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Shinto

Shinto (meaning ``Way of the Gods'') is the native religion of Japan.It is not so much concerned with an afterlife as it is with this life. Although that may sound similar to Confucianism, they are in fact very different. Shinto evolved from the animistic, shamanistic ideas and practices of the stone age inhabitants (and later immigrants as well) and stresses the importance of importance of nature and cleanliness. In contrast to the rules, rituals, and concern for propriety which characterize Confucianism, (and Christianity for that matter) Shinto has no well developed theology. It prefers that we just live naturally. Thus, what few rituals there are with life's important events - birth, marriage, harvests, and the such. When Buddhism was introduced into Japan, it managed to coexist religiously, if not always politically, with Shinto because the Japanese saw them as complementing each other rather than competing with one another. Shinto is for this life and Buddhism is for the next. Even today, when many Japanese today are about as religious as many Americans--that is, not very--most Japanese get married in Shinto ceremonies and buried (well, cremated) in Buddhist ones.

For the record: like most other people on the planet, the early Japanese believed that there land was created by the gods and that they were therefore special. Like many other societies, their rulers were considered descendants of those same gods - the sun goddess in the case of Japan. Unlike most other societies, however, the Japanese never had to face the spectacle of their semi-divine ruler losing the kingdom to some barbarian horde. Thus, Japan was never given a reason to doubt the divine origin of their land (at least, not until the Second World War, but that is something for a later article). Since it is a myth, and not a terribly interesting one at that, and because I don't know it that well, I will not reproduce it here. There are two good books to read if you are interested in the early Japanese version of ancient Japanese history. The first is also the first extant Japanese book, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), dated 712 AD and the other is the Nihongi (I don't remember), dated 720 AD. The dates on both books are misleading since they were compiled from oral sources and added to over hundreds of years. Both have been translated into English, so knowledge of ancient Japanese in not necessary.


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Next: Buddhism Up: Intellectual Influences Previous: Intellectual Influences   Contents   Index