Shinto is an indigenous, traditional Japanese religion starting from about 500 BCE or earlier. Robinson states that “it is an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and shamanism”. Its name was derived from the Chinese words “shin tao” (The Way of the Gods) in the 8th Century CE. Shinto does not have a founder nor does it have sacred scriptures like the sutras or the bible. Propaganda and preaching are not common either, because Shinto is deeply rooted in the Japanese people and traditions (japan-guide.com, 2007).
In the late 6th century ad the name Shinto was created for the native religion to distinguish it from Buddhism and Confucianism, which had been introduced from China. Shinto was rapidly overshadowed by Buddhism, and the native gods were generally regarded as manifestations of Buddha in a previous state of existence. Buddhist priests became the custodians of Shinto shrines and introduced their own ornaments, images, and ritual. At the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th centuries, the celebrated Japanese teacher Kobo Daishi, established a doctrine uniting Buddhism and Shinto under the name of Ryobu Shinto. In the new religion, Buddhism dominated Shinto, and elements were adopted from Confucianism. The ancient practice of Shinto proper virtually disappeared and was maintained only at a few great shrines and in the imperial palace, although the emperors themselves had become Buddhists. The distinctively Shinto priests became fortune-tellers and magicians.
Beginning in the 18th century, Shinto was revived as an important national religion through the writings and teachings of a succession of notable scholars, including Mabuchi, Motoori Norinaga, and Hirata Atsutane. Motivated by nationalistic sentiments that took the form of reverence for Japanese antiquity and hatred for ideas and practices of foreign origin, these men prepared the way for the disestablishment of Buddhism and the adoption of Shinto as the state religion. In 1867 the shogunate was overthrown, and the emperor was restored to the head of the government. According to revived Shinto doctrine, the sovereignty of the emperor was exercised by divine right through his reputed descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, who is considered the founder of the Japanese nation. Related beliefs included the doctrines that the Japanese were superior to other peoples because of their descent from the gods, and that the emperor was destined to rule over the entire world. Until the defeat of Japan in World War II, these beliefs were of the utmost importance in assuring popular support for the military expansion of the Japanese Empire.
`The Four Affirmations’ of Shinto.
1. Tradition and family must be honored.
2. Love of nature plays a great role. Most shrines are built in groves on the edge of the village, near a waterfall, near a distinctive rock on the seashore, etc.
3. Physical cleanliness must be assured before prayers or approach to a shrine. Lots of washing, sprinkling with salt, etc.
4. Festivals and ceremonies must be honored. Japanese festivals (matsuri) are joyous occassions with lots of energetic activity: eg, the young men in bright jackets pushing around a huge wagon containing the sacred shrine during a parade, wrestling matches (that is, sumo). These events are intended as entertainment for the benefit of the kami as well as for the participants.
Shinto recognizes many sacred places: mountains, springs, etc. Each shrine is dedicated to a specific Kami who has a divine personality and responds to sincere prayers of the faithful. When entering a shrine, one passes through a Tori a special gateway for the Gods. It marks the demarcation between the finite world and the infinite world of the Gods. In the past, believers practiced “misogi,”, the washing of their bodies in a river near the shrine. In recent years they only wash their hands and wash out their mouths in a wash basin provided within the shrine grounds. Believers respect animals as messengers of the Gods. A pair of statues of “Koma-inu” (guard dogs) face each other within the temple grounds. Shrine ceremonies, which include cleansing, offerings, prayers, and dances are directed to the Kami. Kagura are ritual dances accompanied by ancient musical instruments. The dances are performed by skilled and trained dancers. They consist of young virgin girls, a group of men, or a single man. Mamori are charms worn as an aid in healing and protection. There come in many different forms for various purposes. An altar, the “Kami-dana” (Shelf of Gods), is given a central place in many homes.
Seasonal celebrations are held at spring planting, fall harvest, and special anniversaries of the history of a shrine or of a local patron spirit.
Position (Reaction) Section of the Paper
It seems clear that the Shinto religion of Japan has no definite backbone in its beliefs. Its faith is somewhat unclear and not profound. Unlike some monotheist religions like Judaism and Islam, Shinto followers believe on the fact that there are no absolute right and wrong and nobody is perfect. This belief is the exact opposite of what Christians believe. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. Their faith has no definite root in which to hold down your faith.