By Vexen Crabtree 2020
#atheism #buddhism #japan #monotheism #polytheism #religions #shinto
Shinto is the generic native religion of Japan, pre-dating Buddhism to the extent of being prehistorical, and is associated with traditional Japanese culture1. It is animistic - with spirits inhabiting all kinds of objects and places, collectively being called Kami. There are no sacred books nor central authorities2. 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 19453. 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 religion4 and many of the rituals at shrines are centred on the natural cycle of the seasons2. Shinto is counted as one of the great world religions5,6,7.
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.4. 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.
“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)8
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 nonconformists8. 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.
“Shinto 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)3
Shinto then returned to its more relaxed and peaceful posture.