme Ultimate) concept of Neo-Confucianism was regarded as identical with the first kami of the Nihon shoki, or Nihon-gi (“Chronicles of Japan”). One of the characteristics of Yoshikawa’s theories was his emphasis on political philosophy. Imperial virtues (wisdom, benevolence, and courage), symbolized by the Sanshu no Shinki (Three Sacred Treasures), and national ethics, such as loyalty and filial piety, constituted the way to rule the state. Yamazaki Ansai further developed this tendency and advocated both mystic pietism and ardent emperor worship.

History to 1900 » Fukko Shintō
Fukko (Restoration, or Revival) Shintō is one of the Kokugaku (National Learning) movements that started toward the end of the 17th century. Advocates of this school maintained that the norms of Shintō should not be sought in Buddhist or Confucian interpretations but in the beliefs and life-attitudes of their ancestors as clarified by philological study of the Japanese classics. Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801) represented this school. His emphasis was on the belief in musubi (the mystical power of becoming or of creation), which had been popular in ancient Shintō, and on a this-worldly view of life, which anticipated the eternal progress of the world in ever-changing mutations. These beliefs, together with the inculcation of respect for the Imperial line and the teaching of absolute faith—according to which all problems beyond human capability were turned over to kami—exercised great influence on modern Shintō doctrines.

The most important successor of Motoori in the field of Shintō was Hirata Atsutane (1776–1843), who showed the influence of Roman Catholic teachings in some respects—derived from the writings of Jesuits in China—by advancing the idea of a creator god and retribution for ethical and religious failings in another world. These doctrines, however, were not accepted into the main current of Shintō. Hirata developed the philological studies started by Motoori and trained many capable disciples. He also wrote prayers, worked out formulas for family cults of tutelary kami and ancestors, and promoted Shintō practices. His spirituality, reverence for the emperor, and desire to restore the spirit of ancient Shintō enlisted many supporters and served as one of the factors in bringing about the Meiji Restoration in 1868.

History to 1900 » Formation of Sect Shintō
During the latter part of the 19th century, new religious movements emerged out of the social confusion and unrest of the people. What these new movements taught differed widely: some were based on mountain-worship groups, which were half Buddhist and half Shintō; some placed emphasis on purification and ascetic practices; and some combined Confucian and Shintō teachings. New religious movements—such as Kurozumi-kyō (in this sense kyō means “religion,” or “religious body”), founded by Kurozumi Munetada (1780–1850); Konkō-kyō (Konkō is the religious name of the founder of this group and means, literally, “golden light”) by Kawate Bunjirō (1814–83); and Tenri-kyō (tenri means “divine reason or wisdom”) by Nakayama Miki (1798–1887)—were based mostly on individual religious experiences and aimed at healing diseases or spiritual salvation. These sectarian Shintō groups, numbering 13 during the Meiji period (1868–1912), were stimulated and influenced by Restoration Shintō. They can be classified as follows:

1. Revival Shintō sects: Izumo-ōyashiro-kyō (or Taisha-kyō), Shintō-taikyō, Shinri-kyō

2. Confucian sects: Shintō Shūsei-ha, Shintō Taisei-kyō

3. Purification sects: Shinshū-kyō, Misogi-kyō

4. Mountain worship sects: Jikkō-kyō, Fusō-kyō, On take-kyō (or Mitake-kyō)

5. “Faith-healing” sects: Kurozumi-kyō, Konkō-kyō, Tenri-kyō

Shintō literature and mythology
Broadly speaking, Shintō has no founder. When the Japanese people and Japanese culture became aware of themselves, Shintō was already there. Nor has it any official scripture that can be compared to the Bible in Christianity or to the Qurʾān in Islām. The Kojiki (“Records of Ancient Matters”) and the Nihon-gi, or Nihon shoki (“Chronicles of Japan”), are regarded in a sense as sacred books of Shintō. They were written in ad 712 and 720, respectively, and are compilations of the oral traditions of ancient Shintō. But they are also books about the history, topography, and literature of ancient Japan. It is possible to construct Shintō doctrines from them by interpreting the myths and religious practices they describe.

Stories partially similar to those found in Japanese mythology can be found in the myths of Southeast Asia; and in the style of description in Japanese myths some Chinese influence is detectable. The core of the mythology, however, consists of tales about the sun goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami, the ancestress of the Imperial Household, and tales of how her direct descendants unified the Japanese people under their authority. In the beginning, according to Japanese mythology, a certain number of kami simply emerged, and a pair of kami, Izanagi and Izanami, gave birth to the Japanese islands, as well as to the kami who became ancestors of the various clans. Amaterasu, the ruler of Takama no Hara; the moon god Tsukiyomi no Mikoto; and Susanoo (Susanowo) no Mikoto, the ruler of the nether regions, were the most important among them. A descendant of Amaterasu, Jimmu, is said to have become the first emperor of Japan. Japanese mythology says that the Three Sacred Treasures (the mirror, the sword, and the jewels), which are still the most revered symbols of the Imperial Household, were first given by Amaterasu to her grandson. The Inner Shrine (Naikū) of the Ise-jingū is dedicated to this ancestral goddess and is the most venerated shrine in Shintō.

The Japanese classics also contain myths and legends concerning the so-called 800 myriads of kami (yao-yorozu no kami; literally, yao equals 800 and yorozu 10,000). Some of them are the tutelary deities of clans and later became the tutelary kami of their respective local communities. Many others, however, are not enshrined in sanctuaries and have no direct connections with the actual Shintō faith.

Doctrines » Concept of the sacred
At the core of Shintō are beliefs in the mysterious creating and harmonizing power (musubi) of kami and in the truthful way or will (makoto) of kami. The nature of kami cannot be fully explained in words, because kami transcends the cognitive faculty of man. Devoted followers, however, are able to understand kami through faith and usually recognize various kami in polytheistic form.

Parishioners of a shrine believe in their tutelary kami as the source of human life and existence. Each kami has a divine personality and responds to truthful prayers. The kami also reveals makoto to people and guides them to live in accordance with it. In traditional Japanese thought, truth manifests itself in empirical existence and undergoes transformation in infinite varieties in time and space. Makoto is not an abstract ideology. It can be recognized every moment in every individual thing in the encounter between man and kami.

In Shintō all the deities are said to cooperate with one another, and life lived in accordance with a kami’s will is believed to produce a mystical power that gains the protection, cooperation, and approval of all the particular kami.

Doctrines » Precepts of truthfulness and purification
As the basic attitude toward life, Shintō emphasizes makoto no kokoro (“heart of truth”), or magokoro (“true heart”), which is usually translated as “sincerity, pure heart, uprightness.” This attitude follows from the revelation of the truthfulness of kami in man. It is, generally, the sincere attitude of a person in doing his best in the work he has chosen or in his relationship with others, and the ultimate source of such a life-attitude lies in man’s awareness of the divine.

Although Shintō ethics do not ignore individual moral virtues such as loyalty, filial piety, love, faithfulness, and so forth, it is generally considered more important to seek magokoro, which constitutes the dynamic life-attitude that brings forth these virtues. In ancient scriptures magokoro was interpreted as “bright and pure mind” or “bright, pure, upright, and sincere mind.” Purification, both physical and spiritual, is stressed even in contemporary Shintō to produce such a state of mind. The achievement of this state of mind is necessary in order to make communion between kami and man possible and to enable individuals to accept the blessings of kami.

Doctrines » Nature of man and other beliefs
In Shintō it is commonly said that “man is kami’s child.” First, this means that a person was given his life by kami and that his nature is therefore sacred. Second, it means that daily life is made possible by kami, and, accordingly, the personality and life of people are worthy of respect. An individual must revere the basic human rights of everyone (regardless of race, nationality, and other distinctions) as well as his own. The concept of original sin is not found in Shintō. On the contrary, man is considered to have a primarily divine nature. In actuality, however, this sacred nature is seldom revealed in man. Purification is considered symbolically to remove the dust and impurities that cover one’s inner mind.

Shintō is described as a religion of tsunagari (“continuity or communion”). The Japanese, while recognizing each man as an individual personality, do not take him as a solitary being separated from others. On the contrary, he is regarded as the bearer of a long, continuous history that comes down from his ancestors and continues in his descendants. He is also considered as a responsible constituent of various social groups.

Motoori Norinaga stated that the human world keeps growing and developing while continuously changing. Similarly, Japanese mythology speaks of an eternity of history in the divine edict of Amaterasu. In its view of history, Shintō adheres to the cyclical approach, according to which there is a constant recurrence of historical patterns. Shintō does not have the concept of the “last day”: there is no end of the world or of history. One of the divine edicts of Amaterasu says:

This Reed-plain-1,500-autumns-fair-rice-ear Land is the region which my descendants shall be lords of. Do thou, my August Grandchild, proceed thither and govern it. Go! and may prosperity attend thy dynasty, and may it, like Heaven and Earth, endure forever.

Modern Shintōists interpret this edict as revealing the eternal development of history as well as the eternity of the dynasty. From the viewpoint of finite individuals, Shintōists also stress naka-ima (“middle present”), which repeatedly appears in the Imperial edicts of the 8th century. According to this point of view, the present moment is the very centre in the middle of all conceivable times. In order to participate directly in the eternal development of the world, it is required of Shintōists to live fully each moment of life, making it as worthy as possible.

Historically, the ujigami of each local community played an important role in combining and harmonizing different elements and powers. The Imperial system, which has been supported by the Shintō political philosophy, is an example of unity and harmony assuming the highest cultural and social position in the nation. After the Meiji Restoration (1868), Shintō was used as a means of spiritually unifying the people during repeated wars. Since the end of World War II, the age-old desire for peace has been reemphasized. The General Principles of Shintō Life proclaimed by the Association of Shintō Shrines in 1956 has the following article: “In accordance with the Emperor’s will, let us be harmonious and peaceful, and pray for the nation’s development as well as the world’s co-prosperity.”

Ritual practices and institutions
Shintō does not have a weekly religious service. People visit shrines at their convenience. Some may go to the shrines on the 1st and 15th of each month and on the occasions of rites or festivals (matsuri), which take place several times a year. Devotees, however, may pay respect to the shrine every morning.

Ritual practices and institutions » Rites of passage
Various Shintō rites of passage are observed in Japan. The first visit of a newborn baby to the tutelary kami, which occurs 30 to 100 days after birth, is to initiate the baby as a new adherent. The Shichi-go-san (Seven-Five-Three) festival on November 15 is the occasion for boys of five years and girls of three and seven years of age to visit the shrine to give thanks for kami’s protection and to pray for their healthy growth. January 15 is Adults’ Day. Youth in the village used to join the local young men’s association on this day. At present it is the commemoration day for those Japanese who have attained their 20th year. The Japanese usually have their wedding ceremonies in Shintō style and pronounce their wedding vows to kami. Shintō funeral ceremonies, however, are not popular. The majority of the Japanese are Buddhist and Shintōist at the same time and have their funerals in Buddhist style. A traditional Japanese house has two family altars: one, Shintō, for their tutelary kami and the goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami, and another, Buddhist, for the family ancestors. Pure Shintō families, however, will have all ceremonies and services in Shintō style. There are other Shintō matsuri concerning occupations or daily life, such as a ceremony of purifying a building site or for setting up the framework for a new building, a firing or purifying ceremony for the boilers in a new factory, a completion ceremony for a construction works, or a launching ceremony for a new ship.

Ritual practices and institutions » Varieties of festival, worship, and prayer
Each Shintō shrine has several major festivals each year, including the Spring Festival (Haru Matsuri, or Toshigoi-no-Matsuri; Prayer for Good Harvest Festival), Autumn Festival (Aki Matsuri, or Niiname-sai; Harvest Festival), an Annual Festival (Rei-sai), and the Divine Procession (Shinkō-sai). The Divine Procession usually takes place on the day of the Annual Festival, and miniature shrines (mikoshi) carried on the shoulders are transported through the parish. The order of rituals at a grand festival is usually as follows:

1. Purification rites (harae)—commonly held at a corner of the shrine precincts before participants come into the shrine but sometimes held within the shrine before beginning a ceremony.

2. Adoration—the chief priest and all the congregation bow to the altar.

3. Opening of the door of the inner sanctuary (by the chief priest).

4. Presentation of food offerings—rice, sake wine, rice cakes, fish, seaweed, vegetables, salt, water, etc., are offered but animal meat is not, because of the taboo on shedding blood in the sacred area. In the past cooked food was usually offered to kami, but nowadays uncooked food is more often used. In accordance with this change, the idea of entertaining kami changed to that of thanksgiving.

5. Prayer—the chief priest recites prayers (norito) modeled on ancient Shintō prayers. These prayers were compiled in the early 10th century and were based on the old belief that spoken words had spiritual potency.

6. Sacred music and dance.

7. General offering—participants in the festival make symbolic offerings using little branches of the evergreen sacred tree to which strips of white paper are tied.

8. Taking offerings away.

9. Shutting the door of the inner sanctuary.

10. Final adoration.

11. Feast (naorai).

In the olden days naorai, a symbolic action in which participants held communion with kami by having the same food offered to the deity, came in the middle of the festival ceremony. The custom is still observed sometimes at the Imperial Household and at some old shrines, but it is more common to have communion with kami by drinking the offered sake after the festival. Since World War II it has become popular to have a brief sermon or speech before the feast.

Most Shintō festivals are observed generally in accordance with the above-mentioned order. On such occasions as the Annual Festival, various special rites may be held—for example, special water purification (misogi) and confinement in shrines for devotional purposes (o-komori), the procession of a sacred palanquin (o-miyuki) or of boats (funa matsuri), a ceremonial feast (tōya matsuri), sumo wrestling, horseback riding (kurabe-uma), archery (matoi), a lion dance (shishi mai), and a rice-planting festival (o-taue matsuri).

Ritual practices and institutions » Types of shrines
A simple torii (gateway) stands at the entrance of the shrine precincts (see Tōshō-gū illustration above). After proceeding on the main approach, a visitor will come to an ablution basin where the hands are washed and the mouth is rinsed. Usually he will make a small offering at the oratory (haiden) and pray. Sometimes a visitor may ask the priest to conduct rites of passage or to offer special prayers. The most important shrine building is the main, or inner, sanctuary (honden), in which a sacred symbol called shintai (“ kami body”) or mitama-shiro (“divine spirit’s symbol”) is enshrined. The usual symbol is a mirror, but sometimes it is a wooden image, a sword, or some other object. In any case, it is carefully wrapped and placed in a container. It is forbidden to see it: only the chief priest is allowed to enter inside the inner sanctuary.

In the beginning Shintō had no shrine buildings. At each festival people placed a tree symbol at a sacred site, or they built a temporary shrine to invite kami. Later they began to construct permanent shrines where kami were said to stay permanently. The honden of the Inner Shrine at Ise and of Izumo-taisha (Grand Shrine of Izumo, in Shimane prefecture) illustrate two representative archetypes of shrine construction. The style of the former probably developed from that of a storehouse for crops, especially for rice, and the style of the latter from ancient house construction. In the course of time, variations of shrine architecture were adopted and additional buildings were attached in front of the honden. The honden and haiden are in many cases connected by a hall of offering (heiden) where prayers are usually recited. Large shrines also have a hall for liturgical dancing (kaguraden).

Ritual practices and institutions » Other practices and institutions
Ujigami belief is the most popular form of Shintō in Japan. Originally referring to the kami of an ancient clan, after the 13th century ujigami was used in the sense of the tutelary kami of a local community, and all the members in the community were that kami’s adherents (ujiko). Even today a ujiko group consists of the majority of the residents in a given community. A Shintōist, however, can believe at the same time in shrines other than his own local shrine. It was only after World War II that some large shrines also started to organize believers’ groups (sūkeisha). The Believers’ Association of the Meiji Shrine, for instance, has about 240,000 members living in and around Tokyo.

Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and Kōgakkan University at Ise are the primary training centres for Shintō priests. Though any Shintōists who go through certain training processes may be a priest (or a priestess), many priests are, in fact, from the families of hereditary Shintō priests.

Shintō religious arts
The Japanese from ancient times have valued emotional and aesthetic intuitions in expressing and appreciating their religious experiences. They found symbols of kami in natural beauty and the forces of nature, and they developed explicitly religious poetry, architecture, and visual arts. Shrine precincts are covered with green trees and are places of a serene and solemn atmosphere, which is effective in calming worshipers’ minds. In the larger shrines, surrounded by expansive woods with mountains as their background, a harmony of nature and architecture may be achieved. Ise-jingū and Izumo-taisha still retain the ancient architectural styles. After the 9th century an intricate form of shrine construction was developed, adopting both Buddhist and Chinese architectural styles and techniques. The curving roof style is one example. Unpainted timbers are most frequently used, but, wherever Buddhistic Shintō was popular, Chinese vermilion-lacquered shrines were also built.

A torii always stands in front of a shrine. Various kinds of torii can be seen in Japan, but their function is always the same: to divide the sacred precincts from the secular area. A pair of sacred stone animals called komainu (“Korean dogs”) or karajishi (“Chinese lions”) are placed in front of a shrine. Originally they served to protect the sacred buildings from evil and defilements. After the 9th century they were used for ornamental purposes on ceremonial occasions at the Imperial Court and later came to be used at various shrines generally. Some of the stone lanterns (ishidōrō) used at the shrines are works of art. The dedicator’s name and the year are inscribed on the lanterns to inform viewers of the long tradition of faith and to urge them to maintain it.

Compared with Buddhist statuary, visual representations of kami are not outstanding either in their quality or quantity. Images of kami were, in fact, not used in ancient Shintō until after the introduction of Buddhism into Japan. These are placed in the innermost part of the honden and are not the objects of direct worship by the people. Kami icons are not worshiped at shrines.

The history of the shrine, its construction arrangements, and ritual processions are recorded in picture scrolls (emakimono), and at the older shrines there are many votive pictures (ema)—small wooden picture plaques—that have been dedicated over the years by worshipers. Other articles, such as specimens of calligraphy, sculpture, swords, and arms, dedicated by the Imperial families, nobles, or feudal lords, are also kept at shrines. Several hundred such items and shrine constructions have been designated by the Japanese government as national treasures and important cultural properties.

The traditional religious music and dance of shrines were performed for the purpose of entertaining and appeasing kami, rather than to praise them. Gagaku (literally, “elegant music”) involves both vocal and instrumental music, specifically for wind, percussion, and stringed instruments. Gagaku with dance is called bugaku. Gagaku was patronized by the Imperial Household as court music and was much appreciated by the upper classes from the 9th to the 11th century. Later some of the more solemn and graceful pieces were used as ritualistic music by shrines and temples. Today gagaku is widely performed at larger shrines. The authentic tradition of gagaku has been transmitted by the Bureau of Music (Gagaku-ryō, now called Gakubu) of the Imperial Household (established in 701).

Apart from gagaku there are also kagura (a form of indigenous religious music and dance based on blessing and purification), ta-asobi (a New Year’s dance-pantomime of the cycle of rice cultivation), and shishi mai, which developed originally from magico-religious dances and are now danced for purification and as prayers. Matsuri-bayashi is a gay, lively music with flutes and drums to accompany divine processions. Some organizations of both Shrine and Sect Shintō have recently begun to compose solemn religious songs to praise kami, making use of Western musical forms. (See also East Asian Arts:Japanese visual arts and Shintō music.)

Political and social roles
Until the end of World War II, Shintō was closely related to the state. Offerings to kami were made every year by the government and the Imperial Household, and prayers were offered for the safety of the state and people. The matsuri-goto (the affairs of worship) offered by the emperor from olden days included not only ceremonies for kami but also for ordinary matters of state. “Shintō ceremonies and political affairs are one and the same” was the motto of officials. Administrators were required to have a religious conscience and develop political activities with magokoro.

This tradition was maintained as an undercurrent throughout Japanese history. Villagers prayed to the tutelary kami of the community for their peace and welfare and promoted unity among themselves with village festivals. After the Meiji Restoration, the government treated Shintō like a state religion and revived the system of national shrines, which dated from the 9th century or earlier. In order to propagate Revival Shintō as the foundation of the national structure, they initiated the “great promulgation movement” (1869–84) in which the emperor was respected like kami. Although the Japanese constitution enacted in 1889 guaranteed freedom of faith under certain conditions, priority was, in fact, given to Shintō. In elementary schools Shintō was taught to children, and most of the national holidays were related to Shintō festivals. Shintō of this nature was called State Shintō and came under the control of the Bureau of Shrines in the Ministry of Home Affairs.

State Shintō was regarded as a state cult and a national ethic and not as “a religion.” The free interpretation of its teachings by individual Shintō priests was discouraged. Priests of the national shrines were prohibited from preaching and presiding over Shintō funerals. By 1945 there were 218 national and approximately 110,000 local shrines. The number of Sect Shintō groups was limited to 13 after the organization of Tenri-kyō. Legally these 13 sects were treated as general religious bodies, similar to Buddhism and Christianity, and came under the supervision of the Ministry of Education.

After the end of World War II, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers ordered the Japanese government to disestablish State Shintō. All government financial support from public funds and all official affiliation with Shintō and Shintō shrines were also discontinued. State rites performed by the emperor were henceforth to be regarded as the religious practices of the Imperial family. These rulings were carried into the new Japanese constitution that was enacted in 1947. Presently, Shrine Shintō is faced with two serious problems. The first is determining how the traditional unifying function of Shintō can be promoted in local communities or in the nation without interfering with freedom of faith. The second is the necessity of harmonizing Shintō with rapid modernization, especially in organizing believers and dealing with human problems or the meaning of life.

The number of Shintō shrines has been decreasing since the beginning of the Meiji era, in part because a municipal unification plan in 1889 called for the shrines of tutelary kami to be combined with the municipality. At present, about 99 percent of the shrines belong to the Association of Shintō Shrines, established in 1946, and most of the others are independent or belong to small groups.

About 15 percent of 16,251 Sect Shintō churches were damaged during World War II. Although they were not affected by the occupation policies after the war, many sects, in fact, went through difficult years because of unrest among the people and disunion within their own organizations. In 1966 Tenri-kyō proclaimed that their belief was not Shintō, and in 1973 they withdrew from the federation of Sect Shintō groups. On the other hand, numerous new religious bodies, including Shintōist groups, have emerged since 1945. How to adequately reclassify Sect Shintō, when combined with these new bodies, is a major concern of specialists on the subject.

Place of Shintō in Japanese and world religion
Shintō together with Buddhism is closely related both culturally and socially to the life of the Japanese people. Its relationships to other religions in Japan are generally cooperative and harmonious. Most Shintōists believe that cooperation between different religions could contribute to world peace, but this is not to imply a facile religious syncretism. Shintōists insist on maintaining their own characteristics and inner depth while working toward the peaceful coexistence of human beings.

Additional Reading


(Encyclopaedia Britannica)




Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy