What is Shinto?

Shintō is a set of ritual practices, ideas and spiritual values of which the early origins are lost in the mists of ancient Japanese history. There are more than 100,000 Shintō shrines across Japan today, many of which are linked in the National Association of Shrines (Jinja Honchō). At the same time each shrine has its own strong local roots and history. The shrines are dedicated to one or more divinities called kami, representing mysterious natural forces and recalling culture heroes of various kinds. Their power is tamed, enhanced and appropriated through rituals performed by qualified priests. Important themes in Shintō rituals of all kinds are purification and gratitude. Shintō shrines foster a strong sense of communal identity, and many ordinary persons participate with offerings to the kami, special visits or pilgrimages to the shrines, and through membership in cultic associations. Shrine calendars include important seasonal rites drawn from the ritual cycle of the imperial court since ancient times. The calendar may also include more generally current annual events and festivals, and others characteristic of the shrine in question. Having been influenced by various Asian traditions such as Buddhism and Daoism, as well as being redefined and adjusted over the centuries, Shintō today is a rich storehouse of resources from which people seek various kinds of guidance and assistance. Shrine etiquette includes rinsing the mouth and hands on arrival in the grounds, and visitors are expected to maintain a respectful attitude at all times.

© Shintō Kokusai Gakkai / International Shintō Studies Association