What Religion Do The Japanese Follow?

By Michael Quesada July 07, 2018

What Religion Do The Japanese Follow?

A Brief Introduction to Shintoism

Japan is the most homogenous society on Earth.  It is not only ethnicity that unites them, but also religion.  Though it isn’t as dearly held as other religions, the native Japanese religion known as Shinto is widely practiced.

So what is Shintoism?  It means “the way of the gods”, and it has a very long history in Japan.

Kami is a term used for Shinto gods. The practices of Shintoism are spiritual.  These spirits take the form of things such as rain, wind, trees, mountains, rivers and fertility.  Shinto doctrine states that Kami lives in all things, living or not.  They believe that after human beings’ die, they become Kami.

Traditionally, Shinto is commonly used to keep the evil spirits out through prayers, purifications and offerings to the Kami.

Japanese Shinto Religion

This religion has no official sacred texts, formalized system of doctrine, and no founder.  There is also an understanding that the Shinto followers are to live in harmony and peacefully coexist with nature and other human beings.  This has allowed Shinto to exist in harmony not only as one religion but with other religious traditions as well.

There are no absolutes when it comes to Shinto in contrast to many other religions.  In this way, it is more similar to Buddhism or Taoism, than Christianity or Judaism.


From pre written history, Shinto has gradually evolved as the native religion of the Japanese.  There is an element of syncretism, because many elements of Buddhism and Confucianism have been incorporated into it.

Buddhist priests have actually become the superintendents of Shinto shrines.  A while later, they introduced their own images, ornaments, and ritual.  So by the end of the 8th and the early beginning of the 9th centuries, a man named Kobo Daishi established a doctrine which united Shinto and Buddhism by the name of Ryobu Shinto.  In Japanese, this means "the Shinto of two kinds".

In the new religion, there were many elements from Shintoism that were adopted from Confucianism.  One of the beliefs included the doctrines about the Japanese being higher than other people because the emperor was said to take over the world and that they were descendants from the gods.  These beliefs were important in assuring support for the expansion of the military of the Japanese Empire until Japan’s defeat during the second World War.

 Culture and beliefs

There is a symbolical separation of Kami from the worlds of the human beings. This symbolical separation is by a gate called Torii. It can be big forms of architecture or small enough to place on a table.

Torii - Japanese Shinto

Shinto also puts an emphasis on living harmoniously, but does not have much to say about afterlife.  Yomi, which means the land of the dead, is said to be the destination of all deceased.  It is often described as gloomy and mundane.

There are many Shinto symbols.  Among these the aforementioned torii gate, found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine.  The sword and the mirror, and a pair of foxes seen at the entrance to shrines for the deity named Inari.  Symbols are usually hidden or covered.

Principles of Moral Thought and Action

As mentioned previously there are a lot of elements adopted from Confucianism. This also includes the moral principles and actions.  It is believed that human beings have an innate moral code, and that they can be motivated by shame to avoid wrong doing.

Shinto Shrines

Shinto shrines, also called  Jinja, are the sacred locations of one or more kami, and there are about 80,000 in Japan. Shrines can be immediately identified by the presence of a sacred gateway or Torii.  It is managed by a head priest (known as Guji) and lower priests (known as Kannushi).  However, in some cases where there are smaller shrines, it is managed by a member of the shrine elders committee, known as the Sodai.

The typical Shinto shrine includes these common features:

  • The  sacred gate, Torii.
  • The Honden, or sanctuary which has an image of the shrines Kami.
  • The Goshintai, or sacred object inside the Honden which is invested with the spirit of the Kami.
  • The  sacred path (Sando) joining the Torii and Haiden.
  • The  oratory hall (Haiden) for ceremonies and worship.
  • The Haiden, which is a building for prayers and offerings.
  • The Saisenbako, a box for money offerings.
  • The Temizuya, a stone water trough for ritual cleansing.
  • The Kaguraden, a pavilion for ritual dancing and music.
  • Bigger shrines have a large assembly hall and stalls where charms are sold by shrine virgins called miko.


Since the shrines are sacred, worshippers must cleanse themselves by washing or cleansing their hands and mouth using water.  Then, they make a money offering (big or small), ring a bell or clap their hands twice in order to alert the kami before they bow and say their prayer.  A final clap means the prayer is over.

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What is the Japanese religion of Shinto?

Michael Quesada

Founder of this website; currently living vicariously through himself.

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