What is Shinto?

Shinto is the dominant religion of Japan. Its traditions call for the reverence of ancestors, prayer, and the observance of rituals. It is polytheistic, believing in many gods (kami), who are thought to be the forces behind nature as well as behind human conditions such as sickness, healing, and creativity. Followers of the Shinto religion believe these spirits are housed in shrines. Private shrines are erected in homes while public shrines can be highly elaborate, including multiple buildings as well as gardens. The latter are the goals of many religious pilgrimages; pilgrims pray and make offerings (of money and flowers) to the spirits.

Originating in Japan in ancient times, Shinto has an interesting modern history: In 1882 religious organizations were divided into two groups—state shrines and sectarian shrines. State Shinto was controlled by the government, which went so far as to proclaim divine origins for the Japanese emperor. After World War II (1939–45), state Shinto crumbled and Emperor Hirohito (1901–1989) was compelled to renounce his divinity. Sectarian Shinto religion still thrives in Japan today, where it has more than 3 million followers.


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