Shinto is the name ascribed to the non-Buddhist religious practices of Japan.
Shinto is today thought of as the indigenous religion of Japan.
However, It was formed from various local Japanese religious practices over a long period prior to written Japanese history, influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism beginning in the 6th century and first codified with the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in the 8th century as a response to the influx of “new” religious practices.
These earliest Japanese writings do not refer to a unified religion but rather a set of practices that are associated with harvests, and annual events along with a clearly defined creation story.
Shinto today is characterized by polytheism, a strong focus on ritual purity, and involves honoring of Kami, or spirits.
Shinto is a orthopractic (right practice) religion where ritual and practice are of the highest importance in comprehending a world saturated by Kami while honoring and celebrating their existence.
Modern Shinto is not vertical in structure and decentralized, although having modern organizations for cohesion, is not one structure, but a conglomeration of similar local or regional shrine practices and festivals with historical overlays of consistency by dress, building styles, and rituals.
Shinto today has about 119 million adherents in Japan, although a person who practices any manner of Shinto rituals may be considered Shinto, there is some debate as to the actual numbers.
It is generally accepted that the vast majority of Japanese people are Shinto.
This same number may also be considered Buddhist and neither faith has exclusivity within their dogma.
Most people in Japan are both by practice.
Purification rites are a vital part of Shinto.
These may serve to placate any restive kami, for instance when their shrine had to be relocated.
Such ceremonies have also been adapted to modern life.
For example, a ceremony was held in 1969 to hallow the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, new buildings made in Japan are frequently blessed by a Shinto priest kannushi during the groundbreaking ceremony, and many cars made in Japan have been blessed as part of the assembly process.
Moreover, every Japanese car factory built outside Japan has had a groundbreaking ceremony performed by a Shinto priest, with occasionally an annual visitation by the priest to re-purify.
A more personal purification rite is the purification by water.
This may involve standing beneath a waterfall or performing ritual ablutions in a river-mouth or in the sea (misogi).
This practice comes from Shinto history, when the kami Izanagi-no-Mikoto first performed misogi after returning from the land of Yomi, where he was made impure by Izanami-no-Mikoto after her death.
These two forms of purification are often referred to as harae.
A third form of purification is avoidance, that is, the taboo placed on certain persons or acts.
To illustrate, women were not allowed to climb Mount Fuji until 1868, in the era of the Meiji Restoration.
Although this aspect has decreased in recent years, religious Japanese will not use an inauspicious word like “cut” at a wedding, nor will they attend a wedding if they have recently been bereaved.
Shinto teaches that everything contains a kami.
Shinto’s spirits are collectively called yaoyorozu no kami, an expression literally meaning “eight million kami”, but interpreted as meaning “myriad”, although it can be translated as “many Kami”.
Kami come in many of forms where some are local and can be regarded as the spiritual being/spirit of a particular place while others appears to have been defined as eternal and described with more “god” like powers of creation.
Kami may also be ancestors or famous persons of Japanese history elevated to a higher status and available for placation at a shrine.
There is a bit of trouble with the definition of Kami being a “god” in the monotheistic definition of the word, but it is generally accepted to describe any supernatural force that is above the actions of man, and is very inclusive of all religious “god”, spirit figures, and mythological creatures in Shinto belief.
Frequently they are described taking human forms, inhabiting inanimate objects, becoming animals, and manifesting as “ghosts”.
All mythological creatures of the Japanese cultural tradition, of the Buddhistic traditional beliefs, Christian God, Hindu gods, Islamic Allah, various angels and demons of all faiths among others are considered Kami for the purpose of Shinto faith.
Unlike many religions, one does not need to publicly profess belief in Shinto to be a Shintoist.
Whenever a child is born in Japan, a local Shinto shrine adds the child’s name to a list kept at the shrine and declares him or her a “family child”.
After death an ujiko becomes a “family spirit”, or “family kami”.
One may choose to have one’s name added to another list when moving and then be listed at both places.
Names can be added to the list without consent and regardless of the beliefs of the person added to the list.
However, this is not considered an imposition of belief, but a sign of being welcomed by the local kami, with the promise of addition to the pantheon of kami after death.
Those children who die before addition to the list are called “water children”, and are believed to cause troubles and plagues.
Mizuko are often worshipped in a Shinto shrine dedicated to stilling their anger and sadness, called mizuko kuyō.
Because Shinto has co-existed with Buddhism for well over a millennium, it is very difficult to untangle Shinto and Buddhist beliefs about the world.
Though Buddhism and Shinto have very different perspectives on the world, most Japanese do not see any challenge in reconciling these two very different religions, and practice both.
Thus it is common for people to practice Shinto in life yet have a Buddhist funeral.