Religious Beliefs

Do adherents of Shinto believe in angels?

Perhaps the closest formal analogy to the angel in Shinto tradition are the tennin, the Japanese version of Buddhism’s celestial nymphs called apsaras. They are spirits, but other than that, they do not function quite the way angels do in other traditions. Lovely celestial beings have sometimes been said to descend and dance in response to divinely beautiful music. If we focus on the functional parallels—on angels as messengers of the divine world—Shinto offers a number of analogies. But they don’t “look” at all like angels. These messengers are, for example, Inari’s fox and the monkey assistant of Sanno, “the mountain king.” Another functional aspect of angels is that of protection and generally mediating peace and blessing. Shinto psychology divides “soul” or “spirit” into two main types—positive and negative. Nigimitama are the benign spirits that either bestow blessing on or effect spiritual changes in people or natural objects. In that sense, they function somewhat like angelic spirits, but they were not necessarily created as spirits as angels are. They can be the spirits of the deceased that continue to roam the cosmos. A post-war sect called Byakko Shinko-kai, however, focused on a modified version of the “guardian angel” as an essential spiritual power.


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