Types of Shinto

There are many types and sects of Shinto. Today’s post talks about some of these in brief. I used a lot of references for these, but if you find anything wrong, please do let me know!

As for me, I guess I would either be folk Shinto or Koshinto, I need to read more about them really! I would like to be Shrine Shinto but the lack of a shrine kind of doesn’t lend itself to that! One day maybe… one day!

Shrine Shinto (神社神道 Jinja-Shintō)

This is the main tradition of Shinto, recognized by it’s numerous shrines. Certainly, when a Westerner thinks of Shinto, it may be shrine Shinto which they first think about. This type of Shinto has been a part of Japanese history for as long as people remember.

Shrine Shinto consists in taking part in worship practices and events at local shrines. Before the Meiji Restoration, shrines were disorganized and usually attached to Buddhist temples – in the Meiji Restoration they were made independent institutions. According to the Association of Shinto Shrines, there are at least 80,000 shrines nationwide (and these are just the ones that they oversee).

Thousands of devotees swarm to worship at Ise Jingu. Taken from Ise Jingu's website.
Thousands of devotees swarm to worship at Ise Jingu. Taken from Ise Jingu’s website.

Imperial Shinto  (皇室神道 Kōshitsu-Shintō)

Imperial Shinto refers to the religious rites performed exclusively by the imperial family at the three shrines (Kyūchū sanden) in the precincts of the Japanese Imperial Palace in Tokyo. These shrines are :

  • Kashiko-dokoro (賢所) – the central shrine, enshrining the mythical ancestress of the Imperial family, Amaterasu-Omikami, The yasakani no magatama (Sacred jewel) is also said to be housed here.
  • Kōrei-den (皇霊殿) – the Ancestral Spirits shrine which houses their departed spirits from one year after death.
  • Shin-den (神殿) – the Sanctuary of the Kami, enshrining the Amatsukami (天津神) from Takama-ga-hara and the Kunitsukami (国津神) from Japanese religious mythology.

The most important ritual is Niinamesai, which is the offering of the first harvest of the year to O-Kami. Both male and female clergy (Shoten and Nai-Shoten) assist the emperor in the performance of these rites.

Folk Shinto (民俗神道 Minzoku-Shintō)

Folk Shinto contains a mix of beliefs, usually revolving around local kami and youkai. This type of Shinto also revolves around divination, spiritual healing, shamanism and even spiritual possession. Folk Shinto can include influenced from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism but mostly comes from local traditions and legends.

It is seen a lot in rural communities where they may have their own practices and rituals. A rural community will often select a layman annually, who will be responsible for worshipping the local kami on their behalf.

Sect Shinto (教派神道 Kyōha-Shintō)

Sect Shinto are communities that have existed since at least the Edo period. The main difference between shrine Shinto and sect Shinto is that the latter developed much later and grew self-consciously. This means that they can identify a founder, a formal set of teachings and even sacred scriptures.

This consists of 13 sects, each with their own beliefs and doctrines that have been founded by individuals since the start of the 19th century.

They are usually classified under five headings:

  • Pure Shinto sects: Shinto Taikyo, Shinrikyo and Izumo Oyashirokyo
  • Confucian sects: Shinto Shusei-ha and Taiseikyo
  • Mountain worship sects: Jikkokyo, Fusokyo and Mitakekyo or Ontakekyo
  • Purification sects: Shinshukyo and Misogikyo
  • Faith-healing sects: Kurozumikoyo, Konkokyo and Omotokyo, and Tenrikyo

There is much more about Shinto sects here.

The inside of a Konkokyo shrine. Image taken from their English-language tumblr.

Koshinto (古神道 ko-shintō)

Koshinto (lit. ‘Old/Ancient Shinto’) refers to a reconstructed faith based on “Shinto from before the time of Buddhism”. Today it is based on Ainu religion and Ryukyuan practices. It continues the restoration movement begun by Hirata Atsutane.

The aims of Koshinto are to connect with the more spiritual aspect of Shinto, before it became more structured and formal. There is an emphasis of the importance of kotodama, rather than the written word, as Koshinto is from a time before the Japanese writing system was completely established (especially kanji).


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