History and Sources

What other early scriptures are especially important for Shinto practitioners? Is there a Shinto scriptural canon?

Scholars refer to the various sacred texts collectively as shinten, “texts of the deities.” But although they generally agree on the importance of a certain set of works, there has never been an official process of “canonization” by which representatives of the tradition have formally declared certain texts as definitive.

Here are the most important of the classical documents: From the early eighth century, the Fudoki (“Records of Wind and Earth”) provided data about very early religious rituals from major shrines. The early ninth century Kogo-shui (807), or “Gleaning of Ancient Words,” commented on previous documents in an attempt to legitimate the Imbe family against their enemies, the Nakatomi clan. The Manyoshu, “Collection of Countless Leaves,” anthologizes a large selection of seventh- and eighth-century Japanese poetry of various genres. Some Shinto scholars have insisted that these poems represent the purest form of Japanese literary expression. First published in 927, the Engi-shiki includes a collection of more than two dozen prayer texts. A work called the Kujiki (also Sendai Kuji Hongi), or “Records of Ancient Happenings”) bears the date 620 but was probably contrived as late as the ninth century to compete with the similar-sounding Kojiki in antiquity and authority. It amounts to what some traditions might call an “apocryphal” work—not what it claims to be, but still full of valuable material. Finally, a group of thirteenth-century texts called the Five Shinto Scriptures (Shinto gobusho) emphasize the antiquity of Japan’s Shinto heritage. Seventeenth-century scholars who studied these texts as prime examples of Japanese culture and values went on to spearhead the National Learning school of thought.


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