What Makes Shinto Unique From Other Religions?

Torii gates mark sites of Shinto worship.
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Japan's native religion, Shintoism lacks a universally accepted religious text or spiritual authority. Although Shinto practice and belief differs from region to region, basic aspects of the faith, such as the veneration of spirits called kami, remain similar across Japan unifying the disparate elements of the faith and differentiating Shintoism from other world religions.

1 Nationality

The one overriding factor that makes Shintoism unique as a world religion is its ties to Japanese identity and history. One of its central myths describes the Shinto gods creating the country and alleges that the Emperor is a direct descendant of these same deities. Although the Emperor was forced to renounce his divine status after World War II, Shintoism's effect on the nation of Japan remains undeniable, with the Emperor participating in Shinto ceremonies and followers praying for the preservation of the nation at Shinto shrines.

2 Kami

Another unique aspect of Shintoism is the veneration of divine spirits that represent people and objects in the natural world. Shinto tradition teaches that these kami bridge the visible world humans live in to the invisible one that exists all around us. By traveling to shrines and praying to kami, followers of Shintoism believe they can gain good fortune. Unlike other religions, such as Judaism or Buddhism, which emphasize understanding God or one's place in the world, Shintoism primarily focuses on helping people communicate with these kami.

3 Ecology

Shinto belief equates purity with morality, and many Japanese rituals involve Shinto priests cleansing an area or object. Since these objects primarily represent the natural world, Shintoists have an obligation to keep the environment clean and free of pollution. This provides a moral basis for environmental protection that other religions do not emphasize as much.

4 Locality

Shintoism is a folk religion, which means that beliefs differ from region to region, and adherents are more concerned with maintaining local shrines than preserving the beliefs of the religion as a whole. Followers sometimes make pilgrimages to shrines in other parts of the country, but the majority of rituals take place at one's own neighborhood shrine. Although other major religions like Hinduism also differ from region to region, only Shintoism emphasizes the importance of local practice over universal belief.

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.