Shinto is the indigenous religion of the Japanese people and is Japan's major religion which is practiced alongside Buddhism-another popular religion in Japan. This paper will present an overview of Shinto and its impact on social and political institutions in Japan.
Origin of Shinto
The word Shinto originated from the Chinese words shin, meaning god- and to-meaning the way. Together, the words mean the way of the gods. The exact origin of Shinto is unknown, but it is believed to have originated from an ancient Japanese animistic tradition. However, the establishment known as Shinto was originally formed by the Yamato clan in their attempt to rule the Japanese islands. Shinto adherents worship and believe in the existence of spirits known as kami. The kami are believed to exist in nature and live in harmony with humans. The spirits of the departed are also kami. Shinto is in essence a philosophy and a set of beliefs on how to exist in harmony with the kami and other human beings, and its main belief is living in harmony with nature (Carnagie et al.).
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Impact on Social Institutions
Shinto has had an impact on social establishments, such as sports institutions, where Shinto rituals are performed during sporting activities, for instance, at sumo wrestling competitions. Sumo wrestling is native Japan sports. Not everyone knows, though, that Sumo wrestling is a ceremonial Shinto sport which was historically performed in Shinto temple grounds to entertain the gods and ask them for a bountiful harvest. The ceremonial stomping and tossing of salt before a sumo match are indigenously Shinto rituals which are performed at the beginning and ending of sumo wrestling. Therefore, some elements of this famous Japanese sport are derived from Shinto. Shinto has also influenced modern Japanese and global entertainment through anime. The storylines of anime entertainment are woven around Shinto mythology and symbolism, thus spreading the beauty of Shinto beyond the borders of Japan (Carnagie, et al.).
Impact on Political Institutions
With regard to political institutions, Shinto influence can be traced back to 673 when Emperor Tenmu ascended to power. Shinto was used to cement the dominance of the Imperial Court over Japan and unite the islands under the centralized government. This was needed because Tenmus rule was unstable due to opposition from rival ethnic clans. Therefore, he insisted that Japanese history should be compiled to legitimize his rule by demonstrating that he was a descendant from the gods. This legend was popular until 712 when it was documented as the Kojiki and later in 720 as the Nihonshoki. Now, they are recognized as sacred Shinto texts. Hence, Shinto played a crucial role in uniting the Japanese islands under a single ruler (Carnagie et al).
Shinto rituals and symbolism still have an influence on political institutions as they did in ancient times, when the Emperor was viewed as a symbol of Japan. Just as those days, the modern Emperor has to perform religious ceremonies to appease the kami and ask them to protect Japan and its people. Presently, the Emperor is still viewed as a symbol of the State and Shinto rituals are involved in every ceremony, starting from the day a new Emperor comes to power. The Emperor is also required to participate in Shinto rituals and festivals such as the rice festival (Carnagie et al.).
In conclusion, Shinto has permeated into every aspect of Japanese culture. The ancient religion continues to influence social and political interactions of the Japanese people and its effect will continue to be felt in the years to come as it is still highly appreciated in the country.