The Human Truth Foundation


By Vexen Crabtree 2020

#atheism #buddhism #japan #monotheism #polytheism #religions #shinto

Links: Pages on Shinto, Other Religions
The symbol of Shinto
God(s)Atheist / Monotheist / Polytheist / Other
HeritageJapanese culture
Area of OriginJapan
When3rd century BCE
FounderGradually formed over time
Numbers in the UK (Census results)
20111 075
Shintoists Worldwide (Pew & WM)
World: 0.0443%. Japan (2.09%), South Korea (0.06%), Singapore (0.0243%), USA (0.0202%), Brazil (0.004%), Sri Lanka (0.000799%), Thailand (0.000598%), Vietnam (0.000198%) 1

Shinto is the generic native religion of Japan, pre-dating Buddhism to the extent of being prehistorical, and is associated with traditional Japanese culture2. It is animistic - with spirits inhabiting all kinds of objects and places, collectively being called Kami. There are no sacred books nor central authorities3. It's not an exclusivist nor doctrinal religion, although from 1870 a form of state-sponsored nationalist Shinto became forcibly dominant, although this failed and declined after 19454. Shinto then returned to its more relaxed posture. Shinto is an artificial name given to a collection of traditional rituals, practices and beliefs. It accepts a variety of supernatural beings, but none of them amount to being gods and it is therefore listed amongst atheist religions; it is also hailed as being a nature-based religion5 and many of the rituals at shrines are centred on the natural cycle of the seasons3. Shinto is counted as one of the great world religions6,7,8.

1. Numbers of Shintoists Around the World, by Country


Worldmapper (2005)1
2S. Korea0.1%
6Sri Lanka0.0%

Many Japanese folk follow both Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, which makes it difficult to state the number of Shinto adherents9. It is also the case that as "Shinto" is an artificial word given to describe a wide range of traditional beliefs and practices10, many people adhere to it in a loose and indirect way, but do not self-identify as Shinto - it follows a long history where there was simply no need to give a single word to describe both local and national practices.

2. Calendar (2023)


Feb 2nd
(3 days)


in Japan. Traditional Japanese one-day home ceremony held on the day before spring on one of these 3 days. Now largely linked with Shinto and Buddhism.

Mar 3rd


Hinamatsuri / Girl's Day

Prayers for the Emperor and Empress to carry away illnesses affecting girls.

Mar 18th
(7 days)

Higan (Autumn) and Shuubun No Hi / Haru-No-Higan

in Japan. On both the spring and autumn equinoxes. For the autumn equinox; given to harmony and balance. Shuubun No Hi is a 7-day period centered on the equinox, based on an older Buddhist week of celebration called Haru-No-Higan.
Historically developed from: Q3 Equinox (Autumnal)

Sep 20th
(7 days)

Higan (Spring) and Shuubun No Hi / Haru-No-Higan

in Japan. On both the spring and autumn equinoxes. About harmony and balance & visiting graves of relatives. Shuubun No Hi is a 7-day period centered on the equinox, based on an older Buddhist week of celebration called Haru-No-Higan.
Historically developed from: Q1 Equinox (Vernal)

Nov 15th


Schichi Go San (7-5-3)

Girls aged 7 or 3, and boy aged 5, dress up in new clothes and are paraded at Shinto shrines, for their wellbeing.

3. Sacred Places: Kami, Nature, Shrines

#animism #shinto

Kami is a difficult word to translate; it indicates spirits and a feel for the personified forces of a sacred world. Kami as spirits are worshipped at a large number of shrines, ranging from official national monuments, do primary shrines of towns, and individual, private, shrines in the home.5. In general, the concept of this duplication of spirits around us in objects and places is called animism, and such beliefs are found almost everywhere in our most ancient cultures.

The symbol of Shinto

Shinto religion is closely involved with the landscape of Japan, and with the ancestors of believers. Shinto ceremonies appeal to kami, the mysterious powers of nature. ... Kami are associated with natural features such as caves, rocks, streams, trees, and particularly mountains. [...] There are also certain kami which are associated with areas, groups of people, or with different aspects of life such as youth or old age. [...]

All Shinto shrines have a large gate called a torii, consisting of two upright bars and two crossbars. The torii can be seen standing alone in lakes, mountains or trees.

"Religions of the World" by Breuilly, O'Brien & Palmer (1997)9

4. The Rise and Fall of Nationalist Shinto (1868-1945)

#buddhism #japan #USA

From 1868, a form of state-sponsored Shinto became forcibly dominant. It was the latest attempt by the state to assert centralized policies and resist foreign influence. Buddhism had proven to be poor at allowing state control, and so this new form of Shinto was used to replace Buddhism, which many Japanese were practicing in combination with traditional beliefs. State Shinto was intolerant and an outright persecutor of nonconformists9. The Emperor was now the focus of adulation, and Japan was hailed as the country of the gods, with its royalty said to be direct descendants. This continued until 1945.

Book CoverShinto was declared the state religion, and in 1868 the Buddhist elements within it were outlawed. [...] The importance of the emperor at the center of Shinto was greatly amplified in the new nationalist teaching, and submission to his divine auhority became a spiritual duty of all Japanese people [until Japan was defeated by the USA in 1945].

During the ensuing occupation, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers General Douglas MacArthur ordered that the Japanese government no longer take a role in religious matters. The emperor was required to deliver a statement admitting, to American satisfaction, that he was not a god, and state Shinto was abolished.

"Hammond Atlas of World Religions" by Murray et al. (2009)4

Shinto then returned to its more relaxed and peaceful posture.