Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Do Shinto practitioners run private schools for their children?

Private schools equivalent to parochial educational systems in some other traditions have not been institutionally significant in the history of Shinto. Perhaps the closest thing to structured education in Shinto beliefs and values have been occasional government attempts to insert components of Shinto—i.e., traditional or national Japanese—ethics into school curricula. In 1937, for example, the Ministry of Education incorporated themes from an 1890 imperial document on education into a new ethics curriculum called “Principles of the National Entity” (Kokutai no hongi). Meant to implement the concept of “State Shinto,” the document emphasizes the historicity of the classic mythical narratives concerning the emperor’s divine descent. It praises unquestioning dedication to the corporate good of the Japanese people under the virtuous rule of the emperor. These pre-war governmental actions, however, are entirely different from the grassroots impulses that gave rise to private religious schools in traditions such as Islam and Christianity. There is really no Shin- to parallel. In fact, the Meiji and subsequent regimes’ attempt to teach ethics from on high, so to speak, explicitly forbade religious education on the local or shrine level. Since World War II, however, numerous shrines throughout Japan have developed programs for children and young people, including nursery schools and kindergartens. But these are exclusively social and cultural, rather than religiously educational, developments.


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