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The Shinto religion of Japan is considered, along with Buddhism as the official religion of Japan.  Over 80% of the population of Japan is either Buddhist or Shintoist.  It is interesting to note that while most weddings are performed by Shinto priests most funerals are conducted by Buddhist priests! 

We believe that Shinto was the earliest Japanese religion.  Experts do not have much information about the beginning of the Shinto traditions, but we do know that Shintoism started around the middle of the first millennium BC.  As the Yamato dynasty consolidated its rule over Japan around the 6th century AD, the adoption of the Shinto religion seems to have accelerated.  The name, "Shinto" means "The Way of the Gods" in Chinese - 'shin tao'. 

The Shinto religion is unusual when compared to other ancient spiritual traditions in several key aspects.  For one thing, the Shinto religion is not based on any body of religious law.  Most religions can trace their concepts back to one or more ancient texts that define what laws are to be followed, at the very least.  Some religions, for example Buddhism have centuries of writings that are rich in philosophy and interpretation of the original teachings of the founder. 

Some experts have described the Shinto religion as "an amorphous mix of nature worship, fertility cults, divination techniques, hero worship, and shamanism."  The closest thing that Shintoists have to a code is the Chinese doctrine of Confucianism.  The Shinto religion also does not have a strong tradition of training leaders to administer the religion.  There is a Shinto priesthood, but the organization does not involve the complex system of training and hierarchy that you would find in Buddhism, for example. 

At the time in history when the Shinto religion gained popularity in Japan, the Japanese Imperial family was looked upon as the origin of anything divine.  The Yamato dynasty ruled Japan at the time.  However, despite the association of the Imperial family with the divine, the Shinto religion does not have an identifiable founder also unusual for ancient religions.  One interesting fact to note is that this association of the Imperial family with the divine continued in Japan until the end of World War II.  The Japanese emperor was required to give up his divine status as part of the treaty with the United States of America. 

Shinto belief revolves around "Kami" or deities.  Kami can be related to natural forces, elements or animals.  The term Kami can also be applied to abstract concepts.  Finally, Kami can be applied to highly skilled or good, compassionate people.  When the Imperial family was still considered divine, the Emperor had this designation.  There are "Four Affirmations" in Shinto that revolve around the family, love of nature, physical cleanliness and ancestral worship called "matsuri" in Japanese.  These are considered the most important elements of a personís life. 

Natural places, such as mountains or rivers are recognized as shrines, and followers of the Shinto religion are expected to visit certain shrines to mark important life events, such as reaching a certain age or stage of life.  Shrines are dedicated to a specific Kami.  This is similar to the Hindu religion where there are many gods and goddesses and worshippers follow and pray to those with whom they feel the most affinity. 

Animals are respected as messengers of gods.  If you visit a Shinto temple, you will find a pair of 'Koma-inu' or guardian dog statues at the entrance.  The Shinto religion also involves are seasonal celebrations and has close ties of Shinto practice to nature.  One final note on the Shinto religion is that one characteristic of this set of traditions is that the beliefs are firmly rooted in optimism.  That is a good basis for any set of spiritual practices!


Japanese Tea Ceremony Geisha ~ Traditional Entertainers
Sumo Wrestling Japanese Woodblock Prints
Japanese Sake Sets
Japanese Sushi Sets
Japanese Tea Sets
Iron Glaze ~ Noodle Bowls
Iron Glaze ~ Noodle Bowls
Japanese Rice Bowls ~ Set of 5
Japanese Rice Bowls ~ Set of 5
Chopstick Sets

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