Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan, and is a central religious perspective that permates Japanese culture even as it includes other religions like Buddhism and Taoism. Religion in Japan, indeed, is a complex mixture of several religions, including Shinto, whose beliefs, traditions and rituals blend to become a distinct part of Japenese life.
There are several things this religion does NOT have:
- no founder
- no written documents before the 8th century CE
- no list of formalized ethics
- no system of dogmatic beliefs or creeds
- no inclusive, canonical scripture
- no organized system of theology
Lacking these, many people wonder if it is a religion at all and, if so, what it IS exactly. In short, it is a diverse and ancient set of traditional and ritual practices that create and express the natural relationship between the Shinto gods (called "kami") and the people and places of Japan. It is definitely a religion if for no other reason than it's emphasis on ritual, sacred space and the divinities known as kami.
The name of this religion comes from two Japanese words: shin and do. Shin is another word for kami, and do refers to the Tao (or Dao). So, technically, this religion is the "way of the kami."
Shinto continues as a permeating cultural worldview and set of practices in contemporary Japan. Most citizens celebrate its holidays, participate in festivals and will include its features in their important life events like births, wedding and funerals. Moreover, many people in Japan had their own birth recorded in a Shinto shrine, which for a few centuries was required by law. Therefore, some estimates indicate over 100 million followers. However, when counting only those who self-identify as active participants and/or believers in the religion, then number reduces greatly to about 4 million.
Shinto Gods - the Kami