Shinto,[a] also known as Shintoism or kami-no-michi, is a religion originating from Japan. Classified as an East Asian religion, its practitioners often regard it as Japan's indigenous religion, although this description is disputed by various scholars of religion. Practitioners are often called Shintoists, although a broader range of Japanese people who do not identify as such also take part in Shinto customs.

Shinto is polytheistic and revolves around the kami ("spirits" or "gods"), supernatural entities that are believed to inhabit various facets of the landscape. Practitioners believe that kami can behave either benevolently or destructively toward human beings, and must be propitiated with offerings to secure their blessings. The kami are worshipped at kamidana household shrines as well as at public shrines. The latter are staffed by priests who oversee the provision of offerings, usually of food, to secure the kami's blessings. Other common rituals include the kagura dances and various forms of divination, while shrines also provide practitioners with amulets to prevent misfortune. Priests officiate at seasonal festivals and also oversee rites of passage, although usually avoid funerals, which are instead conducted by Buddhist monks. A major conceptual focus in Shinto is on ensuring purity by cleansing individuals of impurities, typically through washing. Shinto does not emphasize specific moral codes although has historically been closely linked to the values of conservatism and Japanese nationalism.

Historians regard Shinto as a modern phenomenon, albeit one that draws on older traditions from Japanese culture. Belief in kami can be traced back several thousand years to the Yayoi period, although their veneration lacked the organization associated with later Shinto. From the Kofun period (300 to 538 CE), Buddhism was introduced to Japan and influenced the way kami were venerated. Under Buddhist influence, kami came to be depicted anthropomorphically and were incorporated within Buddhist cosmology. Various mythological stories regarding the kami and their worship were recorded in eighth century texts such as the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki. During the Meiji era (1868 to 1912 CE), the state purged kami-worship of obviously Buddhist elements, forming the modern religion of Shinto in the process. The presentation of Shinto as an "indigenous" Japanese tradition independent of foreign influences was pursued as part of a nationalist agenda. As part of the "State Shinto" system, shrines came under growing government influence and the Emperor of Japan was presented as a kami. With the formation of the Japanese Empire in the early 20th century, Shinto was imported to other areas of East Asia. Following Japan's defeat in World War II, Shinto was formally separated from the state.

Shinto is found almost exclusively in Japan, where there are now around 80,000 public shrines, although a small number of shrines and practitioners are located abroad. In Japan, it is considered one of the two largest religions, along with Buddhism. Only a minority of Japanese identify as Shintoists, although a wider proportion of the population take part in Shinto activities, especially festivals. This reflects a common view in Japanese culture that the beliefs and practices of different religions need not be exclusive, with many individuals engaging in both Buddhist and Shinto activities at different times. Aspects of Shinto have also been incorporated into various Japanese new religious movements.

Itsukushima Gate
The Itsukushima Torii in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan. Torii mark the entrance to a Shinto shrine and are recognisable symbols of the religion.


Shimboku of Nikko Futarasan Shrine
In Shinto, everything in nature is believe to be possessed by spirits, from trees and rocks, to rivers and mountains

There is no universally agreed definition of Shinto.[1] However, the authors Joseph Cali and John Dougill stated that if there was "one single, broad definition of Shinto" that could be put forward, it would be that "Shinto is a belief in kami."[2] The Japanologist Helen Hardacre stated that "Shinto encompasses doctrines, institutions, ritual, and communal life based on kami worship",[3] while the scholar of religion Inoue Nobutaka observed the term was "often used" in "reference to kami worship and related theologies, rituals and practices."[4]

Many scholars refer to Shinto as a religion.[5] However, religion as a concept arose in Western countries and many of the connotations that the term has in Western culture "do not readily apply" to Shinto.[6] Unlike religions familiar in the West, such as Christianity and Islam, Shinto has no single founder.[2] Western religions have tended to stress exclusivity, but in Japan, it has long been considered acceptable to practice different religious traditions simultaneously.[7] Shinto incorporates elements borrowed from religious traditions imported into Japan from mainland Asia, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese divination practices.[2] It bears many similarities with other East Asian religions, in particular through its belief in many different deities.[8]

Western scholars have referred to practitioners of Shinto as Shintoists.[9] The philosopher Stuart D. B. Picken thought this term to be "untranslatable" and "meaningless" in the Japanese language.[9] Some people prefer to view Shinto not as a religion but as a "way",[10] partly as a pretence for attempting to circumvent the modern Japanese separation of religion and state and restore the historical links between Shinto and the Japanese state.[11] Moreover, 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').[12]

Scholars have debated at what point in history it is legitimate to start talking about Shinto 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."[13] 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,[14] Inoue Nobutaka stated that "Shinto cannot be considered as a single religious system that existed from the ancient to the modern period",[15] while the historian Kuroda Toshio noted that "before modern times Shinto did not exist as an independent religion".[16]

Picken suggested that Shinto could be classed as a world religion,[18] while Inoue argued for categorizing it "as a member of the family of East-Asian religions".[19] Shinto is often referred to as an indigenous religion,[20] although this results in debates over the various different definitions of "indigenous" in the Japanese context.[21] The notion of Shinto as Japan's "indigenous religion" stemmed from the growth of modern nationalism in the Edo period to the Meiji era.[22] As a result, the idea that Shinto was an ancient tradition was promoted throughout the population.[22] Associated with this idea of Shinto 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".[23]

Nelson noted that Shinto was "not a unified, monolithic entity that has a single center and system all its own".[21] Bocking noted that the term "Shinto" was akin to the term "Hinduism" in that it was "a portmanteau term for widely varying types and aspects of religion".[1] Various different types of Shinto have been identified. "Shrine Shinto" refers to the practices centred around shrines.[21] Some scholars have used the term "Folk Shinto" to designate localised Shinto practices,[24] or the practices of individuals outside of an institutionalised setting.[21] In various eras of the past, there was also a "State Shinto", in which Shinto beliefs and practices were closely interwoven with the operations of the Japanese state.[21]

Shinto is considered one of the two main religions of Japan, the other being Buddhism.[25] Whereas Buddhism places a focus on transcending the cosmos, which it regards as being replete with suffering, Shinto focuses on adapting to the pragmatic requirements of life.[26]


Takachiho-gawara Kirishima City Kagoshima Pref02n4050
Takachiho-gawara. Here is the sacred ground of the descent to earth of Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of Amaterasu

The word Shintō (Way of the Gods) was adopted, originally as Jindō[27] or Shindō,[28] from the written Chinese Shendao (神道, pinyin: shéndào),[note 1] combining two kanji: shin (), meaning "spirit" or kami; and michi (), "path", meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào).[29] The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the sixth century.[28]

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.[30] Alternatively, it is possible that in this Japanese context, the early uses of Shinto were also a reference to Taoism, as many Taoist practices had recently been imported to Japan.[31] It is apparent that in these early Japanese uses, the word Shinto did not apply to a distinct religious tradition nor to anything seen as being uniquely Japanese.[32] In the Konjaku monogatarishui, composed in the eleventh-century, references are made to a woman in China practicing Shinto rather than Buddhism, indicating that at this time the term Shinto was not used in reference to purely Japanese traditions.[33] The same text also referred to people in India worshipping kami, reflecting use of that term to describe localised deities outside of Japan.[33]

In medieval Japan, kami-worship was generally seen as being part of Japanese Buddhism, with the kami themselves often being interpreted as Buddhas.[34] At this point, the term Shinto increasingly referred to "the authority, power, or activity of a kami, being a kami, or, in short, the state or attributes of a kami."[35] It appears in this form in texts such as Nakatomi no harai kunge and Shintoshu tales.[35] In the Japanese Portuguese Dictionary of 1603, Shinto is defined as referring to "kami or matters pertaining to kami."[36]

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.[22] The term Shinto 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.[1] The term Shinto has been used in different ways throughout Japanese history.[37]

A range of other terms have been used as synonyms for Shinto. 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").[38]



Shinto is a polytheistic belief system involving the veneration of many deities, known as kami.[2] The Japanese language makes no distinction between singular and plural, and hence the term kami refers both to individual kami and the collective group of kami.[39] This term has varyingly been translated into English as "god", "deity", or "spirit".[2] An alternative term used for the kami is jingi.[40] According to Japanese mythology, there are eight million kami.[41] They are not regarded as omnipotent, omniscient, or necessarily immortal.[42]

In Shinto, kami are believed to be everywhere.[3] They are believed to inhabit both the living and the dead, organic and inorganic matter, and natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and plagues.[2] 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.[24] They are also believed to inhabit various natural forces, such as the wind, rain, fire, and sunshine.[24] The term kami is "conceptually fluid";[42] it is often applied to the power of phenomena that inspire a sense of wonder and awe in the beholder.[43] Kami and people exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity;[29] they are not understood as being metaphysically different from humanity.[42] The kami is seen as being represented in the shrine by the go-shintai.[44]

Kami have been venerated since prehistory, although it was only under the influence of Buddhism that they were depicted anthropomorphically.[3] In the Yayoi period, they were regarded as being formless and invisible.[45] Dead humans are sometimes venerated as kami, being regarded as protector or ancestral figures.[46] 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 god of war.[24] In Western Japan, the term jigami is used to describe the enshrined kami of a village founder.[47] In some cases, such as that of the Emperor of Japan, living human beings were also viewed as kami.[2]

Shinto has also been characterised as a pantheistic belief system because the kami are believed to manifest in everything that exists.[2] It has also been described as animistic because the kami are seen as manifesting within the natural world.[48] Accordingly, Nelson commented that Shinto regards "the actual phenomena of the world itself" as being "divine".[49]

Kami are believed to be capable of both benevolent and destructive deeds.[50] Offerings and prayers are given to the kami to gain their blessings and to dissuade them from engaging in destructive actions.[2] 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.[51]

Although some kami are venerated only in a single location, others have shrines devoted to them across many areas of Japan.[52] Hachiman for instance has around 25,000 shrines dedicated to him.[24] The act of establishing a new shrine to a kami who already has one is called bunrei ("dividing the spirit").[53] 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.[52] The new, subsidiary shrine is known as a bunsha.[54] 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.[52] In some periods, fees were charged for the right to enshrine a particular kami in a new place.[52] Shrines are not necessarily always designed as permanent structures.[3]

Many kami are believed to have messengers, known as kami no tsukai or tsuka washime, and these are generally depicted as taking animal form.[52] The messenger of Inari, for example, is depicted as a fox, while the messenger of Hachiman is a dove.[52] Shinto cosmology also includes bakemono, spirits who cause malevolent acts.[55] Bakemono include oni, tengu, kappa, mononoke, and yamanba.[55] 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.[56] 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.[56]


Kobayashi Izanami and Izanagi
Izanami-no-Mikoto and Izanagi-no-Mikoto, by Kobayashi Eitaku, late 19th century.

The origin of the kami and of Japan itself are recounted in two eighth-century texts, Kojiki and Nihon shoki.[57] These were texts commissioned by ruling elites to legitimate and consolidate their rule.[58] 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.[59]

These texts recount that the universe started with ame-tsuchi, the separation of light and pure elements (ame, "heaven") from heavy elements (tsuchi, "earth").[60] Three kami then appeared: Amenominakanushi, Takamimusuhi no Mikoto, and Kamimusuhi no Mikoto.[59] Other kami followed, including a brother and sister, Izanagi and Izanami.[59] The kami then 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.[61] 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.[62] Izanagi then descended to the netherworld (yomi) to retrieve his lover-cum-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.[63][64]

Izanagi then 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.[64][63] 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.[65] Susanoo was then banished to earth, where he married and has children.[66] With humans now living on Earth, the "age of the gods" came to an end.[66]

In Shinto, the creative principle permeating all life is known as mutsubi.[67]

Purity and impurity

Karasuzumo purification ritual
Shinto purification rite after a ceremonial children's sumo tournament at the Kamigamo Jinja in Kyoto

A key theme in Shinto thought is the importance of avoiding kegare ("pollution" or "impurity"),[62] while ensuring harae ("purity").[68] Rites of purification are conducted to as to restore an individual to "spiritual" health and render them useful to society.[69] Shinto teaches that certain deeds create a kind of ritual impurity that one should want cleansed for one's own peace of mind and good fortune rather than because impurity is wrong. Wrong deeds are called "impurity" (穢れ kegare), which is opposed to "purity" (清め kiyome). Normal days are called "day" (ke), and festive days are called "sunny" or, simply, "good" (hare).[70]

This notion of purity is present in many facets of Japanese culture, such as the focus it places on bathing.[71] Purification is for instance regarded as important in preparation for the planting season.[72] Among the things regarded as particular pollutants in Shinto are death, disease, witchcraft, the flaying alive of an animal, incest, bestiality, excrement, and blood associated with either menstruation or childbirth.[73] Various words, termed imi-kotoba, are regarded as taboo, and people avoid speaking them when at a shrine; these include shi (death), byō (illness), and shishi (meat).[74]

Full immersion in the sea is often regarded as the most ancient and efficacious form of purification.[75] 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.[76] Salt is often regarded as a purifying substance; some people will for instance sprinkle salt on themselves after a funeral.[77]

Kannagara, morality, and ethics

In Shinto, kannagara ("way of the kami") describes the law of the natural order.[78] Shinto incorporates morality tales and myths but no over-arching, codified ethical doctrine.[2] Its views of kannagara influence certain ethical views, focused on sincerity (makoto) and honesty (tadashii).[78] Shinto's flexibility regarding morality and ethics has been a source of frequent criticism, especially from those arguing that Shinto can readily become a pawn for those wishing to use it to legitimise their authority and power.[79] Cali and Dougill noted that Shinto had long been associated with "an insular and protective view" of Japanese society.[80] They added that in the modern world, Shinto tends toward conservatism and nationalism.[80] As a result of these associations, Shinto is still viewed suspiciously by various civil liberties groups in Japan and by many of Japan's neighbours.[81]

The priests of Shinto 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.[82]


Shinto tends to focus on behavior rather than doctrine.[80] The philosophers James W. Boyd and Ron G. Williams stated that Shinto is "first and foremost a ritual tradition".[83] As observed by Picken, "Shinto is interested not in credenda but in agenda, not in things that should be believed but in things that should be done."[84] It is often difficult to distinguish Shinto practices from Japanese customs more broadly,[85] with Picken observing that the "worldview of Shinto" provided the "principal source of self-understanding within the Japanese way of life".[84] Nelson stated that "Shinto-based orientations and values[…] lie at the core of Japanese culture, society, and character".[86]


Fushimi Inari - Main gate
The main gate to Fushimi Inari-taisha, one of the oldest shrines in Japan

The public shrine is a building or place that functions as a conduit for kami. A fewer number of shrines are also natural places called mori. The most common of the mori are sacred groves of trees, or mountains, or waterfalls. All shrines are open to the public at some times or throughout the year. In the early twenty-first century, there are an estimated 80,000 shrines across Japan.[87] They are found all over the country, from isolated rural areas to dense metropolitan ones.[25]

The architectural styles of Shinto shrines had largely developed by the Heian period.[88] The inner sanctuary in which the kami is believed to live is known as a honden.[89] Typically, human worshippers carry out their acts outside of the honden.[25] 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.[90] At some places, halls of worship have been erected, termed haiden.[91] On a lower level can be found the hall of offerings, known as a heiden.[92] Together, the building housing the honden, haiden, and heiden is called a hongū.[93] In some shrines, there is a separate building in which to conduct additional ceremonies, such as weddings, known as a gishikiden.[94]

The entrance to shrines are marked out by a two-post gateway with either one or two crossbeams atop it, which are known as torii.[25] These are regarded as demarcating the area where the kami resides.[25] More broadly, torii have also become internationally-recognised symbols of Japan.[25] Shrines are often set within gardens, even in cities.[95] The shrine office is known as a shamusho.[96] Since the late 1940s, shrines have had to be financially self-sufficient, relying on the donations of worshippers and visitors.[97] 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 Shinto groups, and to contribute to disaster relief funds.[97]

Through to the Edo period, it was common for Shinto shrines to be demolished and rebuild at a nearby location so as to remove any pollutants and ensure purity.[98] 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.[88] Shrines may have legends about their foundation, which are known as en-gi. These sometimes also record miracles associated with the shrine.[99] From the Heian period on, the en-gi were often retold on picture scrolls known as emaki-mono.[99]

Priesthood and miko

Miwa-shrine Yutateshinji A
Yutateshinji ceremony performed by Shinto priests at the Miwa Shrine in Sakurai, Nara

Shrines may be cared for by priests known as Kannushi, by local communities, or by families on whose property the shrine is found.[25] Many priests take on the role in a line of hereditary succession traced down specific families.[41] In contemporary Japan, there are two main training universities for those wishing to become Shinto priests, at Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and at Kogakkan University in Mie Prefecture.[41][100] Women can also become kannushi and widows can succeed their husbands in their job.[100] Priests can rise through the ranks over the course of their careers.[101]

Priestly dress includes a tall, rounded hat known as an eboshi,[102] and black lacquered wooden clogs known as asa-gutsu.[103] Also part of standard priestly attire is a hiōgi fan.[104] The outer garment worn by a priest, usually colored black, red, or light blue, is the ,[105] or the ikan.[74] A white silk version of the ikan, used for formal occasions, is known as the saifuku.[74]

Kamogawa ceremony 02
Miko performing a Shinto ceremony near the Kamo River

The chief priest at a shrine is known as a gūji.[106] As with teachers, instructors, and Buddhist clergy, Shinto priests are often referred to as sensei by lay practitioners.[107] Male priests are free to marry and have children.[108] Historically, there were various female priests although they were largely pushed out of their positions in 1868.[109] 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.[108] Before certain major festivals, priests may undergo a period of abstinence from sexual relations.[110] 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.[76]

Miko dancers are unmarried women, although not necessarily virgins.[111] They are considered subordinate to the priests in the shrine hierarchy.[112] Their most important role is in the kagura dance, known as otome-mai.[113] 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.[113] They generally do not live at the shrines.[113] 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.[113]

Visits to shrines

Individual worship conducted at a shrine is known as hairei.[114] A visit to a shrine, which is known as jinja mairi in Japanese, typically takes only a few minutes.[115] Some individuals visit the shrines every day, often their route to work each morning.[115] The general procedure entails an individual approaching the honden, where they place 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.[115] The clapping is known as kashiwade or hakushu.[116] When at the shrine, individuals offering prayers are not necessarily praying to a specific kami.[115] A worshipper may not know the name of a kami residing at the shrine nor how many kami are believed to dwell there.[115]

A priest purifies the area in front of the residence of the kami

Many individuals approach the kami asking for pragmatic requests.[117] Requests for rain, known as amagoi ('rain-soliciting') have been found across Japan, with Inari a popular choice for such requests.[118] 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.[117] Before a building is constructed, it is common for either private individuals or the construction company to employ a Shinto 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.[119]

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.[120] 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.[120]

For many centuries, people have also visited the shrines for primarily cultural and recreational reasons, as opposed to spiritual ones.[115] Many of the shrines are recognised as sites of historical importance and some are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.[115]

Harae and hōbei

Shinto rituals begin with a process of purification, often involving the washing of the hands and mouth at the temizu basin; this example is at Itsukushima Jinja

Shinto rituals begin with a process of purification, or harae.[121] This entails an individual sprinkling water on the face and hands, a procedure known as temizu,[122] using a font known as a temizuya.[123] Another form of purification at the start of a Shinto rite entails waving a white paper streamer or wand known as the haraigushi.[124] When not in use, the haraigushi is usually kept in a stand.[122] The priest waves the haraigushi horizontally over a person or object being purified in a movement known as sa-yu-sa ("left-right-left").[122] Sometimes, instead of a haraigushi, the purification is carried out with a o-nusa, a branch of evergreen to which strips of paper have been attached.[122]

The acts of purification accomplished, petitions known as norito are spoken to the kami.[125] This is followed by an appearance by the miko, who commence in a slow circular motion before the main altar.[125]

Following the purification procedure, offerings are presented to the kami by being placed on a table.[125] This act is known as hōbei.[105] Historically, the offerings given the kami included food, cloth, swords, and horses.[126] 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.[24] A common offering in the present are sprigs of the sakaki tree.[127] Animal sacrifices are not considered appropriate offerings, as the shedding of blood is seen as a vile act that necessitates purification.[128] 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.[125]

After the offerings have been given, people often sip rice wine known as o-miki.[125] Drinking the o-miki wine is seen as a form of communion with the kami.[129] On important occasions, a feast is then held, known as naorai, inside a banquet hall attached to the shrine complex.[130]

The Kami are believed to enjoy music.[131] One style of music performed at shrines is gagaku.[132] Instruments used include three reeds (fue, sho, and hichiriki), the yamato-koto, and the "three drums" (taiko, kakko, and shōko).[133] 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.[55] Also in Kyoto, various festivals make use of the dengaku style of music and dance, which originated from rice-planting songs.[134] During rituals, people visiting the shrine are expected to sit in the seiza style, with their legs tucked beneath their bottom.[135] To avoid cramps, individuals who hold this position for a lengthy period of time may periodically move their legs and flex their heels.[136]

Home Shrines

A kamidana displaying a shimenawa and shide

Many people also have a kamidana or family shrine.[137] Household Shinto can focus attention on the dōzoku-shin, kami who are perceived to be ancestral to the dōzoku or extended kinship group.[138] Small village shrines containing the tutelary kami of an extended family are known as iwai-den.[139]

In addition to the temple shrines and the household shrines, Shinto also features small wayside shrines known as hokora.[93] Other open spaces used for the worship of kami are iwasaka, an area surrounded by sacred rocks.[140]

Amulets and talismans

A woman tying her fortune written on a white piece of paper (omikuji) to a frame at Kasuga Shrine

Ema are small wooden plaques that wishes or desires are written upon and left at a place in the shrine grounds so that one may get a wish or desire fulfilled.[141] They have a picture on them and are frequently associated with the larger Shrines.[142] 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.[143]

Ofuda are talismans—made of paper, wood, or metal—that are issued at shrines. They are inscribed with the names of kami and are used for protection in the home. They are typically placed in the home at a kamidana. Ofuda may be kept anywhere, as long as they are in their protective pouches, but there are several rules about the proper placement of kamidana. They are also renewed annually.[142]

Omamori are personal-protection amulets that are sold by shrines. They are frequently used to ward off bad luck and to gain better health. More recently, there are also amulets to promote good driving, good business, and success at school. Their history lies with Buddhist practice of selling amulets.[142] They are generally replaced once a year, and old omamori are brought to a shrine so they can be properly disposed of through burning by a priest.

Omikuji are paper lots upon which personal fortunes are written.[142] The fortunes can range from daikichi (大吉), meaning "great good luck," to daikyou (大凶), meaning "great bad luck."[144]

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.[142]

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:[142] hamaya, which are symbolic arrows for the fight against evil and bad luck;[142] and Inuhariko, which are paper dogs that are used to induce and to bless good births.[142]

Kamidana with kagamimochi offering by shig2006 in Hitachinaka
Kamidana (home shrine) with kagamimochi and Ofuda
Daruma dolls
Daruma of various sizes
Hamaya at Ikuta Shrine
Various Omamori from Shrines in Japan and Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America
Ema dedicated at Sewa Jinja


Niiname-sai,traditional Japanese dance,katori-jingu-shrine,katori-city,japan
Kagura traditional dance, Katori Jingu, Katori City

Kagura is the ancient Shinto ritual dance of shamanic origin. 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."[145] There is a mythological tale of how kagura dance came into existence. The sun goddess Amaterasu became very upset at her brother so she hid in a cave. All of the other gods and goddesses were concerned and wanted her to come outside. Ame-no-Uzume began to dance and create a noisy commotion in order to entice Amaterasu to come out. The kami (gods) tricked Amaterasu by telling her there was a better sun goddess in the heavens. Amaterasu came out and light returned to the universe.

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 gods and as prayers for blessings. Rhythm patterns of five and seven are common, possibly relating to the Shinto 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 gods. 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.[146]

In both ancient Japanese collections, the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, Ame-no-uzeme's dance is described as asobi, which in 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!"[147] 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 goddess during the low point of the winter solstice.[148]

There is a division between the kagura that is performed at the Imperial palace and the shrines related to it, and the kagura that is performed in the countryside. Folk kagura, or kagura from the countryside is divided according to region. The following descriptions relate to sato kagura, kagura that is from the countryside. The main types are: miko kagura, Ise kagura, Izumo kagura, and shishi kagura.

Head miko in Inari shrine, Tanabe 179738668 4dc16b0c21 o
A miko at Inari Shrine.

Miko kagura is the oldest type of kagura and is danced by women in Shinto shrines and during folk festivals. The ancient miko were shamanesses, but are now considered priestesses in the service of the Shinto Shrines. Miko kagura originally was a shamanic trance dance, but later, it became an art and was interpreted as a prayer dance. It is performed in many of the larger Shinto shrines and is characterized by slow, elegant, circular movements, by emphasis on the four directions and by the central use of torimono (objects dancers carry in their hands), especially the fan and bells.[149]

Ise kagura is a collective name for rituals that are based upon the yudate (boiling water rites of Shugendō origin) ritual. It includes miko dances as well as dancing of the torimono type. The kami are believed to be present in the pot of boiling water, so the dancers dip their torimono in the water and sprinkle it in the four directions and on the observers for purification and blessing.[150]

Izumo kagura is centered in the Sada shrine of Izumo, Shimane prefecture. It has two types: torimono ma, unmasked dances that include held objects, and shinno (sacred No), dramatic masked dances based on myths. Izumo kagura appears to be the most popular type of kagura.[150]

Shishi kagura also known as the Shugen-No tradition, uses the dance of a shishi (lion or mountain animal) mask as the image and presence of the deity. It includes the Ise daikagura group and the yamabushi kagura and bangaku groups of the Tohoku area (Northeastern Japan). Ise daikagura employs a large red Chinese type of lion head which can move its ears. The lion head of the yamabushi kagura schools is black and can click its teeth. Unlike other kagura types in which the kami appear only temporarily, during the shishi kagura the kami is constantly present in the shishi head mask. During the Edo period, the lion dances became showy and acrobatic losing its touch with spirituality. However, the yamabushi kagura tradition has retained its ritualistic and religious nature.[150]

Originally, the practice of kagura involved authentic possession by the kami invoked. In modern-day Japan, it appears to be difficult to find authentic ritual possession, called kamigakari, in kagura dance. However, it is common to see choreographed possession in the dances. Actual possession is not taking place but elements of possession such as losing control and high jumps are applied in the dance.


Aoi Matsuri
Participants in a procession for Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto

Public festivals are known as matsuri.[151] Picken suggested that the festival was "the central act of Shinto worship" because Shinto was a "community- and family-based" religion.[152] According to a traditional view of the lunar calendar, Shinto shrines should hold their festival celebrations on hare-no-hi or "clear" days", the days of the new, full, and half moons.[153] Other days, known as ke-no-hi, were generally avoided for festivities.[153] 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.[154]

Spring festivals are called haru-matsuri and often incorporate prayers for a good harvest.[153] They sometimes incorporate ta-asobi ceremonies, in which rice is ritually planted.[153] Autumn festivals are known as aki-matsuri and primarily focus on thanking the kami for the rice or other harvest.[155] The Niiname-sai, or festival of new rice, is held across many Shinto shrines on 23 November.[156] Winter festivals, called fuyu no matsuri often feature on welcoming in the spring, expelling evil, and calling in good influences for the future.[157] There is little difference between winter festivals and specific new year festivals.[157]

Tomioka hachimangu10
Procession of the kami as part of the Fukagawa Matsuri festival in Tokyo

Many people visit shrines to celebrate new year;[158] this "first visit" of the year is known as hatsumōde or hatsumairi.[159] There, they buy amulets and talismans to bring them good fortune over the coming year.[160] To celebrate this festival, many Japanese put up rope known as shimenawa on their hopes and places of business.[161] Some also put up kadomatsu ("gateway pine"), an arrangement of sticks.[161] 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.[162]

Many festivals are specific to particular shrines or regions. The Aoi Matsuri festival, held on May 15th to pray for an abundant grain harvest, takes place at shrines in Kyoto.[163]

Processions or parades during Shinto festivals are known as gyōretsu.[164] During public processions, the kami travel in portable shrines known as mikoshi.[75] The processions for matsuri can be raucous, with many of the participants being drunk.[165] They are often understood as having a regenerative effect on both the participants and the community.[166] 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.[116] 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.[167]

Rites of passage

The formal recognition of events is given great importance in Japanese culture.[168] Bocking noted that most Japanese people are "still 'born Shinto' yet 'die Buddhist'."[81] A common ritual, the hatsumiyamairi, entails a child's first visit to a Shinto shrine.[169] A tradition holds that if a boy, the child should be brought to the shrine on the thirty-second day after birth, and if a girl it should be brought on the thirty-third day.[159] 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.[159] Another, the saiten-sai, is a coming of age ritual marking the transition to adulthood and occurs when an individual is around twenty.[170]

Shinto funeral

Shinto funerals were established during the Tokugawa period and focused on two themes: concern for the fate of the corpse and maintenance of the relationship between the living and the dead.[171] There are at least twenty steps involved in burying the dead. Mourners wear solid black in a day of mourning called Kichu-fuda and a Shinto priest will perform various rituals. People will give monetary gifts to the deceased's family called Koden, and Kotsuge is the gathering of the deceased's ashes. Some of the ashes are taken by family members to put in their home shrines at the step known as Bunkotsu.[172]

Divination and spirit mediumship

Inako 2006-10-09
An itako at the autumn Inako Taisai festival at Mount Osore, Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

Divination is the focus of many Shinto rituals.[57] Among the ancient forms of divination found in Japan are rokuboku and kiboku.[173]

The itako and ichiko, are blind women who train to become spiritual mediums in Japan.[174] They were historically found in the north-east region of Japan although by the late twentieth century were present in Japanese urban centers.[174] 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.[174] 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.[174] Itako usually carry our their rituals independent of the shrine system.[175]

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.[176] Itako gather there to channel the dead for thousands of tourists.[177]:31 In contemporary Japan, itako are on the decline. In 2009, less than 20 remained, all over the age of 40.[178] Contemporary education standards have all but eradicated the need for specialized training for the blind.[178]


Before Shinto

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 Shinto".[179] 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.[45] In the subsequent Kofun period, Korean migration to Japan brought with it both Confucianism and Buddhism.[180] Buddhism had a particular impact on the kami cults.[181] Migrant groups and Japanese who increasingly aligned with these foreign influences built Buddhist temples in various parts of the Japanese islands.[181] 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.[181]

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.[182] Buddhism was also growing. According to the Nihon Shoki, in 587 Emperor Yōmei converted to Buddhism and under his sponsorship Buddhism spread.[183]

From the eighth century, Shinto and Buddhism were thoroughly intertwined in Japanese society.[85]

Kofun Period

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 Shinto. In the latter 6th century, there was a breakdown of the alliances between Japan and Paekche but the influence led to the codification of Shinto as the native religion in opposition to the extreme outside influences of the mainland. Up to this time Shinto had been largely a clan ('uji') based religious practice, exclusive to each clan.[29]

Asuka Period

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 Shinto 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 goddess, 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.[29]

In particular the Asuka rulers of 552–645 saw disputes between the more major families of the clan Shinto families. There were disputes about who would ascend to power and support the imperial family between the Soga and Mononobe/Nakatomi Shinto 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 Hakuho ruling period of 645–710 that Shinto was installed as the imperial faith along with the Fujiwara Clan and reforms that followed.[29]

Hakuho Period

Beginning with Emperor Tenmu (672–686), continuing through Empress Jitō (686–697) and Emperor Monmu (697–707) Court Shinto rites are strengthened and made parallel to Buddhist beliefs in court life. Prior to this time clan Shinto had dominated and a codification of "Imperial Shinto" did not exist as such. The Nakatomi family are made the chief court Shinto chaplains and chief priests at Ise Daijingū which held until 1892. Also the practice of sending imperial princesses to the Ise shrine begins.[29] 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).[29]

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 Shinto 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 Shinto Shrine office was completed.[29]

Nara Period

This period hosted many changes to the country, government, and religion. The capital is moved again to Heijō-kyō, or Nara, in AD 710 by Empress Genmei due to the death of the Emperor. This practice was necessary due to the Shinto 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.[29] The establishment of the imperial city in partnership with Taihō Code is important to Shinto as the office of the Shinto 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.[29]

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 goddess) as the manifestation of the supreme expression of universality.[29]

The priest Gyogi is known for his belief in assimilation of Shinto Kami and Buddhas. Shinto kami are commonly being seen by Buddhist clergy as guardians of manifestation, guardians, or pupils of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.[29] The priest Gyogi conferred boddhisattva precepts on the Emperor in 749 effectively making the Imperial line the head of state and divine to Shinto while beholden to Buddhism.[184]

Syncretism with Buddhism

Shown here is the syncretism between Buddhism and kami worship known as shinbutsu-shūgō, once common in feudal Japan. Foxes sacred to Shinto kami Inari, a torii, a Buddhist stone pagoda, and Buddhist figures are placed together at Jōgyō-ji.

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 goddess 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.[185] 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.[185] 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.[185]


Buddhism and Shinto 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 "Shinto" 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 tear apart the "real" Shinto from various foreign influences. The attempt was largely unsuccessful; however, the attempt did set the stage for the arrival of State Shinto, following the Meiji Restoration (c. 1868), when Shinto and Buddhism were separated (shinbutsu bunri).

State Shinto

Fridell argues that scholars call the period 1868–1945 the "State Shinto period" because, "during these decades, Shinto 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."[186] 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.[187]

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 Shinto by separating shrines from the temples that housed them. During this period, numerous scholars of kokugaku believed that this national Shinto 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 Shinto 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). Priests were officially nominated and organized by the state, and they instructed the youth in a form of Shinto 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.

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).


Under 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. This measure was designed to eradicate "state Shinto" (kokka shinto).[188] Post-war, various legal debates have occurred over the involvement of public officials in Shinto.[188]

Shinto themes were often blended into Japanese new religious movements.[189] In the post-war period, numerous "New Religions" cropped up, many of them ostensibly based on Shinto, but on the whole, Japanese religiosity may have decreased. However, the concept of religion in Japan is a complex one. A survey conducted in the mid-1970s indicated that of those participants who claimed not to believe in religion, one-third had a Buddhist or Shinto altar in their home, and about one quarter carried an omamori (an amulet to gain protection by kami) on their person. Following the war, Shinto shrines tended to focus on helping ordinary people gain better fortunes for themselves through maintaining good relations with their ancestors and other kami. The number of Japanese citizens identifying their religious beliefs as Shinto has declined a great deal, yet the general practice of Shinto rituals has not decreased in proportion, and many practices have persisted as general cultural beliefs (such as ancestor worship), and community festivals (matsuri)—focusing more on religious practices. The explanation generally given for this anomaly is that, following the demise of State Shinto, modern Shinto has reverted to its more traditional position as a traditional religion which is culturally ingrained, rather than enforced. In any case, Shinto and its values continue to be a fundamental component of the Japanese cultural mindset.

Shinto has also spread abroad to a limited extent, and a few non-Japanese Shinto priests have been ordained. A relatively small number of people practice Shinto in America. There are several Shinto 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.


As much as nearly 80% of the population in Japan participates in Shinto practices or rituals, but only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys.[190][191] This is because Shinto has different meanings in Japan. Most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional Shinto religion.[192] There are no formal rituals to become a practitioner of "folk Shinto". Thus, "Shinto membership" is often estimated counting only those who do join organised Shinto sects.[193] Shinto has about 81,000 shrines and about 85,000 priests in the country.[191] According to surveys carried out in 2006[194] and 2008,[195] less than 40% of the population of Japan identifies with an organised religion: around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of Shinto sects and derived religions. In 2008, 26% of the participants reported often visiting Shinto shrines, while only 16.2% expressed belief in the existence of a god or gods () in general.[195]

Study of Shinto

In the early twentieth century, and to a lesser extent in the second half, there were various taboos influencing academic research into Shinto in Japan.[196] Japanese academics who questioned the historical claims made for various Shinto ceremonies, or who personally refused to take part in Shinto rituals, could—and in some cases did—lose their jobs.[197] Following the Second World War, many scholars writing on Shinto were also priests; they brought insider agendas with them and wrote as theologians. They often presented Shinto ahistorically, describing it as being the essence of the Japanese people.[197] Various secular scholars accused these individuals of blurring theology with historical analysis.[198] In the late 1970s and 1980s the work of Kuroda Toshio helped demolish ahistorical views of Shinto as a timeless entity, exposing this view as a cloak for Japanese ethnic nationalism.[198]

See also


  1. ^ 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)
  1. ^ 神道, Shintō, Japanese pronunciation: [ɕiꜜntoː]



  1. ^ a b c Bocking 1997, p. viii.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cali & Dougill 2013, p. 13.
  3. ^ a b c d Hardacre 2017, p. 1.
  4. ^ Inoue 2003, p. 1.
  5. ^ Picken 1994, p. xvii; Nelson 1996, p. 26.
  6. ^ Picken 1994, p. xix.
  7. ^ Picken 1994, p. xxx.
  8. ^ Inoue 2003, p. 7.
  9. ^ a b Picken 1994, p. xviii.
  10. ^ Picken 1994, p. xxiv; Cali & Dougill 2013, p. 13.
  11. ^ Picken 1994, pp. xxiv–xxv.
  12. ^ Nelson 1996, p. 8.
  13. ^ Smart 1998, p. 135.
  14. ^ Bocking 1997, p. 174.
  15. ^ Inoue 2003, p. 5.
  16. ^ Kuroda 1981, p. 3.
  17. ^ Bocking 1997, pp. 173–174.
  18. ^ Picken 1994, p. xxv.
  19. ^ Inoue 2003, p. 10.
  20. ^ Kuroda 1981, p. 1; Nelson 1996, p. 7.
  21. ^ a b c d e Nelson 1996, p. 7.
  22. ^ a b c Kuroda 1981, p. 19.
  23. ^ Kuroda 1981, pp. 1–2.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Cali & Dougill 2013, p. 14.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g Cali & Dougill 2013, p. 7.
  26. ^ Nelson 1996, p. 30.
  27. ^ Mark Teeuwen. From Jindō to Shintō. A Concept Takes Shape. Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 2002, 29/3–4.
  28. ^ a b Picken 1994, p. xxi.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Richard Pilgrim, Robert Ellwood (1985). Japanese Religion (1st ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0-13-509282-8.
  30. ^ Kuroda 1981, pp. 4–5.
  31. ^ Kuroda 1981, p. 6.
  32. ^ Kuroda 1981, p. 7.
  33. ^ a b Kuroda 1981, pp. 9–10.
  34. ^ Kuroda 1981, pp. 11, 12.
  35. ^ a b Kuroda 1981, p. 10.
  36. ^ Kuroda 1981, pp. 10–11.
  37. ^ Kuroda 1981, p. 4; Bocking 1997, p. viii.
  38. ^ Picken 1994, p. xxiv.
  39. ^ Boyd & Williams 2005, p. 35; Cali & Dougill 2013, p. 13.
  40. ^ Bocking 1997, p. 70.
  41. ^ a b c Nelson 1996, p. 29.
  42. ^ a b c Boyd & Williams 2005, p. 35.
  43. ^ Picken 1994, p. xxi; Boyd & Williams 2005, p. 35.
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  • Bocking, Brian (1997). A Popular Dictionary of Shinto (revised ed.). Richmond: Curzon. ISBN 9780700710515.
  • Boyd, James W.; Williams, Ron G. (2005). "Japanese Shinto: An Interpretation of a Priestly Perspective". Philosophy East and West. 55 (1): 33–63. doi:10.1353/pew.2004.0039.
  • Cali, Joseph; Dougill, John (2013). Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0824837136.
  • Hardacre, Helen (2017). Shinto: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-062171-1.
  • Kuroda, Toshio (1981). "Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion". Journal of Japanese Studies. 7 (1). Translated by James C. Dobbins and Suzanne Gay. pp. 1–21.
  • Inoue, Nobutaka (2003). "Introduction: What is Shinto?". In Nobutaka Inoue (ed.). Shinto: A Short History. Translated by Mark Teeuwan and John Breen. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 1–10. ISBN 978-0415319133.
  • Nelson, John K. (1996). A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0295975009.
  • Picken, Stuart D. B. (1994). Essentials of Shinto: An Analytical Guide to Principal Teachings. Westport and London: Greenwood. ISBN 978-0313264313.
  • Smart, Ninian (1998). The World's Religions (second ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521637480.
  • Teeuwen, Mark (2002). "From Jindō to Shintō. A Concept Takes Shape". Japanese Journal of Religious Studies. 29 (3–4). pp. 233–263.

Further reading

  • Averbuch, Irit (1995). The Gods Come Dancing: A Study of the Japanese Ritual Dance of Yamabushi Kagura. Ithaca, NY: East Asia Program, Cornell University. ISBN 978-1-885445-67-4. OCLC 34612865.
  • Averbuch, Irit (1998). "Shamanic Dance in Japan: The Choreography of Possession in Kagura Performance". Asian Folklore Studies. 57 (2): 293–329. doi:10.2307/1178756. JSTOR 1178756.
  • Blacker, Dr. Carmen (2003). "Shinto and the Sacred Dimension of Nature". Archived from the original on 2007-12-22. Retrieved 2008-01-21.
  • Bowker, John W (2002). The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions. New York City: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-81037-1. OCLC 47297614.
  • Breen, John; Teeuwen, Mark (2010). A New History of Shinto. Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405155168.
  • Breen, John; Mark Teeuwen, eds. (2000). Shintō in History: Ways of the Kami. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2362-7.
  • Endress, Gerhild (1979). "On the Dramatic Tradition in Kagura: A Study of the Medieval Kehi Songs as Recorded in the Jotokubon". Asian Folklore Studies. 38 (1): 1–23. doi:10.2307/1177463. JSTOR 1177463.
  • Engler, Steven; Grieve, Gregory P. (2005). Historicizing "Tradition" in the Study of Religion. Walter de Gruyter, Inc. pp. 92–108. ISBN 978-3110188752.
  • Havens, Norman (2006). "Shinto". In Paul L. Swanson; Clark Chilson (eds.). Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 14–37. ISBN 978-0-8248-3002-1. OCLC 60743247.
  • 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.
  • Kitagawa, Joseph Mitsuo (1987). On Understanding Japanese Religion. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691102290.
  • 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.
  • Picken, Stuart D. B. (2002). Historical Dictionary of Shinto. Lanham, MD; and London: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-4016-4.
  • 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

External links

Association of Shinto Shrines

The Association of Shinto Shrines (神社本庁, Jinja Honchō) is a religious administrative organisation that oversees about 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan. These shrines take the Ise Grand Shrine as the foundation of their belief.

Buddhism and Eastern religions

Buddhism has interacted with several East Asian religions such as Confucianism and Shintoism since it spread from India during the 2nd century AD.

Ema (Shinto)

Ema (絵馬, lit. "picture-horse") are small wooden plaques, common to Japan, in which Shinto and Buddhist worshippers write prayers or wishes. The ema are left hanging up at the shrine, where the kami (spirits or gods) are believed to receive them. Typically 15 cm wide and 9 cm high, they often carry images or are shaped like animals, or symbols from the zodiac, Shinto, or the particular shrine or temple. In ancient times people would donate horses to the shrines for good favor; over time this was transferred to a wooden plaque with a picture of a horse, and later still to the various wooden plaques sold today for the same purpose. Once inscribed with a wish, Ema are hung at the shrine until they are ritually burned at special events, symbolic of the liberation of the wish from the writer.


Gohei (御幣), onbe (御幣), or heisoku (幣束) are wooden wands, decorated with two shide (zigzagging paper streamers) used in Shinto rituals.

The streamers are usually white, although they can also be gold, silver, or a mixture of several colors, and are often attached as decorations to straw ropes (shimenawa) used to mark sacred precincts.

The shrine priest or maiden attendants (miko) use the gohei to bless or sanctify a person or object in various Shinto rituals. The gohei is used for some ceremonies, but its usual purpose is to cleanse a sacred place in temples and to cleanse, bless, or exorcise any object that is thought to have negative energy. In addition to its use in purification rituals, it may be included in an Ōnusa (wooden wand with many shide), and serve as the object of veneration (shintai) in a Shinto shrine.

Haiden (Shinto)

In Shinto shrine architecture, the haiden (拝殿) is the hall of worship or oratory. It is generally placed in front of the shrine's main sanctuary (honden) and often built on a larger scale than the latter. The haiden is often connected to the honden by a heiden, or hall of offerings. While the honden is the place for the enshrined kami and off-limits to the general public, the haiden provides a space for ceremonies and for worshiping the kami. In some cases, for example at Nara's Ōmiwa Shrine, the honden can be missing and be replaced by a patch of sacred ground. In that case, the haiden is the most important building of the complex.

Heiden (Shinto)

A heiden (幣殿, offertory hall) is the part within a Shinto shrine's compound used to house offerings. It normally consists of a connecting section linking the honden (sanctuary, closed to the public) to the haiden (oratory). If the shrine is built in the Ishi-no-ma-zukuri style, its stone pavement is lower than the floor of the other two rooms, and it is called ishi-no-ma (石の間, stone room), hence the name. It can also be called chūden (中殿) or in other ways, and its position can sometimes vary. In spite of its name, nowadays it is used mostly for rituals.

Inari Ōkami

Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Ō-Inari 大稲荷) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants. Represented as male, female, or androgynous, Inari is sometimes seen as a collective of three or five individual kami. Inari appears to have been worshipped since the founding of a shrine at Inari Mountain in 711 AD, although some scholars believe that worship started in the late 5th century.

By the 16th century, Inari had become the patron of blacksmiths and the protector of warriors, and worship of Inari spread across Japan in the Edo period. Inari is a popular figure in both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs in Japan. More than one-third (32,000) of the Shinto shrines in Japan are dedicated to Inari. Modern corporations, such as cosmetic company Shiseido, continue to revere Inari as a patron kami, with shrines atop their corporate headquarters.Inari's foxes, or kitsune, are pure white and act as their messengers.

Ise Grand Shrine

The Ise Grand Shrine (伊勢神宮, Ise Jingū), located in the city of Ise, Mie Prefecture of Japan, is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu. Officially known simply as Jingū (神宮), Ise Jingū is a shrine complex composed of a large number of Shinto shrines centered on two main shrines, Naikū (内宮) and Gekū (外宮).

The Inner Shrine, Naikū (also officially known as "Kōtai Jingū"), is located in the town of Uji-tachi, south of central Ise, and is dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu, where she is believed to dwell. The shrine buildings are made of solid cypress wood and use no nails but instead joined wood. The Outer Shrine, Gekū (also officially known as "Toyouke Daijingū"), is located about six kilometers from Naikū and dedicated to Toyouke-Ōmikami, the god of agriculture, rice harvest and industry. Besides Naikū and Gekū, there are an additional 123 Shinto shrines in Ise City and the surrounding areas, 91 of them connected to Naikū and 32 to Gekū.

Purportedly the home of the Sacred Mirror, the shrine is one of Shinto's holiest and most important sites. Access to both sites is strictly limited, with the common public not allowed beyond sight of the thatched roofs of the central structures, hidden behind four tall wooden fences. However, tourists are free to roam the forest, including its ornamental walkways after Meiji period.

During the Edo period, it is estimated that one out of ten Japanese conducted an Okage Mairi pilgrimage to the shrine. Accordingly, pilgrimage to the shrine flourished in both commercial and religious frequency. Because the shrine is considered sanctuary, no security checkpoints were conducted, as it was considered sacrilege by the faithful. The two main shrines of Ise are joined by a pilgrimage road that passes through the old entertainment district of Furuichi.

The chief priest or priestess of Ise Shrine must come from the Imperial House of Japan and is responsible for watching over the Shrine. The current high priestess of the shrine is Emperor Emeritus Akihito's daughter, Sayako Kuroda.


Izanagi (Japanese: イザナギ, recorded in the Kojiki as 伊邪那岐 and in the Nihon Shoki as 伊弉諾) is a deity born of the seven divine generations in Japanese mythology and Shinto, and his name in the Kojiki is roughly translated to as "he-who-invites". He is also known as Izanagi-no-mikoto or Izanagi-no-Ōkami.


Kami (Japanese: 神, [kaꜜmi]) are the spirits, phenomena or "holy powers" that are venerated in the religion of Shinto. They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can also be the spirits of venerated dead persons. Many kami are considered the ancient ancestors of entire clans (some ancestors became kami upon their death if they were able to embody the values and virtues of kami in life). Traditionally, great or sensational leaders like the Emperor could be or became kami.In Shinto, kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, and good and evil characteristics. They are manifestations of musubi (結び), the interconnecting energy of the universe, and are considered exemplary of what humanity should strive towards. Kami are believed to be "hidden" from this world, and inhabit a complementary existence that mirrors our own: shinkai (神界, "the world of the kami"). To be in harmony with the awe-inspiring aspects of nature is to be conscious of kannagara no michi (随神の道 or 惟神の道, "the way of the kami").Though the word kami is translated multiple ways into English, no English word expresses its full meaning. The ambiguity of the meaning of kami is necessary, as it conveys the ambiguous nature of kami themselves.


Omamori (御守 or お守り, omamori) are Japanese amulets commonly sold at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, dedicated to particular Shinto kami as well as Buddhist figures, and are said to provide various forms of luck or protection.

Omoikane (Shinto)

Omoikane (思兼 or 思金) is a Shinto god of wisdom and intelligence. His name means "serving one's thoughts."

A heavenly deity, identified as a child of Taka-mi-musubi-no-kami, who is always called upon to "ponder" (omopu) and give good counsel in the deliberations of the heavenly deities. Appears to have descended from the heavens in the heavenly descent myth. OMOI, id., "think"; KANE, id., "metal," but preferably from the verb "to combine," "to possess simultaneously." "Thought-Combining Deity," a deity of wisdom or good counsel able to hold many thoughts at once or to combine in one mind the mental powers of many individuals. In the Kojiki the name is Ya-gokoro-omoi-kane-no-mikoto, "Many-Minds'-Thought-Combining Deity." Also called Toko-yo-no-Omoikane-no-kami.

Religion in Japan

Religion in Japan is dominated by Shinto (the ethnic religion of the Japanese people) and by Buddhism. According to surveys carried out in 2006 and 2008, less than 40% of the population of Japan identifies with an organized religion: around 35% are Buddhists, 3% to 4% are members of Shinto sects and derived religions, and from fewer than 1% to 2.3% are Christians.Most of the Japanese (50% to 80% considering degrees of syncretism with Buddhism, shinbutsu-shūgō) pray and worship ancestors and gods (神, kami, shin or, archaically, jin) at Shinto shrines or at private altars, while not identifying as "Shinto" or "Shintoist" in surveys. This is because these terms have little meaning for the majority of the Japanese, or because they define membership in Shinto organizations or sects. The term "religion" (宗教, shūkyō) itself in Japanese culture defines only organized religions (that is, religions with specific doctrines and required membership). People who identify as "non-religious" (無宗教, mushūkyō) in surveys actually mean that they do not belong to any religious organization, even though they may take part in Shinto rituals and worship.Some scholars, such as Jun'ichi Isomae and Jason Ānanda Josephson, have challenged the usefulness of the term "religion" in regard to Japanese "traditions", arguing that the Japanese term and concept of "religion" (shūkyō) is an invention of the 19th century. However, other scholars, such as Hans Martin Kramer and Ian Reader, regard such claims as overstated and contend that the terms relate to terminology and categorizations that existed in Japan prior to the 19th century.


In Japanese, saisen (賽銭) is money offered to the gods or bodhisattvas. Commonly this money is put in a saisen box (賽銭箱, saisen-bako), a common item at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan.

Used to collect offerings, a saisen box is typically a wooden coin box, with a grate for the top cover. This design allows coins to be tossed in, while still preventing the money from being retrieved easily. Some have grates made of round bars, or have borders that slope downward, allowing the money to slide into the box easily.


A sandō (参道, visiting path) in Japanese architecture is the road approaching either a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple. Its point of origin is usually straddled in the first case by a Shinto torii, in the second by a Buddhist sanmon, gates which mark the beginning of the shrine's or temple territory. The word dō (道) can refer both to a path or road, and to the path of one's life's efforts. There can also be stone lanterns and other decorations at any point along its course.

A sandō can be called a front sandō (表参道, omote-sandō), if it is the main entrance, or a rear sandō (裏参道, ura-sandō) if it is a secondary point of entrance, especially to the rear; side sandō (脇参道, waki-sandō) are also sometimes found. The famous Omotesandō district in Tokyo, for example, takes its name from the nearby main access path to Meiji Shrine where an ura-sandō also used to exist.


Shimenawa (標縄・注連縄・七五三縄, 'enclosing rope') are lengths of laid rice straw or hemp rope used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion. They can vary in diameter from a few centimetres to several metres, and are often seen festooned with shide. A space bound by shimenawa often indicates a sacred or pure space, such as that of a Shinto shrine.Shimenawa are believed to act as a ward against evil spirits and are often set up at a ground-breaking ceremony before construction begins on a new building. They are often found at Shinto shrines, torii gates, and sacred landmarks.

They are also used around yorishiro (objects capable of attracting spirits, hence inhabited by spirits). These notably include certain trees, in which case the inhabiting spirits are called kodama, and cutting down these trees is thought to bring misfortune. In cases of stones, the stones are known as iwakura (磐座、岩座).A variation of the shimenawa is used in sumo wrestling by yokozuna (grand champions) during their entrance ceremonies to denote their rank. This is because the yokozuna is seen as a living yorishiro (formally shintai), and as such is inhabited by a spirit.

Shinto shrine

A Shinto shrine (神社, jinja, archaic: shinsha, meaning: "place of the god(s)") is a structure whose main purpose is to house ("enshrine") one or more kami. Its most important building is used for the safekeeping of sacred objects, and not for worship. Although only one word ("shrine") is used in English, in Japanese, Shinto shrines may carry any one of many different, non-equivalent names like gongen, -gū, jinja, jingū, mori, myōjin, -sha, taisha, ubusuna or yashiro. (For details, see the section Interpreting shrine names.)

Structurally, a Shinto shrine is usually characterized by the presence of a honden or sanctuary, where the kami is enshrined. The honden may however be completely absent, as for example when the shrine stands on a sacred mountain to which it is dedicated, and which is worshipped directly. The honden may be missing also when there are nearby altar-like structures called himorogi or objects believed capable of attracting spirits called yorishiro that can serve as a direct bond to a kami. There may be a haiden (拝殿, hall of worship) and other structures as well (see below). However, a shrine's most important building is used for the safekeeping of sacred objects rather than for worship.Miniature shrines (hokora) can occasionally be found on roadsides. Large shrines sometimes have on their precincts miniature shrines (sessha (摂社) or massha (末社)). The portable shrines (mikoshi) which are carried on poles during festivals (matsuri) enshrine kami and are therefore true shrines.

In 927 CE, the Engi-shiki (延喜式, literally, Procedures of the Engi Era) was promulgated. This work listed all of the 2,861 Shinto shrines existing at the time, and the 3,131 official-recognized and enshrined kami. Certainly, that number has grown and greatly exceeded this figure through the following generations. The Agency for Cultural Affairs placed the number of shrines at 79,467, mostly affiliated with the Association of Shinto Shrines (神社本庁). Some shrines, such as the Yasukuni Shrine, are totally independent of any outside authority. The number of Shinto shrines in Japan is estimated to be around 100,000. This figure may, or may not, include private shrines in homes and owned by small groups, abandoned or derelict shrines, roadside hokora etc..

The unicode character that depicts a shinto shrine is ⛩ U+26E9.

State Shinto

State Shintō (国家神道 or 國家神道, Kokka Shintō) describes Imperial Japan's ideological use of the native folk traditions of Shinto. The state strongly encouraged Shinto practices to emphasize the Emperor as a divine being, which was exercised through control of shrine finances and training regimes for priests.The State Shinto ideology emerged at the start of the Meiji era, after government officials defined freedom of religion within the Meiji Constitution. Imperial scholars believed Shinto reflected the historical fact of the Emperor's divine origins rather than a religious belief, and argued that it should enjoy a privileged relationship with the Japanese state. The government argued that Shinto was a non-religious moral tradition and patriotic practice. Though early Meiji-era attempts to unite Shinto and the state failed, this non-religious concept of ideological Shinto was incorporated into state bureaucracy. Shrines were defined as patriotic, not religious, institutions, which served state purposes such as honoring the war dead.The state also integrated local shrines into political functions, occasionally spurring local opposition and resentment. With fewer shrines financed by the state, nearly 80,000 closed or merged with neighbors. Many shrines and shrine organizations began to independently embrace these state directives, regardless of funding. By 1940, Shinto priests risked persecution for performing traditionally "religious" Shinto ceremonies. Imperial Japan did not draw a distinction between ideological Shinto and traditional Shinto.US military leaders introduced the term "State Shinto" to differentiate the state's ideology from traditional Shinto practices in the 1945 Shinto Directive. That decree established Shinto as a religion, and banned further ideological uses of Shinto by the state. Controversy continues to surround the use of Shinto symbols in state functions.


An Ōnusa (大幣) or simply nusa (幣) is a wooden wand used in Shinto rituals. It is decorated with many shide (zig-zagging paper streamers). When the shide are attached to a hexagonal or octagonal staff, it can be also called haraegushi (祓串). It is waved left and right during purification rituals.

Ōnusa are not to be confused with hataki, which look somewhat similar.


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