Shintoism in the Modern World
Japan's main religious tradition is a combination of the conventional Shinto beliefs integrated with the imported Buddhist practices. Long been considered the land of several million gods, Japanese base their traditional Shinto beliefs on this pantheon. But the introduction of Buddhism in the mid 500's A.D. forced an amalgamation of the two belief systems. Over time these two very different religious traditions blended together into a unique system practiced throughout Japan.
In order to purify himself, he washes off in a body of water which creates more kami in the process. From his left eye the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is born. From his right eye the moon deity, Tsukuyomi, is born. And from his nose the storm deity, Susanoo, is born. After years of fighting amongst the people of Japan, Amaterasu sent he grandson, Ninigi, to unite the Japanese people. He became the first emperor of Japan, which established the divinity the role of emperor had. PRACTICES Apart from subservience to the emperor, there are no set theological beliefs or moral standards in Shinto. Humans are thought to be naturally good with all worldly evil being attributed to bad kami. Worship and respect shown towards kami will bring purity and goodness to individuals. Shinto ‘worship’ is mainly conducted through ritualistic means. Some of these rituals are performed to gain the favor of specific kami. However, most rituals are performed for spiritual purification to ward off evil kami. Shrines are the primary location where rituals take place. Shrines are built to house one or more kami. It is here that Shintoists may pay respects to specific kami.
As the BBC points out, "Shinto can't be separated from Japan and the Japanese." This fact led to the fusion of Shinto with Japanese national identity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prior to the age of nationalism, Shinto was used to create a sense of allegiance not necessarily with the state but with the lineage of emperors that were the spiritual and political leaders of the Japanese people. Shinto infuses every aspect of daily life in Japan, including social and political culture. Shinto was hijacked by the military before the War to their own political ends." (1999) Lamont-rown states "...today members of the new religions-based spiritual regenerations tends to be both socially and politically conservative." (1999) the influence that is seen is the "contemporary trend for such member groupings to be more selective of their choice of candidates to support..." (Lamont-rown, 1999) Lamount-rown states that the Risshokosekai has five million members and has had considerable influence on the politics of Japan as have the Komeito which was founded in 1964 and is a political wing of Soka Gakkai." (Lamont-rown, 1999)
On the whole, the institutional 'separation' of Shinto and Buddhism is still evident in Japan, and most people are unaware that until 1868 Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples were more or less fully integrated with each other. However, most people attend both Shinto shrines (for purification, marriage etc.) and Buddhist temples (for funerals and memorial rites) as appropriate, without any sense of contradiction. Despite the institutional reforms of the 19th century Buddhas and kami are not separated in the mind of the ordinary worshipper.
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Bocking, B A Popular Dictionary of Shinto London: Curzon Press, 1996
Demerath, N.J. And Straight, Karen S. (1997) Religion, Politics, and the State: Cross-Cultural Observations. Cross Currents, Spring 1997, Vol. 47, Issue 1.
Furota, Hikotaro (2006) Influence of India on Buddhist Culture in Japan.CSIRD Discussion Paper 17. May 2006. Centre for Studies in International Relations and Development.
Kuroda, Toshio (1981) Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion: Translated by James C. Dobbins and Suzanne Gay, the Journal of Japanese Studies 7/1 (1981): pp. 1-21.
Lamont-Brown, Raymond (1999) Japan's New Spirituality. Contemporary Review -August 1999