Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 28, 2023, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/shinto/v-1
Shintō means the ‘way of the kami (gods)’ and is a term that was evolved about the late sixth or early seventh centuries – as Japan entered an extended period of cultural borrowing from China and Korea – to distinguish the amalgam of native religious beliefs from Buddhism, a continental import. Shintō embraces the most ancient and basic social and religious values of Japan. It is exclusively Japanese, showing no impulse to spread beyond Japan. The exportation of Shintō would in any case be exceedingly difficult since its mythology is so closely bound to the creation of Japan and the Japanese people, and since many of its deities are believed to make their homes in the mountains, rivers, trees, rocks and other natural features of the Japanese islands.
Shintō comprises both great and little traditions. The great tradition, established in the mythology that was incorporated into Japan’s two oldest extant writings, Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan), both dating from the early eighth century, is centred on the imperial institution. According to the mythology the emperorship was ordained by the sun goddess, Amaterasu, who sent her grandson from heaven to earth (Japan) to found a dynasty ‘to rule eternally’. The present emperor is the 125th in a line of sovereigns officially regarded, until Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, as descended directly from Amaterasu.
Shintō’s little tradition is a mixture of polytheistic beliefs about kami, manifested in nature worship (animism), ancestor worship, agricultural cults, fertility rites, shamanism and more. Lacking a true scriptural basis, Shintō derives from the faith of the people, and from earliest times has had its roots firmly planted in particularistic, localistic practices. Thus it has always been strongest in its association with such entities as families, villages and locales (for example, mountains thought to be the homes of certain kami or, indeed, to be the kami themselves).
Varley, Paul. Shintō, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-G102-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/shinto/v-1.
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