Quotations

What is Shinto?  A simple question with no simple answer!  Over the past few years I’ve been collecting quotations on the subject and compiling a list of the sometimes contradictory views.  (For page references, please feel free to contact me.)

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Shinto’s role in Japanese culture
‘Shinto lies at the root of the whole of Japanese culture.’  Rene Grousset in The Civilisation of the East

Kodansha characterizes Shinto as “Japan’s indigenous religion”, saying that:
“Shintō is a rich and complex system of religious practices, ideas and institutions which slowly emerged at the dawn of Japanese history, crystallized as a religious system during the Nara (710–794) and Heian (794–1185) periods, and subsequently was in a constant and dynamic interaction with the other religious and philosophical systems of Asia: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.”(Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. VII 1983: 125).

‘Shinto is still, in a manner of speaking, the soul of Japan, and even young Westernised Japanese who take no part in its manifold ritual, are conditioned, as their parents and grandparents were, by its fundamental characteristics.’ – Shinichi Nagai, Gods of Kumano

‘Japanese mind is synonymous with Shinto mind.’ – William Gleason, The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido

‘Shinto is involved in every aspect of Japanese culture and touches ethics, politics, family life and social structures, artistic life (particularly drama and poetry) and sporting life (sumo wrestliing) as well as spiritual life.’ – BBC website

‘Shinto is a Way that is practised every morning and evening, in the acts of daily life, by every individual from the emperor to the common people…  there is nothing within human life that does not belong to Shinto.’  – Watarai Nobuyoshi Daijingu Shinto Wakuman, 1666

“Shinto is a racial religion. It is inextricably interwoven with the fabric of Japanese customs and ways of thinking. It is impossible to separate it from the communal and national life of the people. Among the kami of _shrine _shinto many have a special claim to worship from the Japanese people alone and are not such as can be venerated by the peoples of the world in the sense that the Japanese people do.” – Sokyo Ono of Kokugakuin University (Shinto: The Kami Way, 2004 edition, p.111)

What exactly is Shinto?

‘Shinto is the traditional faith of Japan, with a history extending from remote antiquity to the present.  It represents the essence of Japanese culture, deeply rooted in the lives of the people.’ –  Umeda Yoshimi, Director General of the International Shinto Foundation

‘Shinto in our view, appears not as the unchanging core of Japan’s national essence, but rather as the unpredictable outcome of an erratic history.’  – John Breen and Mark Teeuwen, A New History of Shinto

‘The concept of nature and reverence for ancestors is basic.’  – Stuart Picken Essentials of Shinto

‘Shinto is essentially a religion of gratitude and love.’  – W.G. Aston  Shinto, the Way of the Gods

‘Shinto is first and foremost a ritual tradition.’ – James W. Boyd and Ron G. Williams in Philosophy East and West

‘the Japanese way of living’ – Asoya Masahiko, cited in ‘Shinto’ by Norman Havens

‘a national and civil approach to the transcendant’ – Robert W. Bellah in ‘Shinto and Modernization’

‘a system of worship of heroes and of the forces of nature’ – W.E. Griffis The Religions of Japan

‘Shinto, at root, is a religion not of sermons but of awe.’ – Joseph Campbell Masks of God: Oriental Mythology, 476

‘Shinto is a collective term that includes ceremonial customs and religious views present in the Japanese people from ancient times.’  – Haruda Harahisa on the internet

‘Shinto may be regarded as an example of “adjusted primal religion”.’ Michael Pye Marburg Journal of Religion

‘Shinto is the kernel of Japanese way of life and serves to consolidate and preserve Japanese identity.’ – Toda Yoshio Japanese Religions

‘”Shinto”, indeed, is a term that should be used with great caution, since it can be applied to an animistic cult, to a theorcratic myth, to a simple folkore that expresses indigenous Japanse sentiments about life and society, and to an organised system of ritual with a certain political content.’ – George Sansom Japan and the Western World

‘Shinto is the Japanese conception of the universe.  It is a combination of the worship of nature and of their own ancestors.’  Percival Lowell  Occult Japan

‘The term Shinto covers a many-hued array of Japanese religious traditions.’  – Mark Teeuwen and John Breen in Shinto – A Short History

‘It would appear to me that Shinto originated from the feelings of love and respect towards their ancestors by their descendants.’ – Hirata Kanichi, president of Kogakkan College, in Ponsonby’s Visiting Famous Shrines

In ancient times ‘a local brand of Taoism’; in medieval times ‘Buddhism’s secular face’.  ‘The notion of Shinto as Japan’s indigenous religion finally emerged complete both in name and in fact with the rise of modern nationalism.’  – Kuroda Yoshio

‘Shinto regards the universe as Heavenly Divine spirit coming forth into material form for the purpose of self-developing creative progress.’  – J.W.T. Mason The Meaning of Shinto

‘One is reminded of the onion of Peer Gynt: will there really be a ‘core’ to be found after we have peeled off layer after layer of foreign accretions.’  Inoue Noubtaka in Shinto: A Short History

‘an amalgam of attitudes, ideas, and ways of doing things that through two milenniums and more have become an integral part of the way of the Japanese people’.  Professor Ono in Joseph Spae’s Shinto Man

‘Shinto is definitely a kind of religion that is unique to Japan.’ – Dr. Kato in Joseph Spae’s Shinto Man

‘…one could say that being a Shintoist consists in feeling that one is a member of the Japanese community. Only very rarely are philosophic or religious movements so clearly and exclusively tied to a people to the degree that Shintoism is.’ – Michael Malherbe Les Religions de l’Humanité

‘In its most basic sense Shinto is a religious form of Japanese patriotism.’ – Dr.  Meredith Sprunger ‘An Introduction to Shinto’

‘Shinto is a crystallized system of rites for the veneration of the personalities clocely connected with our existence and our national history – in other words, a systematized and complicated form of taking off our hats before emblems of our ancestors and our national heroes.’ – Tsuzuki Keiroku in Underwood’s Shintoism

‘Matsuri is such an important part of shrine ritual that Shinto is sometimes described as a religion of rites and festivals.’ – Joseph Cali in A Guide to Shinto Shrines

‘Mikadoism is the heart of Shinto.’  – Gunther Nitschke in From Shinto to Ando

About Shinto in general
‘Our earliest knowledge of the Japanese shows Shinto to have been already at that time their religion, or rather their way of life.’ – Edwin Reischauer in the Introduction to Shinto: Japan’s Spiritual Roots

‘Shinto may be regarded as the ensemble of contradictory and yet peculiarly Japanese types of religious beliefs, sentiments, and approaches, which have been shaped and conditioned by the historical experience of the Japanese people from the prehistoric period to the present.’ – Joseph Kitagawa On Understanding Japanese Religion

‘Shinto is not something that has existed in Japanse society in some concrete and definable form during different historical periods: rather it appears a conceptualization, an abstraction that has had to be produced actively everytime it has been used.’ – Mark Teeuwen Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

‘Shinto is probably not a native religion of Japan (since the Japanese were not the original ‘natives’ of Japan) and seems to ba an agglomeration of a multitude of diverse and unrelated religions and mythologies.’  – Richard Hooker World Civilizations website

‘Shinto accepts this world; it does not want to change it.’ – Joseph Spaes Shinto Man (cited in Sourcebook in Shinto, p.300)

‘The military aspect of Shinto morality is shown in the instances of swords, spears, bows and arrows being worshipped as deities of their symbols.’  – Masaharu Anesaki in History of Japanese Religion

‘Ritual rather than belief is at the heart of Shinto.’  – BBC website

‘The entire tradition of Shinto lies in the ritual importance of purification.’  Stuart Picken in ‘Myth, Ritual and Drama’

‘The way of worship is primarily that of preserving and cultivating purity of heart.’ – Joseph Campbell  The Hero with a Thousand Faces

‘Shinto as expressed by Motoori is nothing more than an engine for reducing the people to a conditioon of mental slavery.’ – Ernest Satow, quoted in Religions of Japan

‘The average Japanese today regards Shinto, not so much as a religion, but an ideology typically Japanese and based on traditional Japanese culture.’ – Frenando Basabe Religious Atiitudues of Japanese Men

‘To me now, Shinto’s rites of renewal show a fossilized form of Shamanism, or in modern terms, a therapy to revitalize and lead the depleted energy of human individuals, groups or needed objects.’ – Gunter Nietsche Kyoto Journal

‘One should not bring reason to the explanation of Shinto.’  Yamazaki Ansai, cited in Herbert Ooms, Tokugawa Ideology Early Constructs

‘According to Shinto, what is most important is to live to the fullest here and now.  Shinto does not look for eternal value and reward in the afterlife.’  Atsuta Shrine official brochure

‘Whatever the religious future of Japan may be, Shinto will asuuredly have little place in it.  Such meat for babes is quite inadequate as the special food of a nation which in these latter days has reached a full and vigorous manhood.’  W.G. Aston making a spectacularly wrong prediction in 1921

‘Shinto can remind us that the natural world is not a machine put there for our sole enjoyment.’  – Carmen Blacker  ISF website

‘Shinto has no founder, no sacred scriptures, no established dogmas, no authentic interpretations.  There is not even a uniform answer to the question whether Shinto is a ‘religion’, or an ethic, or merely a style of life typical of Japan.’ – Joseph Spae  Shinto Man

‘Shinto accepts this world; it does not want to change it.  The contention that Shinto is not a religion is related to this fact.’ – Joseph Spae  Shinto Man

‘The nature of Shinto speaks to our human nature….   Shinto speaks to us, to something in us which is deep and permanent.’ – Donald Richie The Inland Sea

‘Even “official” Shinto, derived from inchoate folk beliefs, does not demand organization, consistency – or even a desire for comprehension – to affirm life.’ – George de Vos, foreword to Czaja’s Gods of Myth and Stone

‘The real religion of Japan, the religion still professed in one form or other, by the entire nation, is that cult which has been the foundation of all civilized religion, and of all civilized society.  Ancestor worship.’ – Lafcadio Hearn Japan, An Attempt at Interpretation

‘Chomei was like most of the aristocrats of his race, an agnostic, though he found the art and ritual of Mayahana Buddhism as it was practised in Japan quite diverting.  Thought has ever been free in his country, for Buddhism is a philosophy and Shinto simply an expression of the national temperament.’  A.E. Sadler, in the introduction to Kamo no Chomei’s Hojoki.

The nature of kami
‘Kami is the most important term in Shinto spirituality and theology.’ – John Renard in Confucianism, Daoism and Shinto

‘any divine being or indeed anything in the world or beyond that can inspire in human beings a sense of its divinity and mystery’.  – Yamamoto Yukitaka, Kami no Michi ch. 7

‘The cornerstone of Shinto, kami, may range all the way from the spirits immanent in trees and mountains to the three original diviinities in the Japanese cosmogeny who rose out of the primordial chaos.’  – Shinichi Nagai Gods of Kumano

As Herakleitos said, ‘Gods are immortal men, men mortal Gods.’  Muroaka Tsunetsugu  Studies in Shinto Thought 

‘In Shinto belief, human beings can come close to the kami through training and discipline.’  Yukitaka Yamamoto The Way of the Kami

‘The Japanese people themselves do not have a clear idea regarding the kami.’ – Sokyo Ono Shinto: The Kami Way

‘I do not yet understand the meaning of the term ‘kami’.  It is hardly necessary to say that it includes human beings.  It also includes such objects as birds, beasts, trees, plants, seas, mountains and so forth.  In ancient usage, anything whatsoever which was outside the ordinary, which possessed superior power or which was awe-inspringing was called kami… Evil and mysterious things, if they are extraordinary and dreadful are called kami…’ – Motoori Norinaga The Spirit of the Gods

‘The Japanese conceive themselves the direct descendants of their own gods.’ – Percival Lowell Occult Japan

“Shinto is Japan’s primeval faith, it corresponds to the Japanese character so completely that it is never discussed.” -Prince Albrecht of Urach in Das Geheimnis Japanischer Kraft (The Secret of Japanese Power), 1942

“He who would know what Shinto is must learn to know that mysterious soul in which the sense of beauty and the power of art and the fire of heroism and magnetism of loyalty and the emotion of faith have become inherent, immanent, unconscious, instinctive.” – Lafcadio Hearn in ‘Kitzuki’


Comments

Quotations — 8 Comments

  1. Dear professor Dougill,
    I would like to thank you about this page and for this blog.
    If you don’t mind I would like to know the page references of these quotations:

    ‘Shinto is the Japanese conception of the universe.  It is a combination of the worship of nature and of their own ancestors.’  Percival Lowell  Occult Japan

    ‘Shinto may be regarded as the ensemble of contradictory and yet peculiarly Japanese types of religious beliefs, sentiments, and approaches, which have been shaped and conditioned by the historical experience of the Japanese people from the prehistoric period to the present.’ – Joseph Kitagawa On Understanding Japanese Religion

    ‘Shinto is probably not a native religion of Japan (since the Japanese were not the original ‘natives’ of Japan) and seems to ba an agglomeration of a multitude of diverse and unrelated religions and mythologies.’  – Richard Hooker World Civilizations website

    ‘The nature of Shinto speaks to our human nature….   Shinto speaks to us, to something in us which is deep and permanent.’ – Donald Richie The Inland Sea

    I really appreciate any help you can provide.

    Fati

  2. ‘Shinto, at root, is a religion not of sermons but of awe.’ – Joseph Campbell Primitive Mythology

    This is actually from “Masks of God: Oriental Mythology,” 476. Unless it was mentioned in two places, but I reviewed Primitive Mythology and I did not locate it in that book.

    • Thank you so much for pointing that out. It’s very helpful when readers give feedback of such a kind and help to improve the website. I am amending the reference accordingly.

  3. Hello there Mr.John Dougill,

    It is very cool Shinto site !!

    I like it and I just started my Shinto blog wich focus on small shrines.

    If you have a little time please check it out.

    Hope you are doing well

    Warm regards

    Hide

    • Thank you for your interest, Hide. You have some nice pictures on your site. By the way, if you want to find out more about the American shrine Tsubaki Jinja located near Seattle, you can find lots of information on the internet and also on this site, including an interview with the kannushi, Rev Barrish.

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