Shinto religion or shintosim is an ancient belief system consisting of a mixture of nature worship, animism, divination techniques, and the worship of kami or spirits.
The native religion of Japan, it was only given a name when Buddhism was first introduced to the country to help people distinguish between the two faith systems. It was made the state religion during the 1860s when the Meiji government took back control of the country from the shogunate.
Shinto religion is polytheistic in nature and it involves the worship of spirits called "kami". In the eighteenth century, the scholar Moto-ori Norinaga said that kami were, "Anything whatsoever which was outside the ordinary, which possessed superior power, or which was awe-inspiring". The followers of shintoism worship:
- Nature - rivers, rocks, waterfalls, the moon, and so on
- Charismatic people such as emperors
- Abstract concepts like fertility and growth
The most important aspect of Shinto religion is that, unlike other organized religions, it doesn't have a holy place, a dogma, or a set of prayers. The whole religion is a collection of rituals and worshipping methods which are supposed to connect the followers of the religion with the spirits - the kami.
I think it's fair to say that the religion overall has a very mystical appeal which can be felt if you manage to see any of the traditional celebrations as they happen at a Shinto shrine.
The Four Affirmations
Shinto emphasizes four affirmations which believers are supposed to observe in their daily life and thinking. They are:
- Family - The family, according to Shinto religion, is very important to preserve values and traditions. Child birth and marriage are considered two of the most important celebrations in the religion as they are both related to the institution of family.
- Cleanliness - The followers of this religion are supposed to be very clean. They should bathe every day, wash their hands, and rinse their mouths often. According to Shinto, certain deeds are considered unclean or dirty and certain deeds are considered pure or clean.
- Nature worship - The most sacred thing in the world, according to Shinto, is nature. According to this belief, nature is permeated with kami, the divine spirits. So, in order to be in contact with these divine spirits, one should be in contact with nature. Therefore, understandably, nature worship is given a lot of importance.
- Matsuri - These are the Japanese festivals dedicated to the spirits or kami. Worshipping the kami is considered an integral part of the religion. One example is the obon celebration that happens in August on the Japanese calendar.
Shinto And Buddhism
During the 6th century, Buddhism began to filter down from the artistocrats and influence the entire population of the country. More organized than Shinto it was soon adopted by the Imperial court.
The two religions have always coexisted, for the most part peacefully, and it was only during the Meiji Restoration that the two religions were clearly separated.
As the state religion, Shinto gradually became a tool for nationalistic propaganda. One of its tenets, the worship of charismatic people or emperors, was emphasized more than any other belief.
This all came to an end after the Second World War when the state religion was abolished. Today, Shinto religion is still the largest in Japan - although buddhism in Japan is growing in popularity. Shintoism has reinvented itself and shed the image of a nationalistic religion. It has now become more of a folk religion whose values are ingrained in Japanese culture.