Christian Cyclopedia

About the Cyclopedia


1. Ancient native religion of Japan. The word Shinto was coined from Chinese Mandarin for “way of the gods” (Jap. colloquial equivalent: kami-no-michi) to distinguish it from Buddhism.* Primitive Shinto was crude polytheistic nature worship of things called kami (Jap. “above; superior”) that were dreaded and revered (e.g., various ancient deities of heaven [e.g., sun-goddess] and earth and their spirits; human beings [mikados]; rain, thunder, wind; plants, trees, mountains, seas; echo; animals including dragon, fox, tiger, wolf, birds. The oldest surviving documents of Shinto are Kojiki* (712 AD) and Nihongi (720 AD), but they are not sacred books in the common sense. Shinto has no supreme deity. The creator pair appears in the 7th generation of gods, when a male kami, Izanagi (”male who invites”), and a female kami, Izanami (”female who invites”), procreated the islands of Jap. and many gods and goddesses, including Amaterasu,* most eminent of Shinto deities and whose seat is at Ise.

2. Ancestor* worship was imported from China to Jap.

3. The gods are, as a rule, considered to be beneficent, thought they may cause illness and misfortune if their worship is neglected. On the other hand, the aid of the gods is sought as protection against plagues and disasters.

4. The emp. (or mikado; see also 1) came to be regarded as a descendant of Amaterasu and as the only “incarnate god.” See also 9.

5. Shrines are simple, usually unpainted, wooden structures. Before them are torii (Jap. “bird residence”): gateways consisting of 2 uprights with a straight crosspiece near the top and a concave (ends curve upward) crosspiece at the top; both crosspieces (upper slightly longer than lower) extend beyond the uprights.

The spiritual emanation, or spiritual double of a deity is called mitama. The mitama has as its special place of residence the shintai, or god-body (e.g., a sword, stone, mirror, or other material object), which is usually in a shrine and usually in a box that is rarely or never opened.

6. Shinto has rituals and a hereditary priesthood; the emp. was chief priest (see 9); celibacy is not enjoined on priests, who wear distinctive dress only when engaged in worship. There is no cong. worship. Priests serve at local shrines only on special occasions, but worshipers may come at any time. Worship includes obeisance, handclaps. Formerly offerings of food, drink, and fabrics were made; in process of substitution these came to be replaced by gohei (wands with white paper strips attached as representations of the fabric formerly offered).

7. Shinto has no code of ethics; each one's heart tells him what he should do. Dirt is considered disrespectful of the deities; preliminaries to worship include bathing and putting on clean clothes. There is no sense of sin in the Christian sense, consequently no corresponding idea of forgiveness and redemption. Teachings regarding life beyond the grave are vague; there is no teaching regarding heaven and hell.

8. Shinto was absorbed by Buddhism ca. the 9th c. in a system called Ryobu (or Ryobu Shinto), more Buddhist than Shinto. Near the end of the 18th c. a reaction in favor of Shinto set in, leading to restoration 1868 of imperial power, which had been eclipsed since ca. 1300 by feudal lords called shoguns (or tycoons). But because it was so barren in ethical teachings, Shinto could not compete seriously with Buddhism. It was divided into State Shinto (patriotic ritual incumbent on all Japanese) and Sect or Religious Shinto and was kept alive mainly by festivals and pilgrimages, of which religion formed only a small part.

9. State Shinto was abolished 1947; the emp. disclaimed divinity. Sect Shinto expanded.

10. Buddhism awakened to new life early in the 20th c. and so encroached on Shinto that it is very hard to differentiate bet. Shintoists and Buddhists in Japan.

See bibliography under Religion, Comparative.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

Internet Version Produced by
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
Concordia Publishing House
All rights reserved.

Content Reproduced with Permission

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