Posted by: Andrew G | March 12, 2010

Shinto – Very Clean!

I feel I must first admit that I have little understanding of Shinto, and my experiences with it are very limited. It is considered a mix of local beliefs and practices generally centered on the Japanese islands and all pulled together around 500 BCE. I don’t know what was going on in Asia 2500 years ago, but a real wellspring of religious creativity hit the scene. Something in the water?

I would guess a few key elements were coming together – population size, nation-state identities and the initial buds of written literature compared to oral traditions. For some reason, Jared Diamond’s books comes to mind as a good start for perspective on this.

My parents had a book lying around their home a little while ago on the “Axial Age” of religions. I’ll have to snoop around their bookshelves next time I go for a visit.

Back Shinto.

There are elements of animism in Shinto and no singular supreme being. The practitioner is trying to achieve a kind of immortality with the ancestral beings in the spirit world. In some respects the imperial rulers of Japan used Shinto in order to invoke a kind of deity-clause for themselves (Emperors love to consider themselves god-awesome after all, right?). This ended with World War II when Emperor Hirohito, the 124th Emperor of Japan, renounced his divinity.

Did you know that it was only about 100 years ago or so that we figured out the universe was actually bigger than our own galaxy? It’s a little bizarre to think about, but in some ways it explains how, just a few generations ago, a Divine Emperor could have ruled over a country. Our thinking, and our attitude towards things, has gone through amazing, dramatic changes recently.

Shinto is partnered with Buddhism much of the time in Japan. There is no sharply defined moral code but there are some similarities to Confucianism in terms of discipline, peace and loyalty towards authority. In my searching about, I came across these bits of information that I found interesting:


In Shinto both nature and a person’s physical cleanliness are considered sacred.




Origami is often placed in shrines as a gift offering

(I never really had the discipline for origami)



For a more in-depth look at Shinto, here are a few links: (about half-way down the page)

For a fun, ‘touristy’ photo page, check this out – shrine pics from nicolas

Did I miss any of the vitals?



  1. Like all religions created by people, Shinto has many sects (denominations) — some leaning toward a monotheistic view with an ultimate reality amidst many lesser deities.

    Uniquely, in general Amaterasu a female goddess is usually viewed as the highest god. Yahweh was similarly viewed as part of “the divine council” [of gods] in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).

    For a good feel of how Shintoism informs modern pop culture, see ALL the excellent anime by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro …)

  2. Do your parents read your blog?

  3. Hey again S!

    Thanks for the extra info. I will definitely check out Miyazaki.

    Funny you should mention the Tanakh — I’m not too familiar with it but I was looking at it, compared to the Old Testament, just earlier this month. I came across a neat ‘re-mythologizing’ of the Hebrew creation story where Yahweh and Elohim were recast as brother-creators. It put a lot of the OT into perspective! I might use it later this month when I hit the Abrahamic faiths.

    My parents do read this blog from time to time, and have helped me out with a few things so far. They’re a little unsure of where I’m going with all this. But all the while, I’m trying to keep my one hand out in calm, as if to say ‘Be without fear’…


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