The Forms of Shinto
The principal configurations of Shinto in the modern world are Koshitsu (State Shinto), Jinja (Shrine Shinto), Kyoha (Sect Shinto), and Minkan (Popular Shinto). Following the Imperial Restoration of 1868, Buddhism was denounced, Shinto was made the official state religion, and the emperor was worshiped as a god. After Japan surrendered in 1945, Shinto lost its role as state religion, and the emperor was forced to forgo (for a time, at least) any claim to personal divinity. However, Shrine Shinto continued to be practiced on a private level under the so-called “Shinto Directive” imposed by the victorious Allies, which returned freedom of religion to the Japanese people. Buddhism and Christianity could again be practiced openly, alongside Shinto, and that situation prevails today. Although Shrine Shinto did not exist as a religious organization until after 1868, it is associated with the ancient forms of nature worship that took shape around shrines devoted to particular kami, local or national. Following the war, shrines were removed from government control, and became dependent on support by the people.
Sect Shinto consists of a wide range of sects with very different philosophies and practices. Thirteen are officially recognized, from the so-called “pure” sects of Shinto Honkyoku, Shinri Kyo, and Taisha Kyo, to the overtly Confucian-influenced sects Shusei Ha and Teisei Kyo. Hundreds of sub-sects were either subsumed by these or thrive quietly alongside them. Some sects focus on worship of mountains, which make up 80 percent of the land mass of Japan yet are almost uninhabited. The remaining sects, only marginally Shinto, focus mainly on faith-healing and were founded within the last century and a half through the work of charismatic individuals. All three sects tend to extreme emotionalism and the use of magic in healing. “
Festivals called matsuri form a large part of Popular Shinto practice today. Many of them have to do with food, although they also serve as vehicles for requests for anything from a successful crop to the birth of sons, for thanks, to pacify destructive kami, or for divination. The Kagura, for instance, is a popular peace offering of food, music-making, and dancing that can be held at any time the worshipers request it of the temple attendants. The imperial household conducts 64 separate rituals in the course of a year, although the emperor participates in only a portion of them. The most important is the Nii Name Sai or Festival of New Food, during which the first-fruits of the harvest are offered in thanksgiving. Celebrated by the emperor on November 23-4, it focuses on the all-important grain harvest, and reaches back to the point of transition in Japanese culture from hunting and fishing to agriculture.