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Shinto – One of The Dominant Religions in Japan

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Religion affects our values and attitude to others and the universe; it can also allow us to trace back to the history of the development of different countries. As Japan is renowned for its distinct religious culture, shrines have become the top list for travelers to buy omamori and do blessings. It is essential to know the history and background of the ancient Japanese religion that made millions of people captivated.

According to Earhart (1997a), Shinto is an indigenous religion that originated in Japan. Shinto means ‘the way of god’ and it express the deep-rooted belief of the scarcity of kami (divinity), the appreciation of nature as well as the mythological deities. It emphasizes the holy linkage of Japan and Japanese and is known as the representation of ‘the continuity of ancient customs’ (Earhart, 2004, p.31).

Ellwood & Pilgrim (1985) noted that there are four major traditions in Shinto. Priests will wear vestments with a flat shaku held in hand and sweep the evergreen branch or sprinkle salt to purify the pollutions with the kami is present. Next, bestow offering is paramount in Shinto. Offerings can be both foods, for instance, vegetables, rice or clothes. Then, the priest will pass or put the offerings on the eight-legged table slowly. Afterward, priests will say the Norito (prayer) to appreciate the assistance of kami for the benefit they received and request for continual harvests and well-being. Furthermore, various matsuri (festival) and carnivals will be on the shrine site. For example, kagura (dance) will be performed by female miko to entertain the kami.

Shrines are the place for rituals and individual worship, which is also the place to house kami. Visitors will throw a coin in the offering box, then ring the bell twice, followed by two bows and pray after they clap their hands twice in front of the altar. (Japan National Tourism Organization, n.d.).

There are four stages of Shinto development. The Early Shinto (fifth to sixth centuries) was at first self-originated and disorganized around family lines until the power of the imperial family surpasses other families, they unified the customs, and still, there was no name for the religion and its traditions. Nonetheless, with the inflow of Chinese culture under the mid-sixth century, Buddhism and Confucianism were introduced to Japan. In order to differentiate Japanese from exotic religions, the Japanese referred to the Chinese words shentao to form the word Shinto. It is the time where Shinto started to have a conceptualization of its belief (Earhart, 2004, p.31).

During the sixth to thirteenth centuries, the Medieval Shinto stage arises. The influence of Buddhism was flourishing, even the emperors or nobility vastly promote Buddhism and monopolize the central court and institutions. Shinto was overshadowed and can be only practiced in the rural areas.

Then, State Shinto emerged during the Meji Restoration (1868-1945). Reformer promoted that the emperor is the emblem of god, and the prior was to restore the emperor to be the head of state. Thus, Shinto is used to advocate emperor worship and restored its sovereignty and support in the government while Buddhism was demoted and ejected from shrines.

Later after the end of World War II (1947), the Allied Occupation forces officially dismissed State Shinto, and Shinto is practiced exclusively for religious purposes without any authority in the government. Westerners blamed Shinto for spreading militaristic nationalism and provoked World War II, which cause deteriorate diplomatic relations and invasions in other countries. This conviction is the reason for the disestablishment of State Shinto after the defeat of the war.

Although in recent decades, male priests dominate the worships and rites, but in the past, female priests took the primary role in Shinto for all the rituals. Now, Modern Shinto is only a religious organization that allows worshippers to pray or visit shrines for good blessings and enjoy diverse festivals and celebrations of the kami.

After the numerous adjustments and the endanger of replacement, Shinto is still one of the dominant religions in Japan nowadays. Therefore, it is crucial to safeguard our own culture and avert it from erosion by other exotic cultures in order to hand it down to our next generations.


  • Earhart, H. Byron. (1997). Religion in the Japanese Experience: Sources and interpretations. (2nd ed.) Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.
  • Earhart, H.B. (2004). Japanese Religion Unity and Diversity (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson Learning.
  • Ellwood, R. S., & Pilgrim, R. (1985). Japanese Religion: A Cultural Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  • Japan National Tourism Organization. (n.d.). Shrine and Temple Traditions A guide to visiting shrines and temples in Japan. Retrieved October 15, 2019, from

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