Human Resources

Shinto

Further information

Interfaith calendar

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion. Unlike most other religions, Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no bodies of law and only a very loosely organised priesthood.

Approximately 84 per cent of the population of Japan follows two religions: Shinto and Buddhism.

Shinto belief has four affirmations:

  • tradition and family: The family is seen as the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved
  • love of nature: Nature is sacred; to be in contact with nature is to be close to the Gods
  • physical cleanliness: Followers of Shinto take baths, wash their hands and rinse out their mouths regularly
  • ‘Matsuri’: The worship and honour given to the Kami and ancestral spirits

Shinto exists in four main forms or traditions:

  • Koshitsu Shinto (the Shinto of the Imperial House): This involves rituals which are performed by the emperor. The most important ritual is Niinamesai, which makes an offering to deities of the first fruits of each year's grain harvest
  • Jinja (Shrine) Shinto: This is the largest Shinto group and the original form of the religion
  • Kyoha (Sectarian) Shinto: This consists of thirteen sects which were founded by individuals and each has its own doctrines and beliefs
  • Minzoku (Folk) Shinto: This is not a separate Shinto group and has no formal central organisation or creed; it is seen in local rural practices and rituals

These four forms of Shinto are closely linked. Shinto is a tolerant religion which accepts the validity of other religions; it is common for a believer to pay respects to other religions, their practices and objects of worship.

Festivals

Shogatsu: New Year (shogatsu or oshogatsu) is the most important holiday in Japan. 1 January is a very auspicious day, best started by viewing the new year's first sunrise (hatsu-hinode), and traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year ahead. Therefore, the day is supposed be full of joy and free of stress and anger, while everything should be clean. No work may be done on this day.

Toshi-goi-no-Matsuri: Toshi-goi-no-Matsuri is also known as the Yakuyoke festival. Yakuyuoke means a talisman, or omamori, which is designed to ward off evil influences. The festival is linked closely to the rites of passage in society and deals with the problems people faced at particularly difficult periods of their lives. There is the coming of manhood for boys at 17 and womanhood for girls at 19 – or genbuku – as it is called.

Setsubun: Setsubun means the day before the official calendar beginning of Spring. According to the old calendar it marks the end of winter. People on that day at home throw beans to expel bad fortune and invoke the good.

Hina-matsuri: Hina-matsuri is a festival of dolls to celebrate daughters in the family. The dolls wear Heian-age costumes and are sometimes very old, being in the family for generations. Traditional food, various celebrations and a shrine visit are associated with Hina -matsuri.

Shubun-sai: Shubun-sai is Equinox Day, a day for grave-visiting, in particular, and for remembering ancestors. It is closely associated with Buddhism but is nevertheless one of the annual cycle of events and national holidays of the year.