Shinto, the national religion of Japan, is one of the oldest of
all the world's religions. It is unlike other religions inasmuch
as it is basically not a system of beliefs. It has been variously
defined. John B. Noss' definition states:
It is basically a reverent loyalty to familiar ways of life and
familiar places... it is true to say that for the masses in Japan
love of country, as in other lands, is a matter of the heart
first, and of doctrinal substance second (John B. Noss, Man's
Religions, New York: MacMillan Company, 1969, p. 316).
Clark B. Offner defines Shinto in the following manner:
Shinto denotes "the traditional religious practices which
originated in Japan and developed mainly among the Japanese
people along with the underlying life attitudes and ideology
which support such practices." Various implications can
immediately be derived from this statement of a modern Shinto
scholar. First, Shinto does not refer to an organized,
clearly-defined body of doctrine nor to a unified, systematized
code of behaviour. The origins of Shinto are lost in the hazy
mists enshrouding the ancient period of Japanese history, but
from the time the Japanese people became conscious of their own
cultural character and traditions, the practices, attitudes and
ideology that eventually developed into the Shinto of today were
already included within them (Clark B. Offner, in The World's
Religions, Sir Norman Anderson, ed., Grand Rapids: William B.
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976, p. 190).
Shinto is purely a Japanese religion, the origins of which are
buried in antiquity. The Japanese are a people who love their
land and believe the islands of Japan were the first divine
creation. This idea of the divine origin of their land is very
old and goes hand-in-hand with the beliefs of Shinto. This
national idealism, the love of their country, is basically why
Shinto has been limited to Japan. John B. Noss comments:
The Japanese came early to the belief that their land was divine,
but late to the nationalistic dogma that no other land is divine,
that the divinity of Japan is so special and unique, so absent
elsewhere, as to make Japan "center of this phenomenal
world" (John B. Noss, op. cit., p. 316).
The Japanese name for their country is Nippon, which means
"sun origin' " Until the end of World War II, Japanese
children were taught at school that the emperors were descendants
of the sun-goddess, Amaterasu. Amaterasu had allegedly given the
imperial house the divine right to rule. In 1946, in a radio
broadcast to the Japanese people, Emperor Hirohito repudiated his
divine right to rule.
Shinto's history can be divided into a number of stages. The
first period was from prehistoric times to 552 A.D. when Shinto
reigned supreme among the people of Japan without any serious
In 552 A.D. Buddhism started
gaining in popularity among the Japanese people. In the year 645
A.D., the Emperor Kotoku embraced Buddhism and rejected Shinto.
From A.D. 800 to 1700, Shinto
became combined with other religions, mixing with both Buddhism
and Confucianism and forming what is called Ryobu Shinto, or
dual-aspect Shinto. Shinto, by itself, experienced a considerable
decline during this period.
Around 1700 Shinto experienced a revival when the study of
archaic Japanese texts was reinstituted. One of the most learned
Shinto scholars of the period was Hirata, who wrote:
The two fundamental doctrines are: that Japan is the country of
the Gods, and her inhabitants are the descendants of the Gods.
Between the Japanese people and the Chinese, Hindus, Russians,
Dutch, Siamese, Cambodians and other nations of the world there
is a difference of kind, rather than of degree.
The Mikado is the true Son of Heaven, who is entitled to reign
over the four seas and the ten-thousand countries.
From the fact of the divine descent of the Japanese people
proceeds their immeasurable superiority to the natives of other
countries in courage and intelligence. They "are honest and
upright of heart, and are not given to useless theorizing and
falsehoods like other nations" (Cited by Robert E. Hume, The
World's Living Religions, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, rev.
ed., 1959, p. 172).
These ideas revitalized Shinto among the Japanese people since it
reestablished the divine origin of the land and the people of
Japanese Emperor Meiji established Shinto as the official
religion of Japan in place of Buddhism. However, since the people
continued to embrace both religions, in 1877 Buddhism was allowed
to be practiced by the people, with total religious liberty
granted two years afterward.
State Shinto, which is to be
regarded as a patriotic ritual by the citizens irrespective of
their religion, paid homage to the Emperor, and was established
in 1882. This soon became, for all intents and purposes, the
state religion. After the military victories of Japan in World
War I, the idea of the divinity of the Emperor became solidly
entrenched again in the people. It was not until the defeat of
World War II that state Shinto was abolished as the religion of
the Japanese people. With the fall of state Shinto, the shrines
no longer came under government control and are now supported by
Meaning of Shinto
The word Shinto comes from the Chinese word Shen-tao, which means
"the way of the gods. " This term was not applied to
the religion until the sixth century A.D., in order to
distinguish it from Buddhism. A major feature of Shinto is the
notion of kami. Kami is a difficult term to define precisely but
it refers basically to the concept of sacred power in both
animate and inanimate objects. Ninian Smart elaborates upon the
idea of kami in the following manner:
Shintoism displayed, and still displays, a powerful sense of the
presence of gods and spirits in nature. These spirits are called
kami, literally "superior beings;' and it is appropriate to
venerate them. The kami are too numerous to lend themselves to a
systematic ordering or stable hierarchy, but among the many the
sun goddess Amaterasu has long held a central place in Shinto
belief. According to the myth found at the beginning of the
Kojiki, the earliest of the celestial gods who came into being
instructed Izanagi and Izanami, male and female deities of the
second generation of gods, to create the world, and in particular
the islands of Japan (the two were in effect identified).
Through the process of sexual generation they produced the land,
and the kami of the mountains, trees, and streams, the god of the
wind and the god of fire, and so on. Eventually... the goddess
Amaterasu, the great kami of the Sun, came into being. Possibly,
prior to the mythological account of her origin she was the
mother goddess of the Yamato clans; the mythology may reflect the
way in which the other deities were successively replaced in the
earliest period, and then were put under the dominance of the
chief kami of the Yamato. But the line between kami and human is
not a sharp one, however exalted some of the deities may be.
The Japanese people themselves,
according to the traditional myths, are descended from the kami;
while the line of emperors traces its descent back to Arnaterasu.
Amaterasu sent her son Ni-ni-gi down to rule Japan for her, and
thence the imperial line took its origin (this tradition in
recent times was given exaggerated emphasis in order to make
Shinto into an ideology justifying a nationalistic expansionist
policy). The line, too, between the personal and impersonal in
the kami is fluid. Some of the spirits associated with particular
places or things are not strongly personalized, though the
mythology concerned with the great gods and goddesses is fully
anthropomorphic (Ninian Smart, The Religious Experience of
Mankind, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969, pp. 192, 193).
Although Shinto does not consider any one volume as the wholly
inspired revelation on which its religion is based, two books are
considered sacred and have done much to influence the beliefs of
the Japanese people. These works are Ko-ji-ki, the "records
of ancient matters" and Nihongi . , the "chronicles of
Japan." They were both composed around 720 A.D. and in that
they report events occurring some 1300 years earlier in the
history of Japan, they are to be considered late works.
The Ko-ji-ki is the oldest
existing written record in Japanese. The work contains myth,
legend and historical narrative in relating the story of Japan,
the imperial ancestors and the imperial court. The work was
compiled around 712 A.D.
The Nihon-gi, compiled around 720 A.D., chronicles the origin of
Japan up until 700 A.D.
Types of Shinto
Since Shinto has neither a founder, sacred writings, nor any
authoritative set of beliefs, there are great diversities in the
two types of Shinto practiced and the beliefs held. Some Shinto
groups do claim a founder, authoritative scriptures, and specific
doctrine. These groups are designated sects of Shinto. However,
the majority of practitioners have no such set beliefs but
worship freely at various shrines located throughout Japan. This
practice of Shrine Shinto is usually identified with the term
The basic place for worship in Shinto is at one of the numerous
shrines covering the country of Japan. Although many Shintoists
have built altars in their homes, the center of worship is the
local shrine. Since Shinto has a large number of deities, a
systematic worship of all such deities is impossible. The Shinto
religious books acknowledge that only a few deities are
consistently worshipped, the chief being the sun-goddess,
There is a grand imperial shrine dedicated to the worship of
Amaterasu at Ise, some 200 miles southwest of Tokyo. This
centralized place of worship is the most sacred spot in all of
Japan. The practice of worshipping at this particular spot has
its roots before the time of Christ. It is here that the
Shintoists make a pilgrimage to worship at the outer court, while
the inner court is reserved for the priests and government
Amaterasu is the chief deity of Shinto and is feminine rather
than masculine. That the highest object of worship from whom the
divine ancestors arose is a female rather than a male deity is
unique among the larger world religions.
A Shinto Prayer
The following Shinto prayer, found in the Yengishiki, shows the
Shintoists' intermingling of their spiritual feeling with nature:
I declare in the great presence of the
From-Heaven-shining-great-deity who sits in Ise.
Because the Sovereign great goddess bestows on him the countries
of the four quarters over which her glance extends,
As far as the limit where Heaven stands up like a wall,
As far as the bounds where the country stands up distant,
As far as the limit where the blue clouds spread flat,
As far as the bounds where the white clouds lie away fallen-
The blue sea plain as far as the limit whither come the prows of
the ships without drying poles or paddles,
The ships which continuously crowd on the great sea plain,
And the roads which men travel by land, as far as the limit
whither come the horses' hoofs, with the baggage-cords tied
tightly, treading the uneven rocks and tree-roots and standing up
continuously in a long path without a break-
Making the narrow countries wide and the hilly countries plain,
And as it were drawing together the distant countries by throwing
many tens of ropes over them
He will pile up the first-fruits like a range of hills in the
great presence of the Sovereign great goddess, and will
peacefully enjoy the remainder.
Shinto and Christianity
The religion of Shinto is in opposition to Christianity. The fact
that Shinto in its purest form teaches the superiority of the
Japanese people and their land above all others on earth is
diametrically opposed to the teaching of the Bible. According to
the Bible, the Jews are God's chosen people through whom He
entrusted His words.
"Then what advantage has the
Jew? or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every
respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles
of God" (Romans 3:1, 2, NASB). However, though the Jews are
God's chosen people, they have never been designated better than
any other people (Galatians 3:27) and they have never been taught
that they were direct descendants of the gods, as Shinto teaches.
Shintoism fosters a pride and a
feeling of superiority in the Japanese people. This type of pride
is condemned by God, who says, "There is none righteous, not
even one" (Romans 3:10, NASB). The same lesson was learned
by the Apostle Peter who concluded: I most certainly understand
now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation
the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to
Him" (Acts 10:34, NASB).
Since Shinto teaches the basic
goodness and divine origin of its people, there is no need for a
Savior. This is the natural consequence of assuming one's race is
of celestial origin.
Christianity teaches that all of
us need a savior because our sins need to be punished. God,
through Jesus Christ, took that punishment on Himself so that all
mankind could be brought back into a proper relationship with
Him. "Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world
to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He
has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are
ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us;
we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him
who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the
righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:19-21, NASB).
Furthermore, the Ko-ft-ki and
Nihon-gi, as the basis of the Shinto myth, are found to be
hopelessly unhistorical and totally unverifiable. The stories and
legends contained in these works are a far cry from the
historically verifiable documents of both the Old and New
The concept of kami is both
polytheistic and crude, surrounded by much superstition. This is
in contrast to the God of the Bible whose ways are righteous and
beyond reproach. Immorality abounds in the stories of Shinto
while the Bible is quick to condemn acts of immorality
The Bible deals very frankly with
the sins of its characters. Read the biographies today, and see
how they try to cover up, overlook or ignore the shady side of
people. Take the great literary geniuses; most are painted as
saints. The Bible does not do it that way. It simply tells it
like it is:
The sins of the people denounced -Deuteronomy 9:24 Sins of the
patriarchs -Genesis 12:11-13; 49:5-7
Evangelists paint their own faults and the faults of the apostles
Matthew 8:10-26; 26:31-56; Mark 6:52; 8:18; Luke 8:24, 25;
9:40-45; John 10:6; 16:32
Disorder of the churches - 1 Corinthians 1:11; 15:12; 2
Corinthians 2:4, etc.
Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, San Bernardino,
CA: Campus Crusade for Christ International, 1972, p. 23).
Shinto finds little acceptance apart from Japan since everything
of Japanese origin is exalted and that which is non-Japanese is
abased. Shinto is a textbook example of a religion invented by
man to explain his ancestry and environment while taking no
consideration of anyone but himself.
Amaterasu -The sun-goddess, the chief deity worshipped in
Bushido Code-Literally, "the warrior-knight-way!' The code
practiced by the military class of the feudal period (Samurai)
which has held a fascination with the Japanese people throughout
its history. The code is an unwritten system of behavior
stressing loyalty to emperor and country.
Emperor Meiji -The Japanese emperor who established Shinto as the
state religion of Japan.
Harakiri -The ceremonial suicide committed by the Bushido warrior
performed as an atonement for failure or bad judgment. The
warrior believed death was to be preferred to disgrace.
Hondon -The inner sanctuary of a Shinto shrine in which is housed
the Shintai, or "god body!'
Izanagi -The "female-who-invites!' The female deity who,
according to the Shinto myth, gave birth to the eight islands of
Izanami-The "male-who-invites. " The male deity who,
along with the female deity Izanagi, helped produce the Japanese
islands and the Japanese people.
Jigai -The method of suicide consisting of cutting the jugular
vein. It is committed by females as an atonement for their sins.
Kami -The sacred power found in both animate and inanimate
objects. This power is deified in Shintoism.
Kami Dama -"The god shelf" which is found in most
private homes on which are placed memorial tablets with the names
of an ancestor or deity inscribed on it.
Ko-Jfi-Ki- The "records of ancient matters" composed in
712 A.D., charting the imperial ancestors and the imperial court.
Mikado-A term used by foreigners to designate the emperor of
Nihon-Gi-The "chronicles of Japan" composed around 720
A.D. This work is a history of Japan from its origin until 700
O-Harai -"The Great Purification. " The greatest of all
Shinto ceremonies by which the people go through a national
purging of their sins.
Ryobu Shinto-Also known as, "dual aspect Shinto." The
term refers to the mixing of Shintoism with Buddhism and
Shintai -An object of worship housed in the inner sanctuary of a
Shinto shrine. The Shintai is usually an object of little value,
such as a sword or mirror, but it supposedly contains magical
powers and consequently is viewed as a good-luck charm.
Shinto-The term Shinto is derived from the Chinese term,
Shen-tao, meaning the "way of the higher spirits!' Shinto is
the designation for the religion that has long characterized
Japan and its people.
Shinto Myth -The belief that the islands of Japan and the
Japanese people are of divine origin.
State Shinto-The patriotic ritual, established in 1882, which
worshipped the emperor as the direct descendant of the gods.
State Shinto was abolished at the end of World War II.
Hume, Robert E., The World's Living Religions, New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, rev. ed., 1959.
Noss, John B., Man's Religions, New York: MacMillan Company,
Offner, Clark B. in The World's Religions, Sir Norman Anderson,
Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976.
Smart, Ninian, The Religious Experience of Mankind, New York:
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969.