This week, we discuss the origins of everyone’s favorite maybe-not-technically-a-religion: Shinto. What are the roots of this tradition, and how did it evolve in premodern Japan? We’ll explore what little we know (and we know very little) of Shinto’s origins, its early structure, the changes introduced by Buddhism, and its ultimate form in Tokugawa Japan.
Listen to the episode
Shinto and the State, 1868-1988.
The Making of Modern Japan.
A History of Japan.
Images (Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation)
This mandala (sacred image) from Kasuga Shrine outlines a basic equivalency chart for Buddhist and Shinto dieties. It’s an excellent example of the Honji Suijaku theory.
Minor shrines such as this one (Omatono Tsunoten Shrine in Inagi) are all over Japan. They represent the third and largest layer of Shinto; localized worship of kami confined to a specific village or region. Unfortunately, they’re also the ones we know the least about.
Pilgrims to Ise Shrine during the Tokugawa Period. Pilgrimage was technically a religious rite, but more often it was used as an excuse for a totally awesome party.
Ise Shrine is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, ancestor of the Imperial Family. This is the modern incarnation of the shrine; the crysanthemum is the symbol of the imperial family, so the drapes over the honden (main hall) indicate the shrine’s connection to the Imperial Family.