Researching Japanese Religions on the Web (2) – Shintō and Folk Religion

The second part of my on-going, barely organized link dump on the online study of Japanese religions concerns itself with Shintō and folk religion. If you aren’t yet familiar with Japanese religion and its study on the web, I recommend you check out the first part first, where I have attempted to provide a basic guide. If you feel ready for more, read on below the fold…

Researching Shintō is made a lot harder by the fact that no two scholars can agree on what exactly constitutes Shintō. Is it merely a modern “invention”, as the venerated Basil Hall Chamberlain already claimed in 1912, long before Erick Hobsbawm would make such ideas fashionable? Or are there at least some parts of (pre-)modern Shintō that authentically conserve the ancient, indigenous folk religion of Japan? In his illuminating (German) essay “Shinto: Versuch einer Begriffsbestimmung”, Bernhard Scheid gives us an overview of the different types of Shintō commonly identified by most scholars, end explains some central terms, such as kegare and kami, as well as providing a basic bibliography. A good English primer on the same topics can be found at the Photo Dictionary of Japanese Shintoism. Meanwhile, Klaus Antoni provides a good bibliography on Japanese folk religion. The Network of Shinto Scholars in the West has a small, perhaps outdated website with link lists and another bibliography.

Some of the texts that are important to Shintō believers can be found online, in the Japanese original and in English translation. Again, Klaus Antoni has put together a great site on the KiKi myths (Nihon shoki and Kojiki), with some e-texts and a link collection. Sacred Texts has a nice collection as well.

Online dictionaries: The Kokugakuin’s Glossary of Shinto Names and Terms gives us a good basic reference work and even provides links to online papers relevant to each term! Also from the Kokugakuin comes the Encyclopedia of Shinto, presented on their website as “the English translation of the Shinto jiten edited by the Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics and published by Kobundo in 1994. Links to video images, illustrations, photographs and sound files have been added.” What more do you need?

Perhaps some additional information on kami would be in order. The Kokugakuin has published a whole digitalized collection of essays concerning itself with the concept of kami, the foundation kami, the figure of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and so on. The web site Shinbutsudo deals with much the some topics, but goes into more detail as it covers individual kami such as Susano-O or Tsukiyomi. A highly useful Japanese site explaining many kami (and helpfully providing both kanji spellings and kana readings to their names) can be found here: Yaoyorozu no kami 八百万の神.

Also in the Kokugakuin’s series “Contemporary Papers in Japanese Religion”, and also available online, are volumes about the phenomenon of matsuri and folk beliefs in general.

Some great essays on topics related to the question of the sometimes problematic relationship between Shintō and the nation: Michael Pye provides a thoughtful paper, contextualizing Shintō in modern Japanese history and enumerating some problems the religion faces in modern society. Christoph Kleine points to the role Shintō has played in the service of national identity construction in the modern era (English abstract, German essay), while James H. Graysay looks at State Shintō in the service of the Japanese colonial regime in Korea. Of course, the first name that will come to many people’s minds when they hear “State Shintō” will be the Yasukuni Shrine. Check out the shrine’s official website and make up your own mind about all the controversy it has sparked. Their site has an English section as well, which not only informs us about the “1,068 ‘Martyrs of Showa’ who were cruelly and unjustly tried as war criminals by a sham-like tribunal of the Allied forces,” but also holds that “the peace and prosperity of Japan today is the fruit of the noble work of the Kami of Yasukuni Jinja.” Oh well.

Three other websites by believers provide insight into Shintō’s less controversial holy sites, and everyday religious practice. “The Way of the Kami” is an interesting e-book biography that tells us about “The Life And Thought Of A Shinto Priest”. The Shinto Online Network Association describes itself as “a non-profit volunteer organisation with the objective of publicising Japanese tradition and a correct understanding of the Shinto religion. Our organisation is run by volunteer Shinto priests affiliated to Jinja Honcho.” And the Cyber Shrine has a beautiful photo collection of shrines all over Japan, and even lets you do o-mikuji online!

Up perhaps sometime next month: the third part in this series, which will cover Buddhism, another biggie. Until then.

1 Response to “Researching Japanese Religions on the Web (2) – Shintō and Folk Religion”



  1. 1 Shinto reference works « Executive Pagan Trackback on December 16, 2007 at 1:49 am

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