Shinto is the ninth largest world religion with about four million followers, of which most live in Japan. There are several denominations within Shinto, which are generally the same religion but hold different emphases. The main distinctions in Shinto are :
The Shrine Shinto: the oldest and most prevalent of the Shinto types, which constitutes the main current of Shinto tradition.
Sect Shinto: is comprised of thirteen groups formed during the 19th century. They do not have Shrines, but conduct religious activities in meeting halls. Shinto sects include the mountain-worship sects, who focus on worshipping mountains, faith-healing sects, purification sects, Confucian sects, and Revival Shinto sects. Konkōkyō, Tenrikyō, and Kurozumikyō, although operating separately from modern Shinto, are considered to be forms of Sect Shinto.
Folk Shinto: includes the numerous but fragmented folk beliefs in deities and spirits. Practices include divination, Spirit Possession, and Shamanic Healing. Some of their practices come from Taoism, Buddhism or Confucianism, but most come from ancient local traditions.
State Shinto: was the result of the Meiji Restoration and the Downfall of the Shogun. The Meiji restoration attempted to purify Shinto by abolishing many Buddhist and Confucian ideals; also, the Emperor was once again considered divine. After Japan's defeat in World War II, State Shinto was abolished and the Emperor was forced to renounce his divine right.
The origin of Shinto is somewhat uncertain, some claim that it has always been in Japan while others claim it came it culturally through Korea or China through the Korean peninsula. In the early centuries BCE, each tribe and area had its own collection of gods with no formal relationship between them. Around the third to fifth centuries, the ancestral deities of the Emperor of Japan and the Imperial family were given prominence over others and a narrative made up to justify it. The result was the mythologizing of the Record of Ancient Matters in which it was claimed that the imperial line descended directly from the sun-goddess.
The introductions of writing in the 5th century and Buddhism in the 6th century from Korea had a profound impact on the development of a unified system of Shinto beliefs. In the early Nara Period the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki were written by compiling existing myths and legends into a unified account of Japanese mythology. These introduced Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist themes into Japanese religion. But in 1868 Shinto was made the official religion of Japan and consequently Buddhism was outlawed.
As time went on, Shinto was used in the advertising of nationalists' popular sentiments. In 1890, the "Imperial Rescript on Education" was passed, and all students were required to ritually recite its oath to "offer yourselves courageously to the State" as well as protect the Imperial family. These practices were used to fortify national unity through patriotic observance at Shrines. This use of Shinto gave to Japanese patriotism a special tint of mysticism and cultural introversion, which became more pronounced as time went on.
The State Shinto came to an end with the end of World War II, when ]]United States of America|Americans]] brought the concept of Separation of Church and State to Japanese shores after the Japanese surrender. Soon after the war, the Emperor issued a statement renouncing his claims to the status of "living god". Since World War Two, the number of Japanese citizens identifying their religious beliefs as Shinto has declined a great deal.
Shinto teaches that everything contains a Kami. Kami is a difficult word to define, even in its native tongue, but it has been taken to mean "divine." The nearest equivalent is a Greek demi-god. Every rock, every squirrel, every living and nonliving thing contains a kami. There is also a main kami for groups of things: for example, there is a kami within a human, and there is also a main kami residing over all the humans of the world. Until the end of World War II, The Tenno (Emperor) was believed be a Kami from descent of Amaterasu the sun-goddess, the heir of the first Emperor of Japan and father of all Japanese. Though there is no “God” that governs over all in earth.
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 they becomes a “family kami". 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 Mizuko (Japanese for "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.
Though Shinto has no absolute commandments outside of living "a simple and harmonious life with nature and people", there are said to be "Four Affirmations" of the Shinto spirit:
- Tradition and the family: The family is seen as the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved. Their main celebrations relate to birth and marriage.
- Love of nature: Nature is sacred; to be in contact with nature is to be close to the kami. Natural objects are worshiped as containing sacred spirits.
- Physical cleanliness: Followers of Shinto take baths, wash their hands, and rinse out their mouths often.
- Matsuri: Any festival dedicated to the Kami, of which there are many each year.
Shinto does not have any canonized or inspired text. The books it treats as holy are descriptions of Shinto practice. The mythical histories Kojiki and Nihon shoki describe the deeds and genealogies of the gods from the creation of Japan by the primal pair, Izanagi and Izanami. Compendia of ceremonies and ancient prayers (Norito) serve as ceremonial liturgies and textbooks on ritual. The Engi Shiki, a compilation of government regulations, carries details of shrine rites, kegare, and other important Shinto matters, as well as most of the norito, and is hence regarded as sacred. The so-called Five Books of Shinto (Shinto Gobusho), so hallowed that only senior priests were permitted to read them, were compiled by priests in the 13th century from other sources.