Japanese Beliefs

State Shintō

During "State Shintō period", Shintō elements came under a great deal of overt state influence and control as the Japanese government systematically utilized shrine worship as a major force for mobilizing imperial loyalties on behalf of modern nation-building.

Shintō soon became a reason for Japanese nationalism

At the same time, Meiji rulers made Shintō the official religion, creating a form of Shintō known as State Shintō by merging Shrine, Folk, and Imperial Household Shinto. Shintō soon became a reason for Japanese nationalism. The Meiji Restoration reasserted the importance of the emperor and the ancient chronicles to establish the Empire of Japan, and the government attempted to recreate the ancient imperial Shintō that gave Japanese patriotism a special tint of mysticism and cultural introversion, which became more pronounced as time went on. A tenacious adherence to Shinto in the Japanese countryside and among the masses has enabled it to coexist for a millennium and a half with Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, and to be subject to repeated revivals, most recently, from 1871 to 1945, as the official national religion and a powerful spiritual weapon in Japan’s imperialist wars. During World War II, the government forced every subject to practice State Shintō and admit that the Emperor was divine. Such processes continued to deepen throughout the early Shōwa period (昭和時代; 1926 – 1989, Shōwa jidai), when State Shintō became a main force of militarism, finally coming to an abrupt end in August 1945 when Japan lost the war in the Pacific.


O-mikujii> (御神籤 or おみくじ) are random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

The aftermath of the State Shintō and Japanese religious belief today

"Japanese would turn to Shintoism for specific things, but they looked for salvation in Buddhism," Ama Toshimaro, a Japanese religious scholar said, "So without Buddhism there was a decline in religious sentiment…Meiji policy created a spiritual void. People no longer tried to seek this transcendent, universal state. This situation endures to this day. The emperor system was officially discredited, and traditional forms of worship were antiquated, out of tune with the modern world.” “The latter-day result of this,” Ama said, “is that there was nowhere to turn after World War II.

Most Japanese people claimed not to believe in religion; about 70 percent of Japanese profess no religious membership, said Nobutaka Inoue a Japanese religious sociologist. However many religious practices have persisted as general cultural beliefs such as ancestor worship, and community matsuri (祭り, festivals) — focusing more on religious practices. One-third had a Buddhist or Shintō altar in their home, and about one quarter carried an omamori (お守り, an amulet to gain protection by kami) on their person. The birth of a new baby is celebrated with a formal shrine visit at the age of about one month, as are the third, fifth, and seventh birthdays. Wedding ceremonies are often performed by Shintō priests, but Christian wedding ceremonies are also popular. And 90% of Japanese funerals are conducted according to Buddhist rites. "The Japanese people still have not found the answer to the question – what is true religious freedom, independent of the state," Ama concluded.

Feature Story

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Reference Columns

  • 天照大神 Amaterasu ōmikami

    is a part of the Japanese myth cycle and also a major deity of the Shintō religion. She is the goddess of the sun, but also of the universe. The name Amaterasu derived from Amateru meaning "shining in heaven." The meaning of her whole name, Amaterasu-ōmikami, is "the great august kami who shines in the heaven". The Emperor of Japan is said to be a direct descendant of Amaterasu.