Outline of Shintoism

This post on the Japanese religion gives the basics. Good for a quick review. At the end of this post, please see a Christian reaction.

This is a Japanese religion that honors and worships various gods and spirits.

Japanese Religion of Shinto: The Big Picture



Prior to 3rd century CE Polytheism (kami), animism, ancestor worship; popular gods: Amaterasu and Susa-no-o
4th to 9th centuries Kami; introduction of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism; Ryobu Shinto (6th to 9th centuries)
9th to 14th centuries Revival of Shinto alongside other religions
14th to 19th century Foreign influence; Samurai in 17th to 19th centuries; constitutional religious freedom in 19th century
19th to 20th centuries Religious freedom, esp. after WWII; Separation of religion and state; Emperor is not divine
*Japanese religious life is syncretistic: one may be a Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian, and Shintoist

*Caution! Other eras and dates are possible


I. Shinto or Shintoism

A. Shen + Tao = Shinto (Way of the Gods)

B. Japanese Nationalism

C. Expression of animism and nature veneration

Japanese Mythology

I. Pre-Sixth Century CE: Kami is focus

A. God(s), spirit, hero, holy person, ancestor, object evoking numinous feelings, deities of heaven and earth

B. Spirits of humans, animals, trees, plants, seas, mountains, etc.

C. Especially uunusual natural things, e.g., huge tree; lone big boulder

II. Kojiki

A. “Chronicles of Ancient Events”

B. Composed 7th to 8th centuries

1. Response to Chinese culture

C. “Age of the Gods”

1. Japan created by two kami: Izanagi and his consort Izanami

2. They are parents of other gods (kami)

3. Amaterasu: sun goddess

a. All emperors descend from her

4. Susa-no-o: storm god or hot wind god

History of Shinto

I. Before 300 CE

A. First emperor enthroned

1. Japan is a young culture (compared to Chinese culture)

B. Kami worship and shrines proliferate

II. Chinese Influence (after 300 CE)

A. Chinese and Korean Merchants and Missionaries

B. Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism present after fourth c. CE

1. Influence missing: Hinduism.

C. Buddhism most influential

1. Reaction: Foreign god is scary—you might offend native kami

2. Mahayana Buddhism entrenched by 6th c.

D. Four reactions

1. Shinto is strengthened

2. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are revelations of kami

3. Ryobu Shinto (Two-Aspect Shinto)

a. Buddha and Shinto: Two sides of same coin

4. Japanese version of Buddhism

a. Zen, Pure Land, Nichiren

III. Revival of Shinto

A. Reformers

1. Shinto must dominate

B. Tokugawa Regime (1600-1867)

1. Official support of Shinto

2. Military Leader: Shogun

3. Repress Buddhism and Christianity

4. Confucianism allowed

C. Samurai

1. Bushido: Warrior Code

2. Loyalty to feudal lord

3. Courage in battle

4. Lay down life for lord

5. Honor before / above death

6. Polite to lord and authorities

a. Peasants are another story (abusing them is a-ok!)

7. Seppuku: Rite of Suicide

D. Human reaction at shrines

1. Human must be purified and harmonized before kami

a. E.g., Before entering Shinto shrine, worshipper must purify hands and mouth with water

IV. Modern Era

A. Tokugawa isolation ends in 1853

1. Commodore Perry forces opening

B. Constitution of 1889

1. Religious freedom (officially)

Three Major Branches of Shinto

I. State Shinto (or Jinja = Shrine)

A. 110k shrines and 16k priests under state subsidy

B. Each dedicated to local deity or event

C. Grand Imperial Shrine to Amaterasu

1. Torii = Archway

D. Goal of State Shinto: foster patriotism & loyalty

II. Sectarian Shinto

A. Reaction against State Shinto

B. Three categories

1. Mountain and nature worship and asceticism

2. Shamanistic and faith healing

a. e.g., Miki Nakayama and Tenrikyo movements

3. Traditional mythology

III. Domestic Shinto

A. Most common

B. Kami-dana (god-shelf)

C. Symbols

1. Plaques w/ family names

2. Patron god

3. Objects bought at shrines

D. Daily offerings

1. Food, drink, lanterns, flowers, incense

E. Funeral rituals for Buddhism

Christian Reaction and Reply

Let’s use bullet points to keep things simple and clear. First let’s talk about what we can learn from this religion.

  • Shinto teaches moral law, which benefits society.
  • Shinto teaches respect for nature, which benefits society.
  • Honoring dead ancestors is beneficial and admirable.

Here are the differences between Shinto and the Christianity that follows New Testament theology closely (as opposed to later traditions).

  • The written Gospels teach that evil spirits exist and harass people. Any worship of spirits is bad and misguided.
  • Respecting nature is good, but worshipping or venerating or “being one” with nature is misguided because God is the Creator of nature and lives outside of it. He is not “one” with it.
  • Honoring dead ancestors is good, but praying and offering food to them as if they haunt or visit the place is bad.
  • God ordains that people die once, and then they meet him for judgment. They don’t come back to live in the presence of humans.
  • Any contacting by incantations or magic of the spirit world or dead ancestors is bad. It opens the door to demonic influence.
  • Any healing outside of Christ’s name or by a mixture of Christ and kami opens the door to demonic influence.
  • Any religion that teaches polytheism is on the wrong track. It opens the door to demonic influence.
  • God loves people so much that he sent his unique and special Son into the world to rescue it from its self-deception. God is Love.
  • The Holy Spirit replaces and displaces any Shinto spirit.

It is always right for a follower of Shinto to receive Jesus Christ into his heart and life by the power of the Holy Spirit. All the Shinto follower has to do is repent of his sins, ask Christ into his heart, and believe that Jesus is Lord over all spirits and gods and over the Shinto follower’s heart.


Ten Big Differences between Christianity and Other Religions












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