Shinto: History, The Key Concepts And Principles

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Table of contents

  1. Origin
  2. Creation story (The Kojiki)
  3. Texts
  4. The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters)
  5. The Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan)
  6. Leader/Role model
  7. Deities/Divine
  8. Well known kami
  9. Connection to primal religion
  10. Ethics/morality
  11. Salvation/afterlife
  12. Nature of soul/spirit
  13. Nature of Worship


Shino is an animistic religion that originated from Japan. It has been practiced and passed down by generations of Japanses people since ancient times. Shintoism does not have a proper scripture nor does it have a founder, it is rooted in the Japanese way of life. Before the introduction of Buddhism to the shinto religion, shinto comprised of many local cults grouped together known as shinto. Around the 6th century CE, Buddhism was introduced to the shinto religion from Korea and China, and introduced many buddhist beliefs and traditions into the shinto religion. Some of the shinto shrines were turned into buddhist temples or had buddhist priests in charge instead.

Creation story (The Kojiki)

In the beginning, where the heaven and the earth have yet to be separated and the yin and yang yet to be differentiated. they formed a chaotic mass like an egg which was of obscurely defined limits and contained germinating matter, and this split into the heaven and the earth. From heaven came the Three Demiurges (zōka sanshin), then, two kami appear, followed by the twelve kami of the seven generations (kamiyo), and finally Izanagi and Izanami, who received the command to solidify the drifting world. Izanagi(male) and Izanami(female) stared into the deep and chaotic mass of primitive ocean. (Kenji) Izanagi created the island by dipping his jeweled spear into the ocean and a droplet fell from the point of his spear and turned into an island. Then on the island Izanagi and Izanami married and Izanami gave birth to the eight islands of Japan and also the mountains, the seasons, the gods of land and water and all the forms of nature. ('Myths From Around The World')

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Unlike Christianity or Hinduism, the shinto religion does not have a specific sacred text that were used to study. Instead, books regarding mythology, background and the history of many well known kami are studied. However, there are two major texts within the shinto religion that stands out from the rest. ('Shinto Holy Books')

The Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters)

The Kojiki meaning Record of Ancient Matter is the earliest written record in Japan which was written based on oral teachings in the year 712 C.E. The book deals with the historical accounts of the imperial court since its creation and all the way to the reign of Empress Suiko in the year 628 C.E. This text also includes myths and legends of Japan and is an important source for ceremonies, customs, and practices of ancient Japan. The myth contained within the Kojiki is of great importance as much of the Shinto thought rests on the interpretations of the mythology contained in the book. The book itself was first written in Chinese as the Japansese language has yet to develop, later Mr. Motoori Norinaga, a great scholar at the time, wrote the complete Annotation of the Kojiki which totaled to 49 volumes.('Kojiki')

The Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan)

The Nihon Shoki meaning the Chronicles of Japan, is one of the oldest official Japanese history that includes the history of Japan from its mythical beginning all the way to 697 A.D , and is compiled in 720 A.D. by the imperial court to give the now Sinicized court a history that could compare to the Chinese. Similar to the Kojiki, Nihon Shoki is written in Chinese, includes many myths and legends from which the Shinto thoughts derived from. However, the Nihon Shoki only consists of 30 chapters and explores the influence of Chinese civilization on Japan, it also is different from the Kojiki as it focuses not only on the imperial family but also politically powerful cans during the period. ('Nihon Shoki')

Even though the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki are books regarding Shintoism, they are much more than that. The dates of when the texts are compiled are very significant as since the 8th century, that's when they were compiled, Buddhism and Confucianism influenced the Japnaese religious life greatly and in consequence, influenced the contents of the texts to not only teach about the shinto religion, but also the teachings of the buddha. Some of the myths found within the texts were clearly very politically driven. The myths justifies the social hierarchy of Japan by giving the ruling classes divine authority such as the belief that the emperor is divine, similar to the Bramins of India. During the time period, these politically driven myths also established the Yamato clan’s supremacy over the Izumo clan. ('Shinto Holy Books')

Leader/Role model

Shinto priests are important religious leaders within the Shinto religion, people of faith rely the priests to perform rituals such as harae to rid a person or an object of kegare (impurity) and Haraigushi which is the practice of transferring the kegare of a human being onto an object. (Perkins)

Another important leader of the Shinto faith are the shasō (Buddhist priests). Since the introduction of Buddhist teaching to the Shinto religion, Buddhist have had great influences on the religion, which explains why the shaso are highly regarded and sometimes even replacing priests. The shaso would provide Buddhist rites for the kami and teach the teachings of the Buddha. (Takao)

The Shinto religion, similar to many other religions around the world, faces the same common problem, politics and the struggle for power. In order to keep the authority of the emperor no matter how bad he is, the emperor is annointed as the Son of heaven as seen in the myths. (Kenji)


The main belief of Shinto is kami : the essence of spirit that can be found within everything, rocks, trees, animals, etc. Even though people commonly associates God and supreme beings as the judges of right or wrong, kami does not dictate right or wrong. Kami are believed to be amoral, they do not punish the bad or reward the good, rather it is believed that within everything there is a kami. For example, the tsunami has a kami, when the tsunami destroys everything, it is not believed to be a punishment form kami because they were angered. However, the Shinto faith do put an emphasis on being pure (kiyome). (Perkins)

Well known kami

Amaterasu - The other name of this kami is Hi no kami meaning the sun god. The kami of the sun is the highest of all kami that rules over the Plain of High Heaven. The Hi no kami is also the first of the three noble children. (Mizue, “Amaterasu”)

Izanagi (伊弊諾 or 伊邪那岐) - He is the father of the three noble childrenAmaterasu, Tsukuyomi, and Susanoo. Together he and his wife Izanami produced the eight islands of Japan many kami. He is thought to have the image of a heavenly father compared to Izanami who is the Earth mother goddess. (Atsushi)

Izanami (伊弉冉 or 伊邪那美) - She is Izanagi’s wife that gave birth to Japan and many of the kami. She is considered as the first female, and seen as the Goddess of Creation and Death with an implication of earth mother goddess. (Atsushi, and Tatsuya)

Ame-no-Uzume (天宇受売命 or 天鈿女命) - She is known as the ancestral kami of the clan Sarume no kimi or chief of the Sarume clan. She is said to be the origin of a religious service by the Sarume clan, the ceremony of spirit-pacification (chinkonsai). Ame no Uzume is seen as patron kami of actors and other performing arts, Uzume is also viewed as having the role of negotiator with new, unknown beings. (Mizue, “Amenouzume”)

Connection to primal religion

Shinto could be considered a religion that is natural and native to Japan. It is the national religion, or the primal religion of Japan. The religion does not have a root or origin that could be specifically traced, it is instead, a religion that was developed and nurtured over the course of history. (Shigetsugu) However, before the influence of Buddhism, there are almost no historical records of the primal shinto religion. Though the Kojiki, the Shinto religion can be seen as animistic and worshipped their deceased ancestors along with the kami which is still present in contemporary shinto practices. The Shinto belief only had a structure after the influence of Buddhism and Taoism, along with Confucianism. (Dougill)


There are no specific law like the Torah in Christianity. Instead, Shintoism is all about following the will and ways of kami, as well as establishing a relationship with the kami. There is no absolute right and wrong in the religion, and nobody is perfect even kami are seen to make mistakes. Shinto is an optimistic faith and does not have a strict moral law. (“Shinto”) Since humans are thought to be born pure and good, evil is believed to come from evil spirits that influences one as humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits and comes from outside of the world. The purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami. There are no absolute way that assess good and bad, many factors are taken into account when looking into an event: the intentions, purpose, location, circumstances are all factors that are taken into account when judging if one did wrong or not. ('BBC - Religions - Shinto: Ethics In Shinto')


The Shinto belief is similar to Hinduism because there are no complicated rules and texts that Shintoists have to follow. Rather, the practitioners themselves have to self-reflect and live the best out of their life using their own interpretation of the world and shinto. The shinto belief can be seen to strive for these four things in life

Simplicity: the lack of scripture and structure allows the individual to search for their own spirituality One with the world: Shintoism promotes the idea of living in peace with everything as everything has a kami within. Which includes caring for, appreciation and worshipping the nature around them. And people try their best to become a part of nature.

Peace with the world: Similarly to the idea of becoming part of the world, this is the idea of being the best person possible, to love and care for all creations with an optimistic approach. Individual journey to spirituality: Since Shinto is an open religion like Hinduism, the religion leaves room for one’s own spiritual journey and interpretation of the world. It is emphasised that living life to its fullest potential is very important.

However, the most important aspect is to live and respect as well as honor kami as that is the core and essence of Shinto belief. (Furphy)

In the Shinto belief there are two places that the spirit could go after death, one is Takama no Hara, also Takamagahara. It is the realm of the High Heaven that is ruled by Amaterasu. Some believed the Takama no Hara to be the utopia of religious belief like the idea of Brahman, while others say it represented an ancient capital of the realm. (Yoshihiko)

Yomi, also Yomotsu Kuni, is the place that made an appearance in Kojiki and Nihon shoki where Izanami went after her death. The Yomi is seen as the underworld but the appearances and characteristics of this world are not defined. The place is said to be dark, however not all of Yomi is necessarily dark. (Kazuhiko)

Nature of soul/spirit

The Shinto religion is Animistic and believe in Kami which can be found in everything. One’s spirit is considered neutral, and it is judged based on the positive and negative results in life, with negative events causing kegare or transgression. (Perkins) Shinto believes that people are children of ‘’Kami’’ and do not believe that humans are fundamentally evil, unless they think or act selfishly. In the Shinto belief there are no sin or the Buddhist views of passion and suffering. When someone “sin”, such as commiting a murder, they are dealt by the penal code and are seen as a transgression against the Earth and Heaven, and purification rituals will be performed on them. When purification rituals are performed, it enables kami to remove the transgression and make it disappear. However that does not mean one does not have any responsibility, it means that the most important duty is to perform the cleansing ritual and then live a life honoring the kami and the community. In the Shinto belief, humans will become kami when they die, through a process of purification that would transform them into ancestral kami. (Kenji) Death in Shintoism is considered impure, which is why there are no cemetery that can be found near a shrine. When someone dies, the dead body is considered impure and are left to the Buddhists to deal with. Even though the body is considered impure, the spirit within one is still considered perfectly pure. In the modern day world, when somebody passes away, they are usually cremated or will receive secular burial away from the shrine. ('BBC - Religions - Shinto: Rites Of Life: Funerals')

Nature of Worship

The shrine is a place of worship and also believed to be the home of kami much like christianity. Similar to Hinduism, people would go into the shrine to pray for good fortune, good grades or others of their choosing. In the shinto religion, one would make Shinsen as offerings to kami. However, these food offerings vary from occasion and deities worshipped. Most common offerings include rice, fish, sake, seaweed and more. These Shinsen are prepared with great care and are divided into 3 categories, cooked, raw, and vegetarian. ('Shinsen | Shintō Offerings') Instead of simply bowing down to pray like in Christianity, Norito, a type of prayer follows a prose that contains both words of praise to the kami and the request as well as offerings is needed. Ema is another way that one can pray to kami. Ema is a small wooden plaque that can be bought at the shrine, which then a request would be written and hung at the shrine for kami to receive. (Perkins) At every temple there are a pair of guardian animals such as dogs, foxes, or cows believed to keep away the evil. (Lambe) Within the religion, there are some common and very important symbols. One example would be the Torii Gate, it is usually made out of stone or wood and it is seen as the holy ground and the boundary between the physical and spiritual world. It is a custom to clap and bow three times respectfully before entering. Another important symbol of Shinto is the Ofuda, which is a talisman or scripture that could be bought from shrines to provide security for a family and is believed to bring good luck to the household. ('Shinto Symbols')

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Shinto: History, The Key Concepts And Principles. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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