View Full Version : Book: "Shinto - At the Fountain-head of Japan"

Nathan Scott
12th January 2002, 03:26

I just obtained a copy of "Shinto - At the Fountain-head of Japan", by Jean Herbert; London 1967. It is a good sized hard backed volume covering Shintoism in English, though OOP and apparently hard to find.

I thought to look for it based off a reference to it in one of the Aikido books by John Stevens, in which he sites this book and says that it is an invaluable resource on Shinto in the English language.

It just came today, so I haven't really had a chance to read through it much yet, but it does seem very comprehensive and well written.

I guess I was wondering if anyone else has read this and cared to offer any comments?


13th January 2002, 23:39
Mr. Scott,
You should try and find a copy of "Kami no Michi
The Way of the Kami" by Yukitaka Yamamoto (Tsubaki
America Press).
This is one of the best books around on Shinto.

Jason House

Nathan Scott
14th January 2002, 00:22
Mr. House,

Thanks for the tip. I'll look into it.


14th January 2002, 23:33

Comments? Errr...

1. Congratulations!

2. How much did it cost?

3. Where did you find it?

If I were to step into scholarly mode, I would say that while research in a number of areas has moved beyond what is in this volume, it is still the best all-around reference (both breadth and depth) available in the English language.

There are other works that treat particular aspects of Shinto, or forms or Shinto more exhaustively and/or convey the feeling of Shinto practice, but if you're doing any serious study of the subject, this is a great place to start.

Practice is a different matter, but study is always good preparation for the moment when you find a teacher, if you're looking for one.

Best regards,

Fred Little

Diane Mirro
15th January 2002, 18:41
You have my envy, Nathan! Herbert's book is probably one of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject available in English. I first found it in a college library back in 1995. I had two more opportunities to study it while doing uchi deshi trainings with Hendricks Sensei at Aikido of San Leandro. Since then, I have hunted on and off for a reasonably-priced copy (that is, under $100).

Of course, the major dilemma with it is that its author is not Japanese--therefore, the emphasis, or lack thereof, pertaining to some of the subject areas may be skewed. On the other hand, the very fact that Herbert was a Westerner may make this a more understandable resource for us fellow Westerners. Another excellent book in a similar vein is John K. Nelson's "A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine" (1996, ISBN 0-295-97500-8, paperback)

A third source I enjoy using for Japanese cultural perspective is "We Japanese," by the Fujiya Hotel, LTD., Miyonoshita, Hakone. It is a fascinating book that was originally published between 1934 and 1950 in three volumes, intended for the use of hotel guests. The edition I have is dated 1950, string-bound on thin parchment paper. It is stuffed full of customs, folk beliefs, mythology, ceremonies and other aspects that the Japanese writers felt were interesting and important for Westerners to know. Of course, that very emphasis ALSO skews the results...

Obviously, studying the foundation books of Shinto--that is, the Nihonji and the Kojiki--in their original language would be most appropriate for anyone undertaking a serious project in researching the history of Shinto. I have two different English translations of the Kojiki--Basil Chamberlain's and Donald Philippi's--which I prefer--and it is enlightening to see how different these two authors have interpreted the same material.

Sigh. Unless we can magically duplicate the background of a Japanese upbringing, replete with fluency and literacy in the language, we will always be at a disadvantage in trying to gain a full understanding of the culture. It would be an interesting exercise to look at some books written by Japanese authors, for a Japanese public, on such topics as life and religion in the United States. We would probably laugh and shake our heads at some of the inaccuracies or viewpoints. However, that is what I find so wonderful about studying other cultures, and why the subject is endlessly fascinating.

Nathan Scott
15th January 2002, 22:32
I found the Herbert book through a rare book search on the net (there are a handful of good OOP search services).

There was a shop in England that ended up having a used first edition copy in excellent condition, and it only cost $60.00, not including a few buck for shipping!

The book is 622 pages and does have a few illustrations, as well as quite a bit of specific Shinto terminology.

I've been reading through the Philippi version of the Kojiki as well, which is pretty good. Don't have the Nihonji or Nihon Shoki yet.

Shinto is an area of interest to me; especially the original misogi practices, as I feel they would compliment my practice of bi-annual shugyo. I'm also researching early references to "in/yo ho" for an essay I'm working on, which appears to have first been discussed in the Kojiki.

Good stuff.

P Goldsbury
16th January 2002, 00:41
Hello Nathan,

Happy New Year!

I have Herbert's book in French (the English version is a translation), but I agree with Fred Little's comments. In particular, two scholars (Toshio Kuroda and Anna Seidel) have written some interesting stuff on early Shinto and its links with Taoism, thus Herbert is somewhat dated.

As for the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in Japanese, good luck. I use both for a class I teach here on nationhood and creation myths. The editions I use are part of a series called Nihon Koten Bungaku Zenshu, published by Kogakkan. There is the "original text", with a modern translation, but my students sometimes have trouble with the modern translation: they cannot read some of the characters. Of course, they cannot read the original text (which I suppose would correspond to something like "Beowulf" or "Gawain and the Green Knight" in English).

Mention has been made that Herbert was not Japanese, but I think this works both ways. On the one hand, a non native does not have the linguistic intuitions and cultural baggage of the native; on the other hand, this cultural baggage can sometimes be an impediment. For example, the catalogue of the recent Shinto exhibition at the British Museum in London presents a certain 'official view' of Shinto, namely, the view of Japan's Cultural Affairs Agency and Imperial Household Agency. The catalogue was edited by Victor Harris (in itself an indication that the native/non-native distinction cuts both ways) and received a very critical review in the Herald Tribune. I can see why.

Nevertheless, Herbert's book is a good book. Other more recent discussions in English are the relevant chapters in the new six-volume "Cambridge History of Japan".

Best regards,

Peter Goldsbury
P A Goldsbury,
Graduate School of Social Sciences,
Hiroshima University

Nathan Scott
16th January 2002, 01:26
Hello Mr. Goldsbury,

Happy New Year to you too!

Thanks for adding to the insight. I'll read through what I have so far, and keep my eyes open for the other works referenced above.

There does not seem to be any shinto presense here in Southern California, aside from a group called the "Shumeikai", which I understand to be a hybrid or sorts. I'll have to stick to the books for the time being I suppose.


Earl Hartman
16th January 2002, 02:47

In Washington state there is a branch shrine of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Japan. The head priest is an American who, I have been told, seems to know his stuff. Perhaps he could direct you to some good literature on the subject.

Check them out at:


Regarding Westerners and their ability, or lack thereof, to understand Japanese culture, Shinto in particular, I had a very funny Shinto encounter in Japan, as follows:

I was returning from kyudo practice one evening (summer, I think), when from down the street I heard what sounded like gagaku music. I looked down the street and saw light from two lanterns illuminating some sort of temporary enclosure set up at the front of a house. Two older men in yukata motioned me to come over, and when I did I saw that a carport had been converted into a shrine with a large kamidana piled high with offerings, before which rested an omikoshi. I inquired what was going on and was told that the local shrine was having its annual festival for the deity which protected the locality, which/who was enshrined at the local jinja. After presenting offerings and drinking sacred sake (omiki), the inhabitants of the locality protected by the deity would carry the omikoshi around the borders of the neighborhood to invoke the protection of the deity for the coming year, after which they would repair to the shrine and offer prayers and sacred dances to the deity.

Hot damn, I thought, I am finally getting a clear, if rudimentary, explanation of basic Shinto practices, much better than the blank stares, shrugs, or embarassed giggles I usually got when I asked Hiroshi Sixpak what Shinto was all about. So, I said, this is Japanese religion (shukyo), right? The two guys looked puzzled and then started shaking their heads vigorously, saying no, no, this isn't religion at all.

I'm sure there is a haiku or something in there, but I haven't figured it out yet. I can only conclude that the word "shukyo" is understood by Japanese to refer to western-style religion and that they look at Shinto in a very different way than is suggested by the word "shukyo".

Still, silly Westerner that I am, when I see shrines, altars, robed priests, offerings, various ceremonies and cryptic prayers, I assume something religious is going on. It is very interesting that the Japanese do not see it as such, if that is indeed actually the case.

Diane Mirro
16th January 2002, 23:20
There is an additional, affiliated shrine to Kannagara Jinja in Washington state--that is, the branch of the Grand Tsubaki Shrine in the city of Stockton, California.

I have visited this beautiful shrine, which is in the backyard of a standard suburban house in a typical neighborhood. At the time of my visit, there were two priests in attendence--Revs. Yukihiko and Ochiai. They performed the various seasonal ceremonies at the shrine, as well as rituals (such as weddings and house blessings) in other areas, including out of state.

I found the two of them to be very welcoming and informative. One was soon to return to Japan--he had been here seven years helping to get the shrine established.

The shrine's address is: 1545 West Alpine Avenue, Stockton, CA 95204. Their phone number in 1997 was 209-466-5323. They were publishing a newsletter called Tsubaki News--I do not know if it is still available.

It is most courteous to call and ask permission to visit. And please remember that this is a special place--do not just go snapping away photos without asking first.

There is also a Shinto center in NYC, across the street from the UN. I have not been there, so I cannot speak for who they are and what they are doing. I just saw a mention of them on the Internet.

Nathan Scott
16th January 2002, 23:32
Thanks for the Shrine contact info. I've visited a handful of Shrines and Temples in Japan (including Ise and Meiji Jingu), so am not totally foreign to the etiquette.

It's also good to know that the priests are willing to travel in order to hold ceremonies. This could be the way to go until we have local representation in Southern California.


30th January 2002, 06:06
Hello All,
I'm very glad to see people interested in Shinto, but I must say that Tsubaki America is only in Granite Falls,WA at this time. The Stockton location has been closed.
There is a new guest house (kaikan)at the Granite Falls location, and all visitors interested in shinto are welcome.

For further information you should contact.
Koichi Barrish, Head priest of Tsubaki Gand Shrine/ America

or access the website at:

Christian Pointer

2nd February 2002, 04:22
Could Mr. Scott or Matsuba please send me the ISBN for the books they refer to? Thanks guys.

Dave Gordon

Nathan Scott
4th February 2002, 22:52
"SHINTO - At the Fountain-head of Japan"
by Jean Herbert. London; George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1967.

I couldn't find an ISBN number anywhere in it, but since it has been long out of print, it wouldn't help you anyway. The above information should be adequate to search for a copy or find it in a library.

I believe that "Kami no Michi" is available and sold through the American Shinto shrine referenced above. Try following the links provided.


14th February 2002, 23:48

Read Herbert with extreme caution. He lacked any historical or scholarly skepticism and merely repeated everything he was told. Much of what he recounts cannot be found in any other source, which is valuable in some ways, but almost everything he writes is problematic or wrong in certain ways too.

An excellent source for accurate information about Japanese religions is the *Japanese Journal of Religious Studies.* It is published by Nazan University in Nagoya and can be downloaded via the Internet for free from their website: http://www.ic.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/

For recent reliable scholarship on Shinto, see:

Shinto in history: ways of the kami. Edited by John Breen and Mark Teeuwen. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2000.

Grapard, Allan G. The protocol of the gods: a study of the Kasuga cult in Japanese history. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

The last chapter of Grapard's book is especially useful for understanding how Shinto was transformed from a very sophisticated component of Japanese Buddhism into a a hollow shell that could be manipulated for political purposes.

For an account of some of the difficulties that arise when studying Shinto, see my review article:

Bodiford, William. Review of Mark Teeuwen, Watarai Shinto: An Intellectual History of the Outer Shrine in Ise. Journal of Japanese Studies vol. 24, no 2 (Summer, 1998): 361-378.

Good luck,

Earl Hartman
15th February 2002, 00:36
Shinto as a component of Buddhism? I studied Japanese religion briefly when I was in Japan and was told of a theory that allowed Shintoists to believe that the Buddha was a manifestation of the kami and allowed Buddhists to believe that the Shinto kami were manifestations of the Buddha (the Honji Suijaku theory, or something like that).

Anyway, the religious practices we now know today as Shinto, though perhaps on a less organized level, predated Buddhism, or so I have been led to believe. At what point, and how, was Shinto subsumed into Buddhism?

Nathan Scott
15th February 2002, 20:55
Professor Bodiford,

Thanks very much for your response!

Insight such as this is why I posted the subject here. I've wasted a great deal of time over the last twenty years or so reading what is published on martial arts, and then re-learning what I thought I knew after the proper "filters" were developed.

I'm hoping to avoid this tiring learning curve when reading about other subjects! I'll take what Herbert says with a grain of salt and search for supporting references. I look forward to finding the other references you listed as well.

On a more personal note, I hope you had a good holiday season and new year. I meant to write to you earlier, but have been bogged down with responsibilities and travel.

Thanks again,

26th February 2002, 02:10
Originally posted by Earl Hartman
. . . the religious practices we now know today as Shinto, though perhaps on a less organized level, predated Buddhism, or so I have been led to believe. At what point, and how, was Shinto subsumed into Buddhism?

Dear Earl:

The complexity of this topic (and my own busy schedule) prevents me from attempting to address it with the adequacy it deserves via such a limited medium (electronic bulletin boards). The construction of social identities, their transformation over time, and their labeling by observers for various purposes (political, religious, economic, academic, etc.) cannot be discussed without careful stipulation of methodological assumptions and definition of terms (etc.). When I teach courses on Japanese religions at UCLA, I assign my students to read many books (such as the ones cited above) as well as many more articles. I lecture day after day. I answer student questions inside the classroom and meet with students during my office hours. Nonetheless, even after all of that effort, when I read the final exam essays written by those students, I always discover that 10% to 20% of them have misunderstood key points.

Let it suffice to say in this forum that specialists in the history of religions begin with the methodological assumption that something that they can identify as "religious" plays an important roll in all human societies in all places and in all times. (Of course, they cannot agree on a definition of what they mean by "religious.") Therefore, they assume that there must have been some kinds of religious practices among the various communities who populated the islands of Japan prior to the arrival of Buddhism (ca. 6th century). The question is not the existence of pre-Buddhist religion, but what to call it. Since the 18th century it has been called "shinto." Recently, a number of scholars have challenged the usefulness of that designation. In other words, they ask:

Does it really help our understanding of Japanese culture to use the same name for the practices commonly associated with "shinto" today (20th & 21st centuries) and for religious practices of the 4th and 5th centuries?

There are a number of reasons why I argue that the answer is: "No, it is not helpful." I will list these reasons in the following order: pre-Buddhist Japan, Buddhist Japan, modern Japan.

1. Reasons why the label "shinto" is not helpful for understanding the religious life of pre-Buddhist Japan.

The label "shinto" implies a country-wide unity which probably did not exist. Archaeological evidence suggests a wide diversity of different cultural groups located in different geographic regions with different lifestyles. Usually differences in lifestyles find expression in differences in religious practices. Modern ideologies that assert the racial purity and homogeneity of the Japanese seek to divert our attention away from religious regionalism. Thus, applying the label "shinto" to ancient Japan helps that ideological agenda succeed.

The label "shinto" implies a cultural uniqueness which probably did not exist. Archaeological evidence reveals that among the geographic variations of north-eastern Asia there are many parallels among the grave goods, tomb wall paintings, jewels (magatama), etc., found in pre-Buddhist islands of Japan, in the peninsula of Korea, and in plains of Mongolia. We never talk about the shinto of pre-Buddhist Korea or the shinto of pre-Buddhist Mongolia. Why, then, should we do so in the case of Japan? Modern ideologies that assert the uniqueness of Japan seek to divert our attention away continental parallels. Thus, applying the label "shinto" to ancient Japan helps that ideological agenda succeed.

The label "shinto" implies that we know more than we really do about pre-Buddhist Japan. The texts usually cited for knowledge of pre-Buddhist Japan (e.g., Kojiki, Nihon shoki, Man'yoshu) all were written for political purposes during the 8th century. By that time the ruling elites already had been promoting Buddhism as a state religion for several generations. Those early texts are full of information about Buddhism and Confucianism and other Chinese cosmological and religious concepts. Previous scholars attempted to exclude those elements from consideration and to regard anything remaining as evidence of "shinto." The problem with that approach is that if we compare the remaining elements with what we know about the roles of local gods as described in the literature of other Buddhist and/or Confucian societies, then we can find similar examples in those texts. These comparisons show how impossible it is to separate "cultural survivals" from "cultural imports." Thus, the label "shinto" encourages an inadequate study of early Japanese texts in isolation from the study of non-Japanese Asian literature which would otherwise help illuminate them.

The label "shinto" tends to conflate the imperial mythology described by texts like Kojiki and Nihon shoki with all other religious phenomena of early Japan. Imperial mythology describes a social order in which the head of the royal family enjoys a divine right to rule over regional lords who, in turn, enjoy the divine right to rule over lands and people. Ordinary people have no connection to the gods of the ruling elites and in many cases are expressly forbidden from worshiping them. The political agenda of this mythology probably bore little connection to the religious practices of ordinary people. Nonetheless, applying the label "shinto" to ancient Japan effectively obscures any attempt to notices these kinds of distinctions.

The label "shinto" implies the existence of something that developed independently from Buddhist and Chinese influences. Instead, almost every feature that has or can be associated with anything that ever has been called Shinto developed through the combination of continental elements, usually combined according to Buddhist systems of association. From physical features (architecture, cosmological orientations, decorations, etc.) to social practices (professional priesthood, rituals, music, chants, etc.) to linguistics (sacred texts, chants, prayers, etc.) to mythology (deities in anthropomorphic forms, many of which came from Korea, China, or India) to concerns (purity vs. impurity, oracles, hierarchy, etc.) and so forth, Japanese religious life exhibits adaptation and development of religious practices already prevalent in Korea, Mongolia, and China. The label "shinto" promotes the study of Japanese religious practices in isolation from the study of similar religious practices elsewhere in Asia which would otherwise help illuminate them.

2. Reasons why the label "shinto" frequently is not helpful for understanding the religious life of Buddhist Japan.

The label "shinto" implies that Buddhism lacks any concern with local gods. In fact, just the opposite is the case. Buddhist cosmology assigns various roles to local gods, Buddhist temples are populated with local gods and their shrines, Buddhist scripture discuss local gods, and Buddhist rituals direct prayers to local gods. The label "shinto," however, promotes the study of local gods without reference to Buddhism and promotes the study of Buddhism without reference to local gods. Such an approach frequently results in misunderstanding both.

Using the word "shinto" as a label (as a proper noun) inhibits us from questioning the meaning of that word when it appears in premodern texts. The graphic signs that we read as "shinto" is a word of Chinese origin. In Chinese Confucian classics the word "shinto" (shendao) implies cosmological regularity. In Chinese Taoist scriptures the word "shinto" refers to methods of immortality or to spiritual powers. It was used by Chinese to refer to Buddhas, to Taoist gods, to Indic (Hindu) gods, and (much later) to the Christian god. In Chinese Buddhist scriptures the word "shinto" refers to the generative life force, to Buddhism itself, or to non-human realms of rebirth. In common Chinese it refers to the "spirit tablets" used in rites of ancestral worship or even to the road leading to a cemetery. In Japanese history, many other meanings --- some mutually contradictory --- were attached to the word "shinto." During the 18th century, for example, some Japanese authors asserted that shinto concerns only the royal family and that ordinary people should not be allowed to worship local gods. Thus, casual use of the label "shinto" encourages us to assume a singular meaning and ignore alternative possibilities.

The label "shinto" is anachronistic since little evidence suggests that premodern Japanese ever were aware of a separate religion called "shinto." When the Buddhist monk Kukai (774-835) described the religions of the world, for example, he mentioned: hedonism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. Nothing else. The Buddhist monk Nichiren (1222-1282) wrote that Japan is superior to India and China because only Japan is without any non-Buddhist religion whereas India has Hinduism and China has both Confucianism and Taoism. Of course both of those monks knew that shrines to local gods played an indispensable role in Japanese society. But they also knew that the priests of those shrines were themselves Buddhists who also studied Buddhist scriptures, who performed rituals at Buddhist temples, who received Buddhist funeral rites, and who frequently received Buddhist tonsure when they retired from their responsibilities at the shrine. A Buddhist temple could not exist without a shrine (or shrines) to local gods who protected the temple and who promoted Buddhist teachings. Shrines, therefore, played an indispensable role in Buddhism. Of course shrines also played many other political and social roles not directly related to Buddhism. Nonetheless, frequently the earliest accounts we have of the legends, miracles, and rituals of local gods were written by Buddhist monks. In fact, many of the famous Shinto shrines of present-day Japan were Buddhist temples prior to 1868. When people of the time period being discussed did not distinguish between Buddhism and Shinto, then scholars should not insert that distinction without sound reasons. When people did identify something called "shinto," then scholars should try to determine what was or was not implied by that word. Blindly applying the label "shinto" to Buddhist Japan prevents us from clearly investigating how earlier people themselves viewed their worlds.

Using the word "shinto" as a label (as a proper noun) for all of Buddhist Japan inhibits us from investigating the emergence of Shinto as a distinct discourse over the course of Japanese history. Literate Japanese did not begin to write about phenomena that they labeled "shinto" until the medieval period, probably not until the 11th century. At that time, the earliest extant texts about Shinto were written by Buddhist monks who described the roles of local gods in promoting Buddhist teachings. Over time non-Buddhist or Confucian or even anti-Buddhist treatises about Shinto appeared, but that process required centuries of evolution and exerted little influence on popular notions until the 18th century. Even then, the word "shinto" probably did not make the transition from being a literary term to becoming a word used in conversation until the 19th century. The historical emergence and development of various kinds of Shinto discourse is a major feature of Japanese history, one that deserves much closer attention than it has received.

The label "shinto" implies that the relationship between local gods and Buddhism in Japan is unique or an isolated case. In fact, Buddhism has promoted articulation of local religious systems in many parts of Asia. The anthropologist Stanley Tambiah (professor at Harvard) has shown how non-Buddhist spirit cults in Thailand owe their religious structure to Buddhist models. Likewise, the Buddhist influences on Bon in Tibet and on Taoism and Confucianism in China have been enormous. Our understanding of the emergence of Shinto in Japan would benefit immensely from comparative study of Buddhism and local religions elsewhere in Asia.

3. Reasons why the label "shinto" frequently is not helpful for understanding the religious life of modern Japan.

Use of the label "shinto" for pre-Buddhist Japan implies our acceptance of the imperial mythology, which states that Japan began in 660 BCE when Jinmu, the first tenno, founded the nation. ("Tenno" is a Taoist religious term that literally means "heavenly sovereign" and today usually is translated as "emperor.") The absurdity of that date becomes immediately apparent when we note that the 1st emperor of China did not found his state (the Qin empire) until more than 4 centuries later in 221 BCE. No Western scholars have ever accepted the impossible ancient dates asserted in Japanese histories, but until recently they nonetheless (and against all evidence to the contrary) accepted the historical framework which posits the existence of an ancient Japanese state with an ancient Japanese religion (Shinto) that developed independently of China and Korea. In modern times (and even today) the imperial mythology of an unbroken royal line going back to Jinmu has held tremendous political power. Use of the label "shinto" for pre-Buddhist Japan inhibits our ability to understand that imperial mythology for what it is: an ideological construct.

Use of the label "shinto" for pre-Buddhist Japan implies a naive acceptance of the image promoted by Meiji-period (1868-1912) rulers that their policies merely "restored" ancient customs. It reinforces their xenophobic obsession with promoting "pure Japanese-ness" in opposition to unwelcome foreign influences. They saw Shinto as being native to Japan while Buddhism and Confucianism were denigrated as foreign imports. They ignored the fact that all civilizations develop in interaction with their neighbors. They ignored the fact that Buddhism and Confucianism exerted formative influences on every aspect of premodern Japanese life and culture. (Just imagine someone arguing that Christianity is foreign to the United States simply because it was not invented in America.) Use of the label "shinto" for pre-Buddhist Japan helps foster acceptance of their assertion that they had accomplished the restoration of ancient Shinto instead of the invention of something new, which, though clad in ancient garb, had never existed in that way before.

Use of the label "shinto" for modern Japan implies an unchanging essence that helps render invisible the radical transformation of Japanese religious life between 1868 and 1945 --- a transformation that Allan Grapard (a professor at UC Santa Barbara) has rightly called "Japan's Ignored Cultural Revolution." (See his 1984 article by that title in: History of Religions vol. 23 no. 3: 240-265.)

Today neither we nor most Japanese can readily imagine just how much the Shinto we know has changed from what it used to be. Here is a brief summary of some of those changes. In 1868 the new Meiji regime ordered local gods to be dissociated from Buddhism. In other words, all worship halls for gods were stripped of their Buddhist names, Buddhist powers, Buddhist religious rituals, Buddhist art, and Buddhist symbols, and given new "Japanese" identities. Thousands and thousands of Buddhist temples were destroyed to create what subsequently became known as "Shinto." In 1873 the Meiji government outlawed many so-called "superstitious" religious rites performed at the newly independent Shinto institutions. In 1882 the government ruled that Shinto is NOT a religion but a civic duty. They defined Shinto shrines as "civic centers," the rituals of which bond together royal subjects and government officials with the mythological ancestors of the royal family. They forbad Shinto celebrants from performing private religious rituals. In 1906 the government initiated a nationwide program of shrine "mergers," a euphemism for the elimination of shrines that were too small for government supervision. Nationwide more than 52% of Shinto shrines were destroyed, thereby depriving rural villagers of local worship halls. In 1945 the occupation GHQ forbid Shinto shrines from exercising any government-controlled civic role. Deprived of their nationalist and ideological purpose, most shrines were forced to adopt new identities as primitive nature cults, dependent on private individuals. This is the reason why in 1947 the famed folklorist and scholar Orikuchi Shinobu (1887-1953) wrote that Shinto as a "religion" is only 2 years old. In short, first the Buddhist roles were stripped away, then the religious roles were stripped away, then the local roles were stripped away, and finally the national role was stripped away. What was left? Thus, use of the word "shinto" without historical qualifications begs the question: Which Shinto?

The first person to attract widespread attention to the problems with the label "shinto" was a Japanese scholar named Kuroda Toshio (1926-1993), whose work has revolutionized the way that scholars examine medieval Japan. For a brief English-language summary of his view of Shinto, see:

Kuroda, Toshio. 1981: "Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion." Translated by James C. Dobbins and Suzanne Gay. Journal of Japanese Studies 7: 1-21.

Kuroda's article has been reprinted in at least two books:

Religions & Society in Modern Japan. Edited by Mark Mullins, Shimazono Susumu, and Paul Swanson. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1993.

Religions of Japan in Practice. Edited by George Tanabe Jr. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.

More of Kuroda's scholarship can be found in a 1996 special issue of the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 23 nos. 3-4, edited by James Dobbins, which consists almost entirely of translations from a few of his more influential essays. This entire issue is available on-line: http://www.ic.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN

In spite of the fact that many scholars like Kuroda and Grapard have published widely on this topic, most Western-language textbooks and reference works still describe Shinto in terms of the 19th-century ideological framework which sought to portray it as "Japan's native religion."

Earl Hartman
26th February 2002, 18:52
Thanks very much for this post-cum-lecture. Most excellent e-budo indeed.

I have not researched this subject much, but I had a feeling that something was up when I visited Eiheiji (for those unfamiliar with this temple, it is the headquarters of the Soto Zen sect, located in Fukui Prefecture) and was greeted with the sight of what was obviously a Shinto shrine located within the grounds. From things like this, and other cultural practices of the Japanese in general, it was quite clear that most Japanese did not perceive a clear distinction between Shinto and Buddhism, and were comfortable with a kind of syncretism that most Westerners find confusing.

That's why I didn't ask about Shinto, but about the "religious practices we know today as Shinto", since I had long suspected that there had been some serious syncretistic hanky-panky, so to speak, going on, especially with the construction of State Shinto as a tool of "pure" Japanese nationalism, essentially "Ware-ware Nipponjin Ron-ism" taken to a ridiculous extreme.

It sounds very much like Buddhism co-opted the deities of local, loosely organized, so-called "primitive" religious practices and incorporated them into Buddhist practice, much in the same way that Catholicism absorbed pagan deities and holidays, Christianizing the deities as saints and establishing Christian holidays on the sacred days of the pre-existing pagan religions.

Anyway, very interesting. Thanks again.

24th January 2007, 18:07
Holy thread necromancy, Batman. Sorry to chime in on this one so late, but I just read Dr. Bodiford's most excellent post putting the term shinto into historical perspective. A very good read indeed, Professor Bodiford, and I look forward to reading the books and articles that you recommended. Any newer works since this thread died in 2002?

Jim Wilson
28th January 2007, 02:19
Mr. Scott,
You should try and find a copy of "Kami no Michi
The Way of the Kami" by Yukitaka Yamamoto (Tsubaki
America Press).
This is one of the best books around on Shinto.

Jason House

"Kami no Michi" is available online at:


Best wishes,

1st February 2007, 18:36
I dont understand

8th February 2007, 06:35
Any newer works since this thread died in 2002?

A book by Thomas Kasulis came out in 2004, "Shinto - The Way Home" (ISBN 0-8248-2850-X). In it Kasulis talks about philosophical dimensions of shinto, so it's in no means a comprehensive work.

Any comments on that one?

Best Regards,

9th February 2007, 00:48
Holy thread necromancy, Batman....Any newer works since this thread died in 2002?
Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm
Author Teeuwen, Mark (ed.); Rambelli, Fabio (ed.)
Publisher Taylor & Francis Group
Year 2003

Also: http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/jjrs_cumulative_list.htm

Fall 2002, 29/34
Tracing Shinto in the History of Kami Worship
Guest Editors: Mark Teeuwen & Bernhard Scheid

634. Teeuwen, Mark, and Bernhard Scheid
Tracing Shinto in the History of Kami Worship: Editors' Introduction. [195207]
635. Grapard, Allan G.
Shrines Registered in Ancient Japanese Law: Shinto or Not? [20932]
636. Teeuwen, Mark
From Jindō to Shinto: A Concept Takes Shape. [23363]
637. Rambelli, Fabio
The Ritual World of Buddhist "Shinto": The Reikiki and Initiations on Kami-Related Matters (jingi kanjō) in Late Medieval and Early-Modern Japan. [26597]
638. Scheid, Bernhard
Shinto as a Religion for the Warrior Class: The Case of Yoshikawa Koretaru. [299324]
639. Maeda, Hiromi
Court Rank for Village Shrines: The Yoshida House's Interactions with Local Shrines during the Mid-Tokugawa Period. [32558]
640. McNally, Mark
The Sandaikō Debate: The Issue of Orthodoxy in Late Tokugawa Nativism. [35978]
641. Thal, Sarah
Redining the Gods: Politics and Survival in the Creation of Modern Kami. [379404]
642. Inoue Nobutaka
The Formation of Sect Shinto in Modernizing Japan. [40527]
643. Teeuwen, Mark
Review of: Itō Satoshi, Endō Jun, Matsuo Kōichi, and Mori Mizue, Nihonshi shōhyakka: Shintō. [42931]