Shinto, the "Way of the Gods

What is Shintoism?

By HIDEO OSHITA, Pastor, Japanese Church, Honolulu, Hawaii

In presenting Christianity to the Japanese people one often meets the objection that Japan has its own ancestral religion, that Christianity is a foreign religion, and what was good enough for their fathers is good enough for them. The spirit of nationalism, which will doubtless be strong in Japan in the near future, accentuates this objection.

The particular purpose of this presentation is to show that Christianity is not a foreign reli­gion, but that, by accepting it, the Japanese people are returning to the faith of their fa­thers. In an endeavor to accomplish this pur­pose I shall glean from Shintoism, the original religion of the Japanese race, the perversions of the truth as given by God to His chosen peo­ple Israel.'

In Shintoism we find many similarities with Judaism, though perverted. This is not surpris­ing when we remember that the dispersion of Israel and Judah took place from 721 B.C. to about 582 B.C and that the first emperor of Japan, Jimmu, is claimed to have acceded to the throne in 660 B.C.'

I. What Is Shintoism?

The term Shinto is of Chinese origin. Shin is the Japanized pronunciation of Shen, which means 'good spirits," to is the same as tao, the "way," in Taoism. The Japanese descriptive term for Shinto is Kami no Michi. Kami means the "deities," or "gods," no is the possessive, and Michi means the "way" or "road." There­fore it signifies as a whole, the "way of the gods."'

The word Kami gives the clue to the whole Shinto system. "It denotes that which is above, any power or influence which can accomplish what man cannot prevent." Or as given by Motoori, the great modern Shinto theologian, it is applied to those things "'which deserve to be dreaded and revered for the extraordinary and pre-eminent powers which they possess.' "

Several definitions of Shinto are given by different authors. Some are as follows :

OTIS CART: "The early religion of the Japanese was Shinto. The name signifies the way of the Superior Beings. It combined nature-worship with reverence for ancestors." 7

ROBERT E. SPREE: "Although based on ancestor worship, it is not an idolatry,—no images appear in its temple. It cultivated the idea of purity, or rather clean­liness. It practices prayer and in a sense, sacrifice. It is above all, the religion of loyalty." 8

MR. KOZAKI, ex-president of the Doshisha Univer­sity: "'Shintoism as a religion has to do with the supernatural chiefly in its relation to the things of life.' " 9

DR. INAZO NITOBE, an outstanding Japanese scholar : "Shinto is scarcely worth the epithet 'religion.' It is a cult. It is a cult with few moral precepts and fewer theological tenets." 10 This same authority summarizes the whole question thus : "Shinto, as we understand it at present, is probably a composite product of many faiths held by many tribes and races who were ulti­mately amalgamated into the Yamato people."

Before turning to the specific points of simi­larity between Christianity and Shintoism, let us review briefly the history of Shintoism. Ac­cording to Hume,' there are five periods in its course to the present time.

I. EARLY PERIOD OF ABSOLUTE SUPREMACY (66o B.C.-A.D. 552).—During this time Shinto held no notion of religion as a separate institu­tion; had "no idea of any code of morals" ; had no heaven, no hell—"only a kind of neutral tinted Hades"; and had a "rude sort of priest­hood."

II. PERIOD OF BUDDHISM'S EARLY GAINS. (552-800).—At this time Buddhism was intro­duced into Japan from China by way of Korea. Although three foreign religions—Confucian­ism, Taoism, and Buddhism—were coming in, Shinto was still the strongest religion. How­ever, the growth of the pure Shinto toward a religion was stopped. The term Shinto itself was coined at the time in order to distinguish the old native way of thinking from Buddhism.

III. PERIOD OF SYNCRETISM, OR MIXED SHINTO (800-470:).—The indigenous religion of Japan concisely intermingled with foreign religions.

"The Buddhist priest Kobo-Daishi (744-835) successfully preached a doctrine, called Ryobu or Mixed Shinto, that the Shinto deities were only trans­migrations or incarnations of Buddhist deities."

IV. INDIGENOUS REVIVAL OF SHINTO (1700­1868).—The emperor was so weak that the military regent usurped the power of the Mi­kado. "Four famous literati effected a notable revival of Shinto"—Koda (A.D. 1669-1736), Mabuchi (A.D. 1697-1769), Motoori (A.D. 1730­1801), and Hirata (A.D. 1776-1843). This re­vival of faith in the Mikado led directly to the restoration of the imperial power in 1868.

V. RECENT VARIED READJUSTMENTS OF SHINTO (since 1868).—"A thorough rehabili­tation of Shinto in its pure form" was at­tempted. "There has been some tendency to­ward reviving and reinterpreting Shinto in world-wide relations, especially since the World War [I]."

II. Parallelism Between Judaism and Shintoism

Whatever the similarities in belief and prac­tice, though the fundamental conception may be different, we discover in Shintoism as well as in Judaism that they are the "original witness" of the truths given by God to man as revealed in the Old Testament. But it is surprising that man has forgotten and perverted the true con­ceptions of God and salvation. Yet it is com­forting to note that much of what man once knew remains to this day. I shall now briefly list the beliefs and practices in Shintoism which find their common origin with Judaism.

God."God is conceived of as a father and men as His children," however, "its conception of God, while clearly not deistic, does not dis­tinguish sharply between theism and panthe­ism."—Mn. EBINA, one of the ablest leaders of the "advanced school.'

This God is thought of as "a providence that watches over human affairs." 14

Trinity.The rain-storm god, Susa no wo, has in modern times been made into a sort of trinity." "

Strange to say, the same rain-storm god "shows some tendency to represent the evil principle generally." "

Theocracy.In practice Shintoism considers the emperor of Japan, "The Kami" ; Japan, "the Holy Land"; and the Kami's will, the em­peror's will. According to the report of Com­mission IV, World Missionary Conference : "'The effect is that the government of Japan is regarded as a theocracy, and reverence is in­culcated as the proper attitude of the mind of the individual in relation to the state.' "15

Creation.Heaven and earth evolved "from a chaotic egg-shaped mass which contained germs. The purer part became thinly diffused and formed Heaven, while the grosser element sank down and became Earth." 16

Salvation.The term salvation is used both by Shintoists and Buddhists, but its meaning as used by Christians is very different. In Chris­tianity salvation means deliverance from the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin. In Shintoism, as expressed by Mr. Kozaki, ex-president of the Doshisha University, Kyoto, it "'means chiefly deliverance from the power of evil spirits.' "19

Uemura, editor of the Fukuin Shimpo, president of the Japanese theological school, and one of the leading preachers in Japan, says :

"'In the old Shintoism, the idea of sin as an offence against God is prominent. (The word for sin is com­posed of two words ; one means disquietude, and the other self. Such a word has in it the idea of personal responsibility, a troubled conscience, guilt. Evidence of the same kind appears in Shinto prayers.) Still it must be said that even in the old and purer Shintoism sin is conceived of rather as ceremonial defilement. One is reminded of the Jewish conception of sin which the prophets condemned. If Shintoism had followed its true bent it might have approached the deeper convic­tion of sin as moral evil ; and therefore, from that point of view, there are occasions when the Christian preacher may properly call upon the Japanese to seek out the old ways. But the true development of Shinto-ism was checked and set back by the invasion of Bud­dhism and Confucianism.'"20

Love and Mercy.—Oracle of the gods of Ka­suga : "We will surely visit the dwellings of those in deep mourning without an invitation, if loving-kindness is there always. The reason is that we make loving-kindness our shintai [bodies]."

Oracle of Itsukushima in Aki : "Those who do not abandon mercy will not be abandoned by me." 22

Tabernacle System.Shrine : "The Japanese words for shrine indicate that it is intended as a house for the God."

Miya means an "august house"; a "palace." Araka means a "dwelling place." Yashiro: "Ya means house and shiro representative or equiv­alent. There is evidence that this word comes to us from a time when the yashiro was a plot of ground consecrated for the occasion to repre­sent a place of abode for the deity."

The shrine is divided into two chambers, something like the holy place and the most holy place of the Jewish sanctuary. The inner cham­ber contains the emblem of god. Only the priest may enter this inner room."

The worship of Shinto is "centralized in Ise for the whole Japanese nation, somewhat as in Judaism the worship of Jehovah used to be centralized in Jerusalem. . . . Here the Naiku, or inner temple, is believed by the Japanese to date from the year 4 B.C." 20

Shekinah.Though it is not prominent, we find "the doctrine of the mitama (the Shekinah of the Jews)" in Shintoism." There is a sort of ark of the covenant in the shrine—Mikosni, or carriage of the god, in which he is promenaded on festival occasions, being carried by means of two poles on men's shoulders.'

Laver.Before prayer at the shrine the wor­shipers must wash their hands. A laver (rni ta­rashi), hewn out of a solid stone, is provided to cleanse them.'

Priesthood.The chief priest is the emperor himself. Other priests were called Kannushi, that is "Kaminushi or God—Master." When engaged in offering the morning and evening sacrifices the priests "wear a peculiar dress, which consists of a long loose gown with wide sleeves, fastened at the waist with a girdle, and sometimes a black cap bound round the head with a broad white fillet." "

Day of Atonement.In Shinto this is known as Ohoharahi, or great purification ceremony, which is performed twice a year "to absolve the offences against the gods." The offerings of sacrifice "were thrown into a river or into the sea, and were supposed, like the scape-goat of Israel, to carry with them the sins of the people." Ultimately they were transferred to the land of Yomi, Hades."

Offering of First Fruits.-This ceremony, according to Chamberlain, occurred on October 17 each year."

Animal Sacrifices.-"There are numerous in­dications that animal sacrifices were very com­mon in the most ancient times." However, no special importance was attached to the blood of the animal."

Prayer and Worship.-Bowing, kneeling, and squatting are practiced. The prayers in archaic style, called Narito, perhaps like the Psalms, are used.' According to Bishop Honda, of the Methodist Church, both Shintoists and Bud­dhists, while they offer prayers, " 'have little or no sense of moral responsibility to the objects of their worship.' "3'

Purity of Heart and Cleanliness.-An oracle of Hachiman: "I refuse the offerings of the impure of heart."

An oracle of Temman Tenj in : "All ye who come before me hoping to attain the accom­plishment of your desires, pray with hearts pure from falsehood, clean within and without, re­flecting the truth like a mirror."

An oracle of the gods of Kasuga: "If you de­sire to obtain help from the gods, put away pride. Even a hair of your pride shuts you off from the gods as it were by a great cloud." "

From the very beginning Shinto demanded "sincerity of heart and ceremonial cleanliness." Harai tamaye, Kiyome tamaye! The worshiper cries out this plea as he washes his mouth and hands to prepare to present himself before the gods. President Harada of Doshisha, the fore­most Christian university in Japan, argues that "there needs but the deepening of this require­ment to fit the worshipper in purity of heart to come before that High God, whose name is holy, who seeketh pure in heart to worship Him." "

Shinto laid strong emphasis on cleanliness. "Pollution was calamity, defilement was sin, and physical purity at least, was holiness." "The ceremonial purity of Shinto greatly re­sembles that of the Mosaic dispensation." ' The following caused uncleanliness :"

1. Magic, or witchcraft.

2. Menstruation. (Cf. Lev. 15:19.)

3. Childbirth. (Cf. Lev. 12:2-5.) "A week after the birth the babe is presented at the temple (miya main) and put under the protection of some special deity." "

4. Disease and wounds.

5. Leprosy. (Cf. Num. 5:2.)

6. Bestiality.

7. Incest of parent and child, of a man with his mother-in-law or step-daughter.

8. Eating food prepared in a house of mourning.

9. Touching the dead body of a man or a beast. to. Pronouncing or executing a capital sentence. Attending a funeral.

10. Death.

"Anciently there were huts built both for the mother about to give birth to a child, or for the man who was dying or sure to die of disease or wounds. After the birth of the infant or the death of the patient these houses were burned." This custom continued in a few remote places as late as 1878.

Thus Shinto has numerous parallelisms with Judaism. Though they are weak and basically not like the Christian conception in many ways, they may be used to approach and show the Japanese people the superiority of Christianity.

(To be concluded in April)

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By HIDEO OSHITA, Pastor, Japanese Church, Honolulu, Hawaii

March 1949

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Faults That Cry Out for Correction

There are several grave weaknesses that need to be brought definitely to the attention of our ministry; and in bringing them we do so humbly, with a prayer that through God's Holy Spirit we may have impressed upon us our need for greater love and kindness, and a positive desire to speak and labor as Jesus did.

Recent Evangelism in Shanghai

A recent report on evangelistic meetings in Shangai.

Advancing Despite Repression in Spain

Due to the shortage of workers, several churches were left to themselves. Only four major places could be shepherded, but excellent results followed. Today we see fulfilled the words of God's messenger, who told us that that which was not done in time of liberty would be done in time of great difficulty.

From Medieval Church Music to Modern Hymns

Have you ever wondered how long peo­ple have been singing hymns such as are common to the modern church service?

Origin of the Bible Work

VI. Future of Our Bible Work

The Sound of a Going

News from world secretaries.

Israel's Failure to Evangelize—II

A column devoted to Soul-Winning Plans, Problems, and Methods

The Temple of Truth

The Temple of Truth is a device used by our evangelistic group in Portland to pre­sent the Advent message more convinc­ingly. The public's response was so favorable that we thought our fellow workers might de­sire to share it with us, adapting it to suit the personal approach.

Working Together in Soul Winning

I believe that our work in the vineyard of the Lord will be sealed with marked suc­cess if we will follow the blueprint in detail. But on the other hand, very meager results will be seen if we try to cut corners. The great problems of apostasy and other related church problems would be largely solved if the laymen were properly trained for service, and urged to work for the salvation of souls.

Mealtime Physiology

The monthly health message column.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - SermonView - WideSkyscraper (160x600)