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Shinto (Japanese: 神道) or Shintoism, is a religion that originated in Japan. Classified as an East Asian religion by scholars of religion, its practitioners often regard it as Japan's indigenous religion and as a nature religion.

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  • The chief ideas underlying Japanese myth are, firstly, the conception—piecemeal it is true, and inadequate—of the so-called inanimate universe as being really instinct with sentient life, and exercising a loving providential care over mankind; and secondly, the doctrine that honour and obedience are due to the sovereign whose beneficent rule secures to the people blessings comparable to that of the sun's light and warmth. For such, I take it, is the real meaning of the story by which the Mikados are feigned to be descendants of the Sun-Goddess. It is the Japanese version of the doctrine of the divine right of kings. Without these and similar vital elements Japanese myth would be nothing more than what some writers have supposed it, a farrago of absurdities, and its examination would belong not to the physiology, but to the pathology of the human mind.


  • Shintō, as a theanthropic religion, has culminated in Mikadoism or the Worship of the Mikado or Japanese Emperor, as a divinity, during his lifetime as well as after his death, even in the ethical stage of its religious development... Herein lies even at the present day, in my opinion, the essence or life of Shintō, inseparably connected with the national ideals of the Japanese people. Japanese patriotism or loyalty, as you might call it, really is not simple patriotism or mere loyalty, as understood in the ordinary sense of the word, i.e., in the mere ethical sense of the term, it is more—it is the lofty self-denying enthusiastic sentiment of the Japanese people towards their august Ruler, believed to be something divine, rendering them capable of offering up anything and everything, all dearest to them, willingly, i.e., of their own free will; of sacrificing not only their wealth or property, but their own life itself, for the sake of their divinely gracious Sovereign... all this is nothing but the actual manifestation of the religious consciousness of the Japanese people. This sentiment is truly characteristic of Shintō as a religion.
    • Genchi Katō, A Study of Shintō: The Religion of the Japanese Nation (1926), pp. 206-207
  • Thus, we see that the essence or life of Shintō is even today expressed in the peculiar religious patriotism of the Japanese people glorifying their Emperor as the centre of faith. So we venture to define Shintō, whose vital essence has never been languished, but is, on the contrary, strongly and ceaselessly active in the heart and mind of the Japanese people, as follows:—
    The vital essence of Shintō manifests itself as an expression of the unique spirit of the national service of the Japanese people, which is not only mere morality but is their religion, culminating in Mikadoism or their own peculiar form of loyalty or patriotism towards the Emperor, who at once political head and religious leader in a government constitutional yet theocraticopatriarchal.
    • Genchi Katō, A Study of Shintō: The Religion of the Japanese Nation (1926), pp. 207-208


  • We [i.e., the members of the Japanese race] who have been brought into existence through the creative spirits of the sacred ancestral kami are, each and every one, in spontaneous possession of the Way of the Gods. This means that we are equipped by nature with the virtues of reverence for the gods, for rulers and parents, with kindness toward wife and children, with the moral qualities which in Confucianism are called the five great ethical relationships (gorin) [i.e., those of ruler and subjects, parent and child, husband and wife, older and younger brothers, and friend with friend] and also with the five virtues (gojō) [i.e., benevolence, justice, propriety, wisdom, and faith], and to follow this nature just as it is, without bending or turning aside, is to conform to the teaching of the kami.
    • Hirata Atsutane, Zoku Shindō Taii ("The Great Principles of Shintō"); text in Shintō Daijiten ("The Shinto Encyclopaedia"), I (1937), p. 399, quoted in D. C. Holtom, Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism: A Study of Present-Day Trends in Japanese Religions (1943; rev. edn., 1947), p. 16
  • There are ten or a dozen good definitions of Shintō in existence, all varying more or less according to the individual viewpoints of those attempting the elucidation. For example: Shintō is the indigenous religion of the Japanese people; it is the Way of the Gods; it is "kami-cult," a form of definition in which kami signifies the deities of Japan as distinct from those brought into the country through foreign contacts; it is pan-psychism or hylozoism; it is the racial spirit of the Japanese people (Yamato Damashii); it is the sacred ceremonies conducted before the kami; it is the essence of the principles of imperial rule; it is a system of correct social and political etiquette; it is the ideal national morality; it is a system of patriotism and loyalty centering in emperor worship (“Mikadoism”); it is, in its pure and original form, a nature worship; or, over against this, Shintō, correctly understood, is ancestor worship; or, again, it is an intermixture of the worship of nature and of ancestors; and, lastly, it is, in its earliest stages, a lower nature religion in which are merged elements of animism, naturism, and anthropolatry, evolving later into an advanced form of nature religion, and, finally, under the influence of Buddhism and Confucianism, achieving speculative and ethical components of a high order.
    • D. C. Holtom, The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto (1938), pp. 5-6
  • It was the indigenous religion of the ancient Japanese people and, as such, potent to foster and preserve convictions of racial uniqueness and destiny. It possessed an ancient and independent literature and ritual. It was fed by deep undercurrents of tradition and folklore welling up from the unconscious depths of the national life. At its core was an ancestralism centering in a faith in the divine descent—and concomitantly the inalienable rights of suzerainty—of the Imperial Family. Shintō was manifestly indispensable to the unification of the disorganised country.
    • D. C. Holtom, The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto (1938), p. 54


  • Shintō, or Kamu-nagara, is a Way of Nature. This does not mean that it is a primitive and inferior nature worship. It means that Shintō is a spontaneous and real manifestation of the true nature of things, taking form in human affairs in proportion as this nature is given opportunity for sincere and unperverted expression. Thus, Shintō can be explained from the standpoint of the true, the good and the beautiful.
    • Kazusaku Kanzaki, Shintō Honkyoku no Kyōri ("The Doctrine of Shintō Honkyoku"), Uchü ("The Universe"), (January 1930), quoted in D. C. Holtom, The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto (1938), p. 192
  • The Truth of Shintō is to be seen in the inevitability of its underlying doctrine. This is apparent on consideration of the real significance of the great deities introduced in the oldest Yamato literature. Ame-no-Minaka-Nushi-no-Kami (‘‘The Deity Who is Lord of the Center of Heaven’’), the first god named in the Kojiki is correctly understood as the central existence of the universe, the primary source of all things, both animate and inert. All the phenomena presented to human senses are the manifestations in time of this absolute god. The Absolute functions in time in the form of the two-fold creation kami, Taka-Mimusubi-no-Kami and Kami-Musubi-no-Kami. These two beings represent activities of opposite kinds, from which the phenomenal world has had its rise. This positive-negative, or male-female, potency appears in Japanese history as the great father and mother of the race, Izanagi and Izanami, from whom is born the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Ōmikami, who in turn is the progenetrix of the Imperial Family and the Japanese people. Amaterasu-Ōmikami, in her position among the historical personages of Japan, is like the sun in heaven about which the planetary bodies revolve. The aptness of this solar metaphor accounts for the sun imagery of the early mythology. The statements just made point to undeniable facts in Japanese history. This is not a matter of mere chance or coincidence, but is so by inner necessity. This is the Truth of the Way of the Gods.
    • Kazusaku Kanzaki, Shintō Honkyoku no Kyōri ("The Doctrine of Shintō Honkyoku"), Uchü ("The Universe"), (January 1930), quoted in D. C. Holtom, The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto (1938), pp. 192-193
  • Another distinguishing characteristic of Shintō lies in what may be called its corporateness. In many other religions men as individuals are set over against the gods. In Shintō we are merged with our fellowmen about us and with the unseen host of ancestors that have gone before us and, as a great spiritual body, united with the divine. We are made of one line with the kami through our ancestors. We are united, divine and human, past and present, into a totality of warp and woof, interpenetrated and coherent... There are three things that are inseparable: our race which is our ancestral inheritance, our country which is our racial home and our faith wherewith our loyalties are sustained. This is the true Way of the Gods.
    • Kazusaku Kanzaki, Shintō Honkyoku no Kyōri ("The Doctrine of Shintō Honkyoku"), Uchü ("The Universe"), (January 1930), quoted in D. C. Holtom, The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto (1938), pp. 193-194
  • Shintō has been called the Wordless Way. This means that practice is more important than mere words, that the hand is mightier than the mouth, that deeds are weightier than rhetoric, that actualities are the greatest of arguments. This practical tendency reflects an inborn aptitude of the Japanese people. The finest expression of this passion for reality is in the patriotism with which we guard and promote the welfare of our country—a patriotism which, on the one hand, is centralized in devotion to our Imperial Family and which exalts our race and supports our homes and our magnificent national organization, on the other. All this is not a formal achievement, theoretically fostered with words, but is the natural registration of our racial characteristics, manifested in all its purity in the past, handed on unimpaired through our ancestors and maintained without flaw in the present. This is true Shintō.
    • Kazusaku Kanzaki, Shintō Honkyoku no Kyōri ("The Doctrine of Shintō Honkyoku"), Uchü ("The Universe"), (January 1930), quoted in D. C. Holtom, The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto (1938), pp. 194-195
  • Our Japanese race thus passed through a great testing in the time of Jimmu Tennō. Thereby were fostered a spiritual stability that never yields no matter what the hardships, a strong racial capacity for unification, and a reverential and worshipful faith in the Emperor, exalted to a religious character. These have come down through two thousand six hundred years as the very core of the Japanese national spirit.
    • Kan Kikuchi, 'Nisen Roppyaku Nen Shishō ("Aspects of Two Thousand Six Hundred Years of Japanese History"), Shūhō ("Weekly Gazette") (7 February 1940), p. 46, quoted in D. C. Holtom, Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism: A Study of Present-Day Trends in Japanese Religions (1943; rev. edn., 1947), p. 13
  • He [The Emperor] is regarded as a living kami, loved and revered by the nation above all things on earth, and himself loving and protecting the nation, who are deemed sons of Kami Nagara and are entrusted to his care by the kami. This mutual understanding obtains between every individual Japanese and the Emperor. The Sovereign studies our needs and feels our sorrows. What more have we, then, to ask from the kami directly? Thus Shintō (doctrine of the kami) is kundō (doctrine of the Emperor), for Shintōism is Mikadoism; "the kami's will is the Emperor's will" is a maxim inscribed on the heart of every Japanese. Herein one may see the fountain-head of our patriotic spirit, whose marvellous activity has served to raise Japan in these fifty years to the level of the first-rate Powers of the world.
    • Kume Kunitake, ‘Japanese Religious Beliefs: Shintō—the Kami’, quoted in Fifty Years of New Japan (Kaikoku Gojūnen Shi), Volume II, compiled by Count Shigénobu Ōkuma, edited by Marcus B. Huish (1909), p. 30


  • Shintō, as is well known, is a combination by the Japanese of the worship of nature and of their own ancestors. But the character of the combination is ethnologically instructive. For a lack of psychic development has made of these seemingly diverse elements a homegeneous whole. Both, of course, are aboriginal instincts. Next to the fear of natural phenomena, in point of primitiveness, comes the fear of one's father; as children and savages show. But races, like individuals, tend to outgrow it as they develop. Now the suggestive thing about the Japanese people is that this passing phase of religion has been perpetuated. The Japanese have stayed boys. Filial respect continued, and, by very virtue of not becoming less, became more, till it filled not only the whole sphere of morals but expanded into the sphere of cosmogony. To the Japanese eye the universe itself took on the paternal look. Parental awe which these people under stood lent explanation to natural dread which they did not. Quite simply to their minds the thunder and the wind, the sunshine and the shower were the work not only of anthropomorphic beings but of beings ancestrally related to themselves. In short Shintō, their explanation of things in general, is nothing else than the patriarchal principle projected without perspective into the past, dilating with distance into deity.
    • Percival Lowell, 'Esoteric Shintō', Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Vol. XXI (1893), pp. 106-107


  • A "Naturefolk" learns by intimate contact with nature that there is a healing power in the flower and the grass, in the mountains and streams, in the rain and the clouds. He comes to see gods working in these phenomena, and if they are of divine origin do they not contain goodly qualities? Why seek afar for the divine? It is even in the objects around you. They are good and just. Why seek elsewhere for justice and goodness? So, to live a natural life is to be just and good. There is no evil in nature. What seems to be evil is the tipping of the balance scale. Evil is immoderation. All natural appetites are good and they become evil only when indulged in to excess. This is Shinto, the Way of the Gods, naïve primitive teaching aboriginal to the soil of Japan.
    • Nitobe Inazō, Lectures on Japan: An Outline of the Development of the Japanese People and Their Culture (1938), p. 115


  • Students of this religion have been struck with the simplicity of its doctrine. It enforces no especial moral code, embraces no philosophical ideas, and, moreover, it has no authoritative books to guide believers. Its one peculiar feature is the relation it holds towards the Imperial Family of Japan, whose ancestors are made the chief object of worship. This religion, if indeed it can rightly be called a religion at all, amounts to ancestor-worship—the apotheosis of the Japanese Imperial Family. This fact naturally brings about two results: one is that Shintō can never be propagated beyond the realms of the Japanese Emperor; the other, that it has helped to a very great extent the growth of the spirit of loyalty of Japanese subjects toward their head, and has enshrined the Imperial Family with such a degree of sacredness and reverence that it would be difficult to name another ruling family which is looked up to by its subjects with the same amount of loyal homage and submissive veneration. It is, indeed, a unique circumstance in the history of the nations that, during the two thousand five hundred years of its sway, the position of the Japanese Imperial Family as head of the whole nation has never once been disputed, nor even questioned, by the people. Of course, it is true that the dynasty has experienced many vicissitudes, but, although the actual government has at times been in the hands of powerful nobles and Shoguns, the throne has, nevertheless, been always kept sacred for the descendants of Jimmu, the first Emperor.
    • Yoshitarō Yamashita, "The Influence of Shintō and Buddhism in Japan", Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society of London, Vol. IV (1897), p. 257, quoted in D. C. Holtom, The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto (1938), pp. 4-5

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