Introduction to Shinto

            A religious cult revolving around Japan’s Emperor as the direct descendant of the sacred sun-goddess Amaterasu-Omikami, Shinto finds itself somewhere between animism and a mythic imperial court. The Kojiki, or “Record of Ancient Matters,” written in 712 and the Nihon Shoki or “Chronicles of Japan,” written in 720, records Shinto’s mythological canon. Compiled under the direction of the ruling Yamato court who conquered the island of Honshu using martial force, the texts tell a variety of versions of the clans’ history. The ritual actions of Shinto, visible in the Kojiki and and that continue today, are interactions between humans and gods, or kami, and thanks to the Kojiki, have become interlocked with Japan’s imperial court. While the Shinto of the Yamato clan has in many ways become its own religion, and the predominant religion of Japan at that, a close and subtextual reading of these two historical records reveal motifs that point to inter-cultic conflict, annexation of intercontinental beliefs, and a struggled for power that is hidden beneath the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki‘s tall tales.

Website Navigation:

  1. Basic Shinto Rituals, a starting place for those that want to learn about basic etiquette and prayers.
  2. Izumo Taisha and Ise Jingu sites, introduce the temples, their atmospheres, and some of their discursive practices.
  3. Shikinen Sengu 四季年遷宮// Sengu 遷宮, an introduction to the rebuilding ritual and a discussion of its role.


On the surface, the Kojiki concerns itself with the tales of Japan’s deities and the conflicts of their human progeny, but a deeper reading reveals how the text has preserved the turbulent formation of Shinto. The victorious military power of the Honshu island, the Yamato court compiled the Kojiki once it had already become the dominant power in the land. The Kojiki is rich with historical disruptions that dismantle the conception of the Japanese peoples as descending from a single lineage. By disassembling the text’s didactic elements and engaging the primary source with new evidence about the origins of its myths, encoded biases emerge that develop a new understanding of differences among Shinto shrines across Honshu based on geo-political factors.

Basic Prayer Patterns

Figure 1: How to Pray to Kami. Accessed 5/7/20. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxoVMVVCW7c.
This video, borrowed from Ise Jingu’s official website, demonstrates proper ritual hand washing technique and basic bowing and clapping patterns.

Bowing and Clapping: One of the basic Shinto practices, worshippers bow twice, clap twice, and bow once more while saying a silent prayer. At Izumo Taisha, the practice changes, instead worshippers clap four times.