The History of Shinto (Shintoism)

The religious beliefs of Shinto or Shintoism are associated with the practices and culture of Japan. The word, Shinto was developed to separate this religion’s beliefs from that of Buddhism. Throughout the centuries, the main beliefs and religious rituals have survived despite having no known founder, no definite sacred text, as well as no particular statement of belief.


It is believed that Shinto preceded the Japanese people or culture, resulting in the belief that there was no founder or date attributed to the start of the religion. When studying the Yayoi culture, which came from the northern part of the Kyushu Island, the religion can be traced to this 2nd or 3rd century BC culture. The foundation of this culture’s belief system was built upon shamanism, as well as agriculture. Early shamans called miko can also be traced back to this island.


During 5th century AD, Confucianism came to Japan, spreading throughout the masses, along with Chinese Taoism. These religious teachings influenced the evolution of the ethical teachings of the Shinto religion. It soon became seen as a cult that was spreading across the nation. By the 8th century, Shinto began to incorporate politics with the religion. In the early 10th century, Japan possessed close to 3,000 shrines that were taking in offerings for the state.


From 1192-1333, the Kamakura period was seen, where religious theories of Shinto were incorporated with those of Buddhist views. Schools began to emerge during this time as well, but by the 13th century, a wave of anti-Buddhist Ise, also known as Watarai Shinto started to flourish. Those associated strived for a “pure Japanese version” of the religion.


By 1603, the Tokugawa shogunate was established in Tokyo. The connection between Shinto and Confucianism was the focus during this time. The teachings at this time were paying close attention to the unifying qualities of both religions. Shinto was being interpreted from following a Neo-Confucianism point-of-view. Soon after, schools began to emerge on teachings that were established by Chu Hsi and Wang Yang-ming, who were Chinese philosophers. This is also when the dominant course of study for warriors became Neo-Confucianism.


Towards the end of the 17th century, a new form of the religion sprung forth called Fukko (Restoration) Shinto. A move away from Buddhist or Confucian concepts began where studies highlighted aspects of Japanese classics. The mystical power of becoming or of creation was the main belief for this religious sect. From 1868-1912, the early Meiji period became prominent, dividing followers into two different groups: Shrine Shinto (Jinja) and Sect Shinto (Kyoha). By the end of the 19th century, a variety of religious movements developed due to the unhappiness of the people. Some movements believed in one or some of the beliefs associated with Shinto, Buddhist and Confucian. These religions attempted to find cures for diseases, as well as deliver spiritual salvation. Some of the sects that developed were referred to as “purification sects,” mountain worship sects,” as well as “faith-healing” sects.


By the end of World War II, the Shinto religion was no longer regarded as the official religion of the land. Memberships to the shrines were no longer considered a requirement and contributions now became a voluntary decision.