There are two main religions that are observed in Japan: Shinto and Buddhism. About 84% of the Japanese people identify themselves as either Shinto or Buddhist. Generally, Japanese people do not identify themselves as one religion or another, but instead adopt and practice their religions in a merged manner. In other words, traditional elements of both Shinto and Buddhism can be found in Japanese homes and lifestyles but the emphasis is not on the practice of those religions.
The origins of Shinto probably began around 500 B.C., and is generally a mix of nature worship and hero worship, combined with shamanism. The name Shinto comes from the Chinese words “shin tao” which mean “The Way of the Gods.” Shinto does not appear to have a founder, any doctrine, no written rules or body of law. Instead Shinto tells a story about the ‘god’s and their lives. These gods are called “Kami.” As the legend or story goes, a god-like couple gave birth to the Japanese islands. The islands, or their children, became the gods of the various Japanese clans. One of their daughters is considered the Sun Goddess and is portrayed as the ‘chief’ god. The gods are not comparable to say the Christian God, but instead are rather benign and just watch over and protect the people. Shintoism does not have it’s own moral code or a developed theology as most religions do. Shintoism does, however, have four Affirmations. The affirmations are:
- Tradition and family. The family is of utmost importance, and is the way in which tradition is carried out and preserved.
- Love of nature. Nature is considered sacred and being in contact with nature is related to closeness with the gods.
- Physical cleanliness. The Shinto people believe that cleanliness is next to godliness, taking frequent baths and even washing out their mouths often.
- “Matsuri”. The worship of the Kami and other ancestral spirits.
There are four main kinds of Shinto, but they work together in harmony and are expressed with tolerance and respect of each other.
Whereas Shintoism barely has a defined code of conduct or moral code, Buddhism defines very specific beliefs and practices.