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Shinto is the indigenous national religion of Japan. It is more vividly observed in the social life of the people, or in personal motivations, than as a firmly established theology or philosophy; yet it has been closely connected with the value system and ways of thinking and acting of the Japanese people.
Modern Shinto can be roughly classified into three types: Shrine Shinto, Sectarian Shinto, and Folk Shinto.
Shrine Shinto has been in existence from the prehistoric ages to the present and constitutes a main current of Shinto tradition. Until the end of 1945, it included State Shinto within its structure and even now has close relations with the emperor system.
The Essence of Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Heart
Sectarian Shinto is a relatively new movement based on the Japanese religious tradition, and is represented by the thirteen major sects, which originated in Japan around the 19th century. Each of the thirteen sects has either a founder or a systematizer who organized the religious body. New Shinto sects which appeared in Japan after World War II are conveniently included in this type.
Folk Shinto is an aspect of Japanese folk belief closely related to Shinto. It has neither a firmly organized religious body nor any doctrinal formulas, and includes small roadside images, agricultural rites of individual families, and so on.
These three types of Shinto are interrelated: Folk Shinto exists as the substructure of Shinto faith, and a Sectarian Shinto follower is usually a parishioner of a certain shrine of Shrine Shinto at the same time.
The majority of Japanese people are simultaneously believers of both Shrine Shinto and Buddhism. The number of Sectarian Shintoists is about 10 million. In North America, Shinto exists mainly among some people of Japanese descent.
Shinto: The Way Home (Dimensions of Asian Spirituality)
The center of Japanese myths consists of tales about Amaterasu Omikami (usually translated as “Sun Goddess”), the ancestress of the Imperial Family, and tales of how her direct descendants unified the nation under her authority. At the beginning of Japanese mythology, a divine couple named Izanagi and Izanami, th parents of Amaterasu, gave birth to the Japanese islands as well as to the deities who became ancestors of various clans. Here we can see an ancient Japanese inclination to regard the nature around us as offspring from the same parents. This view of nature requires us to reflect on our conduct toward the pollution of the earth.
The same myth also tells us that if we trace our lineage to its roots, we find ourselves as descendants of kami (deities). In Shinto, it is common to say that “man is kami’s child.” This means that, as we see in the above-mentioned myth, humanity is given life through kami and therefore human nature is sacred. Reinterpreting this myth more broadly in terms of our contemporary contracts with people of the world, we must revere the life and basic human rights of everyone, regardless of race, nationality, and creed, the same as our own.
At the core of Shinto beliefs in the mysterious power of kami (musuhi – creating and harmonizing power) and in the way or will of kami (makoto – sincerity or true heart). Parishioners of a Shinto shrine believe in their tutelary kami as the source of human life and existence. Each kami is believed to have a divine personality and to respond to sincere prayers. Historically, the ancient tutelary kami of each local community placed an important role in combining and homonizing different elements and powers. After the Meiji restoration (1868), Shinto was used as a means of spiritually unifying the people during the period of repeated wars. Since the end of World War II, the age-old desire for peace has been reemphasized.