The Religion of Shinto

Traditional Religion of Japan

Detail of fushimi inari torii gates, Kansai region, Kyoto, Japan
Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Getty Images

Shinto, roughly meaning "the way of the gods," is the traditional religion of Japan. It centers upon the relationship between practitioners and a multitude of supernatural entities called kami who are associated with all aspects of life.


Western texts on Shinto commonly translate kami as spirit or god. Neither term works well for the entirety of kami, which span a wide range of supernatural beings, from unique and personified entities to ancestors to impersonal forces of nature.

Organization of the Shinto Religion

Shinto practices are determined largely by need and tradition rather than dogma. While there are permanent places of worship in the form of shrines, some of them in the form of vast complexes, each shrine operates independently of each other. The Shinto priesthood is largely a family affair being passed from parents to children. Each shrine is dedicated to a particular kami.

Four Affirmations

Shinto practices can be roughly summed up by the four affirmations:

  1. Tradition and family
  2. Love of nature – The kami are an integral part of nature.
  3. Physical cleanliness – Purification rites are an important part of Shinto
  4. Festivals and ceremonies – Dedicated to honoring and amusing the kami

Shinto Texts

Many texts are valued in the Shinto religion. They contain the folklore and history upon which Shinto is based, rather than being holy scripture. The earliest date from the 8th century CE, while Shinto itself has existed for more than a millennium before that point in time. Central Shinto texts include the Kojiki, the Rokkokushi, the Shoku Nihongi, and the Jinno Shotoki.

Relationship With Buddhism and Other Religions

It is possible to follow both Shinto and other religions. In particular, a great many people who follow Shinto also follow aspects of Buddhism. For example, death rituals are commonly performed according to Buddhist traditions, in part because Shinto practices focus primarily on life events – birth, marriage, honoring of kami – and not on afterlife theology.

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Beyer, Catherine. "The Religion of Shinto." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Beyer, Catherine. (2020, August 26). The Religion of Shinto. Retrieved from Beyer, Catherine. "The Religion of Shinto." Learn Religions. (accessed January 26, 2021).