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What is Shinto(神道 Shintō)?

Shinto is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people. In general, Shinto is more than a religion and encompasses the ideas, attitudes, and ways of doing things that have become an integral part of the Japanese people for the better part of 2000 years. Shinto, unlike other major religions, does not have a founder, nor does it possess sacred scriptures or texts. On a collective level Shinto is a term which denotes all faiths, however, on a personal level, Shinto implies faith in the deity (kami), incorporating the spiritual mind of the kami through worship and communion.

Shinto arose with the advent of Japanese civilization and has progressively developed through the centuries until modern times. The word Shinto first appears in the Nihonshoki (The Chronicles of Japan) in the early 8th century with the intention of distinguishing this native faith from the recently arrived religions of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. The word Shinto (“Way of the Gods”) was adopted from the written Chinese (shén dào) combining two Chinese characters: “shin”, meaning kami; and “tō”, or “do” meaning a philosophical path or study.

Concept of Kami
In order to comprehend the concept of kami, it is important to erase the preconception caused by the word god, an English translation that is often used for the word kami. In Shinto, there is no faith in the concept of an absolute god who is the creator of both human beings and nature. 

It might be best to quote the opinion of Norinaga Motoori, a scholar in the late 18th century who wrote, “Whatever seemed strikingly impressive, possessed the quality of excellence and virtue, and inspired a feeling of awe was called kami .” Here “the quality of excellence” refers to an enormous power which has great influence over many things. It is beyond human power or human capability and brings good fortune and happiness to man but at the same time it may bring misfortune or evil as well.

Japanese Myth
The ancient Japanese never divided spiritual and material existence, but considered that both were inseparable, seeing everything in a spiritual sense. In other words, they did not draw a border between a certain object and the work of that object.

According to Shinto cosmology, the world is created with the appearance of a single kami who represents the universe, next to appear are the kami of birth and growth. From heaven, a male kami and a female kami appear who give birth to various deities, the land of Japan and her nature as well as her people. The Shinto faith begins with a belief in this mythology. Therefore, Shinto does not recognize the difference or discontinuation between kami, nature or human beings.

Buddhism and Shinto
Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century, and soon began to permeate into the lives of the Japanese. Since there was no conflict between Buddhism and Shinto, they merged with each other to form a unique amalgamation. Even in the Imperial Palace, the Emperor of Japan (Tenno) revered and worshipped Buddha as well as the Shinto kami. This fusion of kami and Buddha is called ‘Shin-Butsu-Shugou’, and this state continued until the late 19th century. This is the main reason why many Japanese people do not make a clear distinction between Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines or between Buddha and kami. In other words, they are both respectful entities to be worshipped by Japanese people.

Counting the number of official followers of Shinto in Japan is no easy task since an individual who practices any Shinto ritual is counted. According to statistics, there are currently 119 million official followers. It is said that “life” events are handled by Shinto and “death” or “afterlife” events by Buddhism. In this sense one can understand that most Japanese who take part in Shinto rituals also take part in Buddhist ancestor worship.

Shinto and the Imperial Family
In Shinto, the Emperor of Japan (Tenno) is believed to be a descendant of Amaterasu-Omikami (the Sun Goddess) who is enshrined in the Grand Shrine of Ise. Since the founding of the nation, Tenno himself has conducted Shinto rituals in the Imperial Palace to pray to the deities centering on Amaterasu-Omikami for the happiness of the people, for the long continuation of the nation, and for world peace.
There are clergymen and women in the shrines of the Imperial Palace who assist Tenno to perform the rites. Tenno performs these rites around 40 times a year. This is perhaps why there are some scholars who call Tenno “the highest priest” of Shinto.


"Shinto " from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Shinto (神道 Shintō) or kami-no-michi (as well as other names) is the traditional religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past.

Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written historical records of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in the 8th century. Still, these earliest Japanese writings do not refer to a unified religion, but rather to a collection of native beliefs and mythology.
Shinto today is the religion of public shrines devoted to the worship of a multitude of "spirits", "essences" or "gods" (kami), suited to various purposes such as war memorials and harvest festivals, and applies as well to various sectarian organizations. Practitioners express their diverse beliefs through a standard language and practice, adopting a similar style in dress and ritual, dating from around the time of the Nara and Heian periods (8th–12th centuries).

The word Shinto (Way of the Gods) was adopted, originally as Jindō or Shindō, from the written Chinese Shendao (神道, pinyin: shéndào), combining two kanji: shin (神), meaning "spirit" or kami; and michi (道), "path", meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào). The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the 6th century. Kami is rendered in English as "spirits", "essences", or "gods", and refers to the energy generating the phenomena. Since the Japanese language does not distinguish between singular and plural, kami also refers to the singular divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms: rocks, trees, rivers, animals, objects, places, and people can be said to possess the nature of kami. Kami and people are not separate; they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.

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. 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. 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. Shinto has about 81,000 shrines and about 85,000 priests in the country. According to surveys carried out in 2006 and 2008,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 (神) in general.