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Shinto - A Brief Description


Shinto Shrine Itsukushi at Miyajima


  • Shinto is a modern Japanese religion with millions of followers in Japan. Shinto is intimately tied to the sacred geography of Japan and therefore is not a religion where practitioners can be found outside of the religion’s homeland, although certain rituals may still take place in foreign countries.
  • Shinto literally means “way of the gods.” Shinto followers believe in the individual divinity existing within all things. Every thing in the world has its own individual god, or kami. Although Shinto followers say that the religion is ancient and goes back thousands of years, Shinto as a cohesive, institutionalized religion does not date back more than a thousand years or even less. The gods in Shinto are also called spirits and inhabit all the natural places in the world such as rivers, mountains, trees, etc.
  • Kami also exist in living things like animals or in dead things like carcasses. Shinto is a heavily temple-based religion whereby practitioners visit temples erected to house a specific kami who is considered to be powerful if not sometimes dangerous (although they can also be highly benevolent or even helpful). The inner hall of a shrine is where priests interact with the kami by offering prayers and gifts. Kami may be called with a bell and given money or food.
  • Shinto shrines are highly recognizable since their archway is a unique architectural feature that derives from ancient Buddhist architecture from India.
  • Although there are an infinite number of kami, some are more famous or prominent than others. For instance, the kami Amaterasu is considered to be a sun goddess and is historically viewed as the ancestor to all the Japanese ruling emperors. Amaterasu’s shrine at Ise is the most famous in all of Japan and is routinely destroyed every 20 years and rebuilt according to the ancient architectural layout using wood and stone.
  • Each time the shrine is rebuilt a grand national festival occurs. Indeed at all Shinto shrines yearly and other festivals frequently happen and allow the Japanese people to interact with the kami to receive blessings or atonement for sins.
  • In Shinto, people strive to purify themselves through good action in order to balance out wrong actions. However, the difference between right and wrong in Shinto is not as clear as in many of the monotheistic religions.
  • At prominent shrines, talismans are sold and are believed to have the embedded energy or spirit of a kami. The talismans are worn and assist in the purification process. Other talismans are good luck charms or bring business prosperity. The purpose of the talismans and the worshiping of kami is to gradually awaken and become aware of the kami innate to each individual person.



Shinto Shrine Itsukushi at Miyajima