Shinto (“Way of the Gods”), or Shintoism, is an ancient Japanese religion with many practitioners still today. Shintoism is used to connect the modern day Japan with it’s ancient roots. Shintoism dates all the way back to the 7th century, recorded in the Kokiji and Nihon Shoki. Shintoism has many “deities”, known as Kami, that come in many different forms, some as animals, some human in appearance. Humans and Kami exist in the same world, unlike other religions which may have a “plane” in which the deities or spirits reside.
Types of Shintoism
There are several different kinds of Shinto expression all with it’s own rituals and practices.
Shrine Shinto – The most common of all the different types, and the one mostly practiced today. Summer festivals, good luck charms, wish making are all practiced under this type of Shintoism.
Folk Shinto – Includes many different beliefs of several spirits and deities. Some of the practices come from Taoism or Buddhism and include possession, spiritual healers, and divination.
Koshinto – Means “old Shinto” and dates back from the time before Buddhism. It is based on Ainu and Ryukyuhan practices and continues the restoration movement started by Hirata Atsutane.
Shintoism teaches that all living things hold within them a “Kami” or “Spiritual energy.” Kami are objects of worship, and can take many different forms. Things such as natural disasters, the sun, rocks, ancestral spirits, rivers, etc could all be considered Kami. Kami is a very broad term and encompasses many different concepts. There are some key differences from old and modern Shintoism, one being that things that were considered Kami in the old religion are no longer considered Kami by the new practitioners.
The ancient belief was that Kami were the divine forces of nature. Things like rivers, trees, boulders, even rice were beautiful and the life force or Kami which inhabited all these things should be revered. Modern Shintoist believe that Kami are noble anthropomorphic spirits which have authority. One example of this is the sun goddess Amaterasu. These Kami can be considered deities, but much like the Greek gods are not omnipotent and have flaws.