Shinto comprises the religious ideas and practices indigenous to Japan. Ancient Shinto focused on the worship of the kami, a host of supernatural beings that could be known through forms (objects of nature, remarkable people, abstract concepts such as justice) but were ultimately mysterious. Shinto has no formal dogma and no holy writ, though early collections of Japanese religious thought and practice (Kojiki, “Records of Ancient Matters,” A.D. 712, and Nihon shoki, “Chronicles of Japan,” A.D. 720) are highly regarded.
Shinto has been influenced by Confucianism and by Buddhism, which was introduced in Japan in the 6th century. Syncretic schools (such as Ryobu Shinto) emerged, as did other sects that rejected Buddhism (such as Ise Shinto).
Under the reign of the emperor Meiji (1868–1912), Shinto became the official state religion. State Shinto, the national cult, emphasized the divinity of the emperor, whose succession was traced back to the first emperor, Jimmu (660 B.C.), and beyond him to the sun goddess Amaterasu-o-mi-kami. State Shinto was disestablished after World War II.
Sect Shinto, deriving from sects that developed during the 19th and 20th centuries, continues to thrive in Japan. Shrines dedicated to particular kami are visited by parishioners for prayer and traditional ceremonies, such as presenting a newborn child to the kami. Traditional festivals celebrated at the shrines include purification rites, presentation of food offerings, prayer, sacred music and dance, and a feast.
No particular day of the week is set aside for prayer. A person may visit a shrine at will, entering through the torii (gateway). It is believed that the kami can respond to prayer and can offer protection and guidance.
A variety of Shinto sects and practices exist today. Ten-rikyo emphasizes faith healing. Folk Shinto is characterized by veneration of roadside shrines and rites related to agriculture. Buddhist priests serve at many Shinto shrines, and many families keep a small shrine, or god-shelf, at home. Veneration of ancestors and pilgrimage are also common practices.
See also Encyclopedia: Shinto.