Shinto characteristics

What makes shinto different from other religions? if wanna know then read on. But first you should know what is shinto. To learn what is shinto read my last blog.

There are five characteristic features of Shinto


The belief that everything has a life of its own. All the objects, places and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. The wind, rain, rivers, mountains, trees everything that is important for life are worshipped as kami. As Shinto developed, not only spirits living in nature but also ancestors’ spirits were enshrined as gods. After death, ancestors’ spirits were believed to become guardian gods, watching over and protecting their living descendants. The main theme in the Shinto religion is love for nature and all living beings. So a waterfall or a special rock might come to be regarded as a spirit (kami) of that place; so might abstract things like growth and fertility. Sacred objects, such as rocks or trees, can be recognized by the special ropes (shimenawa) and they have white paper strips attached to them.

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata on

Shintoism is a polytheistic religion. Polytheism is the belief or worshipping more than one god. Shinto gods are basically spirits that are everywhere in nature and also in men, hence the assumption of many gods. The Japanese feared the natural forces and believed those forces came from the power of spirits living in various natural entities. In Shinto, the subjects of worship are not visible idols but spirits that are believed to have supernatural power. Both malevolent and benevolent spirits are called ‘Kami’ in singular and ‘Kamigami’ (神々) in plural. The arrival of Buddhism, however, brought with it stylistic carved figural icons, an art form that influenced images of gods in Shinto , and as Shinto-Buddhism started to merge together, many Shinto shrines and their deities were combined with Buddhist temples and figures. 


The central aspect of Shinto ritual is purification. Shinto ceremonies are designed to appeal to the kami for benevolent treatment and protection and consist of abstinence (imi), offerings, prayers and purification.

Purification has two forms ‘Misogi’ and ‘Harae’.

Misogi, the purification from contact with sullying elements such as disease and death. Misogi is said to have originated from the myth of ‘Izanagi no Mikoto’ who followed ‘Izanami no Mikoto’ to the ‘Yomi no Kuni’ only to find her in the state of decomposition. After returning to the world cleans himself in a stream. The purification of his left eye leads to the appearance of the solar divinity Amaterasu Omikami. The purification of his right eye leads to the appearance of the lunar divinity Tsukuyomi no Mikoto. The purification of his nose leads to the appearance of the storm divinity Susanoo no Mikoto.

Harae, the restoration of proper relationships after wrongdoings, through the offering of compensation. The second type of purification, harae, has been derived from the myth of Susanoo no Mikoto, after he rampaged through the palace of his sister Amaterasu. And then he is compelled to make recompose by offering up a great quantity of goods and having his beard cut and nails pulled off.

Photo by Liger Pham on

There is no outer influence of any kind in Shinto rituals and practices. Shinto has no founders, no official sacred scriptures and no fixed creeds but it has preserved its main beliefs and rituals throughout the ages. When the Japanese people and Japanese culture became aware of themselves, Shinto was already there.

When Buddhism entered Japan in 552 AD (officially) and Shinto kami were made equivalent to ‘Deva’ (Buddhist term for gods) and in the late 8th century kami were being considered as the incarnations of Buddha and bodhisattvas; bodhisattvas names were given to kami and Buddhist statues were placed even in the inner sanctuaries of the Shinto shrines. But there were always attempts to separate Buddhism from Shintoism. Several attempts were made to make Shintoism pure again far from any Buddhist influence so that there was no outer influence on Shintoism of any kind.


There are no absolute right or wrongs in Shintoism. Shinto has no moral absolutes and assesses the good or bad of an action or thought in the context in which it occurs: circumstances, intention, purpose, time, location, are all relevant in assessing whether an action is bad. Specifically Shinto ethics are not based on a set of commandments or laws that tell the faithful how to behave, but on following the will of the kami. Shinto ethics start from the basic idea that human beings are good, and that the world is good. Evil enters the world from outside, that is, it is brought by evil spirits. These affect human beings in a similar way to disease, and reduce their ability to resist temptation. When human beings act wrongly, they bring pollution and sin upon themselves, which obstructs the flow of life and blessing from the kami. Because Shinto coexists with Buddhism and Confucianism and their ethical values, it’s hard, and not very useful, to isolate the distinctly Shinto elements in Japanese ethics.

again not a historian but a student.