The prospectus written in establishing ISSA
No one can claim to be acquainted with Japan without understanding Shintō, the main indigenous religious tradition of the country. The two ideograms used to write “Shintō” 神道are shin (神 i.e.divinity, also pronounced kami) and tō (道i.e. way, also pronounced michi), so that the word means “the way of the gods.” A kami of central significance since time immemorial is the sun goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami, viewed as the ancestress of the imperial line; at the same time the ancient myths contain references to numerous kami, their relations to each other and their roles in the development of the country. While Shintō is in one sense defined by all this, it subsequently interacted with other religious systems such as Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, which were brought to Japan from neighboring Asian countries.
As the Kodansha Encyclopedia describes it, Shintō can be regarded as a two-sided phenomenon. On the one hand it is a loosely structured set of practices, beliefs and attitudes rooted in local communities, and on the other it is a clearly defined, organized religion relating to the imperial line and the Japanese nation. These two basic aspects, which are not entirely separate, reflect fundamental features of Japanese sociological structures and psychological attitudes.
A large proportion of the Japanese population identifies with Shintō in some way, and it has an immense influence on the nation’s economic and social behavior. Yet relatively is known about Shintō outside Japan’s borders, and it is often not treated in programs of religious studies or related academic fields. As a result misunderstandings easily arise about the country and its people. In particular, it is sometimes simply regarded as a political ideology which has contributed to conflict and war. Such oversimplifications overlook the flexible and open character of Shintō which has usually been dominant.
The International Shintō Studies Association (ISSA) has therefore been established to encourage a wider understanding of Shintō, to dispel misunderstandings, and beyond that to disseminate knowledge of related features of Japanese culture.
Activities and aims include the organization of symposia on Shintō in Japan and overseas; support for the establishment of Shintō chairs at overseas universities; invitations to overseas scholars to carry out research into Shintō in Japan; the establishment an international Shintō library; the publication and promotion of books and other literature on Shintō; the development of a comprehensive Shintō dictionary in English; provision of venues for the discussion of Shintō research; the encouragement of Shintō studies at all levels, and the organization of events which will enhance the understanding of Shintō around the world.
A fund for this program has been generously established by several donors, while further donations are still sought from individuals and organizations.