Shinto, a Short History

By Ito Satoshi; Endo Jun et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

What is Shinto?

Inoue Nobutaka


Shinto as a religious system

The term ‘Shinto’ is notoriously vague and difficult to define. A brief look at the term’s history confuses more than it enlightens. Its first occurrence is in the Nihon shoki (720), which writes of Emperor Yōmei (r. 585-7) that he ‘had faith in the Buddhist Dharma and revered Shinto. ’ Here, as in most early usages of the word, it seems to serve as a synonym for Japan’s native deities, in Japanese called kami, in contrast to the new ‘foreign kami’ that entered Japan with the introduction of Buddhism in the sixth century. Only during the medieval and early modern periods was the term applied to specific theological and ritual systems. In modern scholarship, the term is often used with reference to kami worship and related theologies, rituals and practices. In these contexts, ‘Shinto’ takes on the meaning of ‘Japan’s traditional religion’, as opposed to foreign religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and so forth.

A central element in a practical definition of Shinto will have to be systems of kami worship and shrine ritual that date back to classical times. Few will doubt that the kami and their cults form the core of what we call Shinto. However, when we try to pin down more specifically what teachings, rituals, or beliefs have constituted Shinto through the centuries, we soon run into difficulty. Some scholars have attempted to categorise Shinto into ‘shrine Shinto’, ‘sect Shinto’, and ‘folk Shinto’, and others have added ‘imperial Shinto’ (referring to imperial rituals focusing on kami), ‘state Shinto’ and ‘Shinto-derived new religions’. However, many questions remain both as to the legitimacy of these categorisations, and as to their relationship to each other. In particular, it is well-nigh impossible to separate ‘shrine Shinto’ from ‘folk Shinto’. In extreme cases, some have even resorted to labelling all religious folk traditions in Japan ‘Shinto’.

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Shinto, a Short History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors vii
  • Translators' Introduction ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Ancient and Classical Japan 12
  • 2 - The Medieval Period 63
  • Notes 102
  • 3 - The Early Modern Period 108
  • 4 - The Modern Age 159
  • Selected Reading 198
  • Index 204
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