Shinto Religious Practices and Japanese Nationalism

Subject: Religion
Pages: 23
Words: 6323
Reading time:
25 min
Study level: College

Introduction & Thesis statement

Globally, history has been quite an important part of human life with its imperativeness eminent in the contemporary world. For several decades since countries globally became dully independent and formulated means of governance, researchers have continuously argued that cultural, religious, and political paradigms in the current days represent much of the historical backgrounds. Despite diminutive literature existing regarding the influence of religion, culture, and social life on the current living or lifestyles of human beings, some significant studies have emerged in support of this association. Perhaps the most fascinating of all religious backgrounds that still influence people’s living in the current days is the Shinto religion that plays a significant cultural, political, and social influence within the Japanese community.1 Shinto is among the globally renowned religions that remain ethnically and historically attached to the Japanese and their nationalism. Despite the information presented by broad research demonstrating the correlation between Shinto and Japanese nationalism, little is known about this connection. Hence, this research paper explores the correlation between Shinto and Japanese nationalism comprehensively.

Thesis Statement

In this paper, I focus on establishing the relationship between Shinto religious practices and Japanese nationalism. I discuss how Shinto rituals and ceremonies commemorate life to demonstrate that Japanese nationalism is attributed to the Shinto culture. Much of the discussion streams right from the historical foundation of religious nationalism to its dramatic change to state nationalism.

Background to the study

Before getting further into the interest of this study, it is important to understand an overview of the two most important variables in this study that is Shinto religion and Japanese nationalism. Shinto has been among the greatest religions in the world that carry much influence into the lifestyle and nationalism of the Japanese people. Shinto currently ranks tenth in the world’s largest existing religions in recent days with approximately 2.7 million adherents in Japan alone. Notwithstanding its political, cultural, and social prowess in Japanese society, there has been a considerable argument on how the Japanese percept this form of religion with little knowledge existing about its connection with nationalism. Actually, “there are very few people, inclusive of Japanese or foreign, who understand Shinto thoroughly and are able to explain it in detail”.2 First, reviewing a bit of the history of Shinto that connects it with Japanese nationalism is quite significant to this study.

History of Shinto religion

Shinto is an old Japanese non-doctrinal religion that has historically been associating with numerous Japanese communities with sources revealing that it existed even before the appearance of other religions like Buddhism, in the early 6th century.3 Before the emergence of Buddhism in Japan, there existed no formal Shinto in Japan and only a few local cult groups dominated the entire nation, and these groups nowadays form subgroups of Shinto. During the Japanese pre-historic period, “animists were the first inhabitants of Japan and this society remained devoted to spirits of the natural world. For the animists, Kami denoted the spirits existing within the natural phenomena including mountain, storms, earthquakes, seas, or even plants and animals and the Japanese Shinto religion still believes that Kami is responsible for protecting people through devotion and respect”4. The natural world in their case involved the kami, who were the perceptible gods with the meaning of ‘something hidden. This Kami can also consist of honored ancestors known as the ujigami in the Japanese communities.

Historically, the Kami assisted the Shinto followers in understanding religion by providing them with a unifying way of purifying consecrated material and objects. During this historical epoch, the Shinto with their worship in the divine nature spirits mentioned as Kami developed rituals and stories meant to give them a better understanding of their universe by generating a cultural and spiritual world that demonstrated some history.5 Streaming from the primordial living and a strong belief of the natural way of the geographical phenomena and its connection to human life, Shinto grew exponentially in successive decades before the Buddhist group joined them in the 6th century. From this moment, a mixture of Shinto religion, Buddhism, and Confucian interactively started sharing religious believes, views, faith, and traditions that made Shinto even stronger in the national outlook6. Subsequently, Buddhists occupied some of the Shinto’s shrines and worshipping zones, with Buddhist temples gradually developing and the traditions and values associated with them being explored in Japan.

Buddhism empowers Shinto

In successive political regimes, religion and leadership in Japan became two inseparable issues with the government assuming control of the religious practices by establishing the department for affairs of deities. A close connection between the Japanese government and the religious practices continuously emerged with the outgrowth of Buddhism. Also, the Confucian overpowered the Shinto after which Buddhism started expanding concomitantly with a slight growth of Confucian and the government subsequently trusted the Buddhists and gave them the role of supporting the central government in controlling Japan. The idea then emerged that people should strictly submit to the willpower of gods7, which is how much of the Shinto religion became influential in the social, cultural, and political life of the Japanese. The Japanese Emperor and the court that existed at that moment oversaw the emergence of religious compulsions and occasional ceremonies to ensure that Kami remained respected and bestowed with the obligation of Japan and its people. The emperor, being much prominent in the politics of the day, propelled religiousness to greater levels.

In successive moments, “most of the Japanese became more attached and accustomed to the activities, traditions, and the cultures governing Kami and Buddhism ideas that involved their spiritual lives”8. From such a view, until this moment, the Japanese viewed Kami as the transformation of Buddha with the 7th to 8th centuries continuously witnessing an extensive association between the Buddhists and the Japanese government with Sun Goddess Amaterasu becoming the official doctrine.9 The period between the 11th and 15th centuries saw massive interactions among the Buddhists, religious groups, and the Japanese government.10 This moment became one of the best historical transformations that emerged in Japan as religion interactively engaged in political reforms, policing, and governance as the Japanese government became controlled by three interdependent power holders including the Japanese courts, religious establishments, and the aristocracy. A massive controversy emerged during this same period with questions on whether religion had the desired unity, unanimity, or political power compared to the two governing federations and the moment started becoming bitter for the religious establishments.

The sixteenth-century heralded a period of differences in society, even though religious organizations remained dominant in some major parts of the state. By the seventeenth century when missionaries appeared in Japan, Shinto became the preferred religion among the powerful religions with the imperialism of Buddhism despite efforts by the Christians to convert them.11 Since Christianity at this moment seemed like a threat to the existing political monarchy of that era, anti-Christianity became more powerful and dominated followers by ensuring that they impose anti-Christian measures through the Shinto and Buddhism that required followers to register as members in Buddhist temples. Dramatically, before the emergence of the Meiji period towards the eighteenth century, a purer transformation with rituals, cultures, ideas, and beliefs of Shinto began dominating the Japanese community.12 To have a deeper understanding of the foundation of association between Shinto and Japanese nationalism, one must understand the presence of Meiji in history.

The emergence of Meiji and restoration of Shinto

Perhaps the most fascinating moment in the history and development of the association between Shinto and Japanese nationalism is the emergence of Meiji, which is known as the Meiji restoration. In the period within the nineteenth century and specifically in 1868, a sudden change in the history linking Shinto and the Japanese emerged when a traditionally famous emperor Meiji decided to restore the faith, believes, morals, and culture of the Shinto religion.13 Emperor Meiji’s epoch is one of the most important parts of Shinto’s history that must be mentioned in any historical writing covering Shinto. The beginning of Emperor Meiji’s governance and its reinterpretation of Shinto was purposely aiming at “providing a sacred foundation and possibly providing the modern Japan, its philosophies, and its administration with completely a new religious rationale”.14 Emperor Meiji took the initiative to reorganize, restructure, and reform Shinto completely as the governance at this moment decided to separate Shinto from Buddhism and emerged with a more inclusive administrative structure.

Emperor Meiji, who brought about Meiji nationalism, Meiji constitutionality, and the separation of Shinto and Buddhism at this moment, was the sole initiator to the awakening of the remarkable unofficial movement by the Shinto followers headed by their priest to destroy and remove Buddhist images from Shinto shrines. Subsequently, after a massive stressing of Buddhism and efforts to restore Shinto to its earlier religious dominance, the Japanese government under Meiji governance turned Shinto into an official state religion, albeit with a mixture of success and failure.15 The religion of the state in this sense meant that Shinto would force the Japanese government to follow the rituals, doctrines relating to the emperor’s will, and following ancestors royally. This aspect meant that the Japanese government would remain institutionalized under the hierarchy of shrines. Shinto now became the official state religion with Amaterasu validating and overseeing the role of the emperor in Japan.16 With all Buddhism imagery cleared and all shrines cleaned, Shinto emerged as the most powerful state religion that dominated entire Japan.

Shinto after the Second World War

The relationship between Shinto and Japanese nationalism was growing substantially with the greater Japanese population relying on monarchy governed by Emperor Meiji through 1863-1912. At this moment, Shinto was now more cynical, non-religious, and it became more inseparable from the imperialism philosophies. One of the revolutionary moments that remain known in Japanese society and the entire nation is the period between 1939 and 1945 also known as the period after the Second World War. Immediately after the end of the Second World War in 1946, “Shinto underwent disestablishment when the emperorship and the rules bestowed by Emperors started losing their divine status following the emergence of allied reformations in Japan”17. The emerging powers took over the Japanese governance and laid a strong imperial script in January 1946.18 Undoubtedly, Japan was among the forerunners of World War II and given the moment when Shinto was still a powerful state religion, which is the moment when the Japanese post-war constitution became a powerful and separated religion and state and laws governing them articulated.

Gradual changes escalated from the new laws that governed the Japanese as Shinto started losing its official status and its connection to Japanese imperialism and colonialism. The state of Shinto that Meiji propelled its dominance in Japan now remained unconsolidated and shaken with its ideologies and the power of the Emperorship, the divine shrines, and aristocracy was diminished. The incumbent government during that moment established three main regulations that subsequently acted as separation of religion and state under article 20 of the constitution.19 Among the regulations and policies, freedom of religion was a guarantee to all and no religious organization would enjoy any privileges from the State or even have any political influence. Secondly, there would be no compulsion to any individual to follow certain religious culture, rite, or practice. Finally, the government also articulated that the Japanese state should desist from any religious activity including religious education. This move marked the loss of Shinto’s power in the Japanese political paradigm, but the Japanese spirituality and everyday life including nationalism remain entangled around Shintoism even to date.

Modern Shinto in Japan

Following the official disbanding of the Shinto state and its philosophies immediately after the Second World War, the Shinto state religion as a whole lost its prestige in Japan, and followers became discredited by increasingly nationalistic responsibilities that were gradually dominating Japan. The Japanese military at this moment remained powerless and decided to surrender since the American soldiers had conquered them in the events of World War II.20 An influx of immigrants into the Japanese state commenced dramatically after the Shinto religion started losing powers and this move marked the advent of the Japanese Brazilian Catholicism. As stated earlier, the 1946 constitution promulgated by the American government that was dominating Japan by then and that persevered a separation between the state and the church, led Shinto to reform to a non-religious national belief system.21 The state Shinto now remained nothing other than a single form of sectarian Shinto, which did not even compromise the existence of Buddhism. State Shinto also became simply a religion and impoverished from its militaristic and nationalistic elements.

Shinto believes

Historical sources relating to the Shinto religion have revealed much about the foundations under which the Shinto religion originated and Kami as their influential gods. One of the funniest and most captivating aspects of Shinto religion is that its ideologists believe that Shinto has no founder, and it is thus not an entirely independent religious conviction, but it has been part of an independent religion due to the influence of political policy. According to the believing accustomed to the followers of Shinto, this religion comprises divine beings known as Kimi, with no clear distinction among natural, supernatural, spiritual, bodily, or even transcendental and heavenly quintessence22. Shinto does not believe in the originality of sin or evil as eminent in other religions, and for the followers, spiritual goodness in human beings is paramount so long as one respects the Kami.23 Having purely a different religious foundation since the beginning of the first centuries, Shinto never believed in the maintenance of congregational form in their worship routines.

Rituals and traditions

Shinto is one of the oldest religions that have ever existed in Japan and comparable to other religions, rituals and traditions are common features of this religion. Shinto rituals and traditions hold that human beings are naturally born pure and that it is only through living and interacting with the worldly compositions including its creatures that result in tinting the purity and divinity found in human.24 Therefore, since human beings must exist in the world as the only place where life and subsistence prevail, human beings must be cleansed through the performance of rituals. In the Shinto religion, the tsunami may also refer to certain physical features that are beyond mortal control.25 All rituals, protocols, and even gatherings governing the existence of the Shinto religion are equally important, and that human beings must respect the gods to avoid curses and uncertainties. Shinto practices are useful and practical in all forms of ceremonies and celebrations as these rituals enable cleansing and purification.

Rituals and traditions

Literature review

For numerous decades since the historical formation of the Shinto religion in Japan, several studies have managed to examine the existing connection between this religion and the aspects relating to Japanese nationalism. However, diminutive literature exists in pertinence to the correlation between Shinto and Japanese nationalism.26 Despite featuring minutely in the literature concerning the relationship between Shinto religion and the Japanese state, few studies have articulated this association. While trying to understand the relationship between Japanese nationalism and its connection with the Shinto religion, a deeper indulgence into the state, religion, and Japanese nationalists must exist in this study. Several terms describing forms of nationalism that may reflect this correlation may include state religious nationalism, secular nationalism, and state nationalism, and modern nationalism, as well as Shinto nationalism.27 Unending evidence linking the Shinto religion and Japanese nationalism as demonstrated by prior researchers is the prehistoric development of Shintoism cultural values, traditions, values, morals, and even the rituals practiced by early religions.

Religious nationalism

Globally, some leaders tend to draw their leadership skills, philosophies, and principles from their religious cultures and to date, an extensive connection between religion and national leadership still exists. This assertion means that numerous countries have had the impact of certain religions influencing the way of governance where certain religions have officiated to national ascendancy.28 Religious nationalism may typically refer to the situation where people’s political and national governance behaviors follow certain religious beliefs. Perhaps one of the forms of nationalism experienced in contemporary Japan is religious nationalism that history links its development and empowerment to the era of the Meiji restoration. A strong connection between Shinto and the imperialist leadership exercised during the Meiji nationalism can best explain where the connection between religions associates with Japanese nationalism.29 The political paradigm of Japan from 1863-1912 must be the center of the rising questions about the role of religion in nationalism. Three things are distinct in this connection and one must clearly understand them.

One of the most influential aspects that connote this relationship is the existence of the emperorship form of leadership that leaders of early Japan propagated. Emperorship in the early Japanese governance connected with the Shinto religion through ways of worshiping, which was a central point to this relationship. Meiji is among the most celebrated emperors by those linked to the Shinto religion. Emperors in contemporary Japan have a significant impact on Japanese nationalism since the Emperor acts as a national emblem, which is considered holy among the Shinto religion and the Shinto rituals are normally useful in accessing new emperors.30 Shrines have been significant in establishing the co-existence between the Shinto religion and Japanese nationalism as shrines, for instance, the Ise Grand Shrines, have been in regular use in preserving the Japanese nationhood. With the emperor’s association with the famous Yasukuni shrine and the Shinto shrine in Japan, the connection between religious nationalism and the national activities in Japan has remained evitable to the latter.

State nationalism and State affairs

In the context of the prehistoric essence of the Shinto religion into the Japanese nationalism, one must understand the aspects related to the statehood of Japan and its constitutionality. It is unreasonable to explicate the association between Shinto’s involvement and propagation of Japanese laws right from its historical involvement in the earlier regimes. Meiji nationalism, militarism, and his rule of imperialism in supporting Shinto religious dominance perpetuated the involvement of religion in Japanese constitutionality.31 A majority of laws governing Japanese nationalism automatically streamed from Meiji’s involvement in Shinto state, which made him posit, “Japanese subjects shall, within limits not prejudicial to peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy the freedom of religious belief”32 in article 28 of the Meiji Constitution. Despite its suppression in the decades after the Second World War, all rules including from pros and cons of Shinto’s existence, none of the laws were meant to destroy the dominance of State Shinto and its followers.

The majority of the contemporary religious and national laws governing Japan as a nation originated from the Shinto religion with different other religions that emerged after Shinto enjoying almost equal worship rights propelled by the Shinto religion. As the ideologies of nation-building bestowed in other Asian, African, and even the Latin American countries, the relationship between religious supremacy and national interest has been of the same kind and strong in these nations.33 Away from concentrating on other nations, Shinto as the longest-serving religion in the history of Japan has a huge influence on the constitutionality of Japan as a sovereign state. The post-war revival of religious control in Japan contributed to the formation of major rules and regulations that perhaps govern the way of Japanese nationalism. Three documents emerged central to Shinto purification rituals and its destabilization after the Japanese military failed to conquer the world during the Second World War. The command for the Disestablishment of State Shinto in (1945), royally Re-script relinquishing Divinity (1946), and the post-war Constitution.

The command for the Disestablishment of State Shinto in (1945) and the two major national documents form an important part of Japanese nationalism as they currently face endless condemnation over allegations of trying to subjugate religious freedom in Japan. The central aim of the Directive for the Disestablishment of State Shinto (1945) emerged principally “not to destroy Shinto, but to prevent the reappearance or rather the repetition of Shinto religious beliefs and theories that were taking the Japanese people aback and leading them into aggression and wars”.34 Following the pressure and domineering aspect of Shinto, one can connect its association with nationalism, which is an important constitutional aspect. After the disestablishment of Shinto from national autonomy, three important constitutional affairs appeared after Meiji disappeared from power in 1912, all promulgated by the new Japanese Constitution. All the Japanese had freedom of religion, no compulsion to certain religious rituals and rights, and the state and its organs refrained from all religious activities, which have led to the latter being affected by religious policies in contemporary Japan.

Other important regulations that Shinto propelled to their existence may be to modern China are the regulations covering the use of state resources and state finances. Article 89 of the Japanese constitution that replaced the imperial constitution of Meiji stated, “No public money or other property shall be expended or appropriated for the use, benefit or maintenance of any religious institution or association, or for any charitable, educational or benevolent enterprises not under the control of public authority”.35 This might not have appeared to destroy Shinto‘s existence, but the American-dominated occupation government that supported the formation of this constitution wanted to bring a sense of equity in worship by enabling independence of religions. The above regulation appeared mainly to ensure the existence of religious freedom in Japan since most of the Latin Americans during that era associated much with Christianity. This civil religion blended with secular nationalism that Americans propagated, which relied mostly on Christianity symbols and religious characteristics.

Shinto nationalism

All these forms of nationalism might have a similar meaning, but giving in-depth coverage of the circumstances that led to the establishment of each of them may sound imperative in understanding Shinto’s association with Japanese nationalism. Shinto nationalism that was typically renowned and named Shintoism during the Meiji regime had a great impact on the emperorship and leadership exercised by emperors, with approximately three emperors using the Shintoism aspect in leadership.36 Through its connection to the support of Shintoism in 1868, the Meiji constitution brought the power of the Shinto religion into existence and ensured that emperorship remained a powerful figure. The emperor and his leadership, despite being expected to respect the law of the land, ruled with imperialism and ensured that he remained powerful than the laws themselves.37 One of the considerable aspects that one must recognize in examining the relationship between Shinto and Japan is the leadership bestowed in the military and the national security of Japan during Meiji’s regime and his constitutionality.

The military has always been an important part of national governance with numerous research connecting authoritarian leaders with much utilization of militarism in their tyrannical leadership. The existence of Meiji and his constitution had once been the forerunner of explicating the relationship between the military and religion. In a bid to ensure that Meiji remained powerful amongst the early Japanese, it was essential to support Shinto and it would give mutual support in return.38 The military’s political order that is currently eminent in the leadership of modern Japan resulted from the association between Emperors and State Shinto in the early centuries of Japanese governance. This aspect was particularly eminent in the Japanese pre-historical way of governance through the Ministry of the Military and Ministry of Home Affairs who connected soldiers to Shinto through Shrines in Yasukuni.39 This move meant that through the nationalistic Shinto, the military ruling government propelled the force of imperialistic governance that somehow calmly exists even in the current decades. For such a long period, Shinto influenced militarism until the Japanese government surrenders after World War II.

Japanese nationalism

Currently, Japanese nationalism contains a rich historical diversity enriched in the social, political, and economical stance of the state of Japan. Perhaps one wonders how the influence or how religion connects with Japanese nationalism, but right from the economic and political behavior, religion has had a big share in such paradigms.40 One of the most contemporarily argued human aspects is the education real with almost every country in the world understanding and struggling to improve the forms of education to assist in national growth. In Japan, the quest to improve national education has existed around the forces created by the Shinto religion in the early centuries with a mixture of success and failure characterizing the education sector in Japan. Even the early immigrants into Japan themselves despite some having a negative mindset of Shinto consumed much of education influenced by this religion. The Imperial Re-script on Education was common, with rituals performed following a set of Japanese holidays observed occasionally.

Japanese education and Shintoism

In a bid to rearticulate the sense of national strength and pride of the rich Shinto’s diversity in the entire Japanese history, education has been an influential element in connecting Japanese nationalism and Shinto religiousness. The Meiji Constitution in 1889 was among the first practical obligation of a national association with Shinto, by introducing Imperial Re-script on Education.41 In this constitutional document, religion remains defined as an independent and private affair. The Japanese educational system remains significant in religious transformation as Shinto mutually perpetuated the reformation of the system by ensuring that the education, though an independent factor within Japan, ran under the influence of historical Shinto. Nothing has remained unturned to later decades as Shinto still has the power and influence in important life elements of Japanese nationalists as recently witnessed in the formation of Shindo Renmei, who symbolize a closer permanence of State Shinto education.42 Education in Japan, despite representing the rise of modern nationalism, has had much influence on the Shinto religion and its imperialistic nature.

The moment that characterized educational reforms in Japan is still the presence of the Imperial Re-script on Education by Meiji the Emperor in 1890, with State Shinto enjoying national promotion through education socialization of almost all Japanese nationalists. Throughout successive decades, the Japanese educational system has remained characterized by the form of nationalism of the Meiji epoch when a ritualized interpretation of ethnicity became influential.43 Imperial Re-script on Education by the Meiji constitution altered much in the modern Japanese nationalism as this Holy Scripture has propelled the growth of nationalistic rituals influenced by the Shinto religion. As highlighted in several studies, much of the present Japanese education contains Shinto and Meiji influence since it emphasizes on memorization of concepts rather than the modern educational realm that requires students to use logical thinking in addressing educational challenges. According to research, traditional Japanese education involves much emphasis on long imitation and unending memorization during studying rather than common sense application and concise reasoning in education.

Presentation of feature data

One of the main features of symbolic elements that portray the influence of Shinto is the logo used to demonstrate the essence or foundation of Shinto. From personal experience with historical sources, current filmmaking, and symbolism, one main emblem of modern living in Japan is picturesque. Religious symbols of Shinto have been influential in the modern political, social, and economic stratification of the Japanese with all emperors expected to respect and protect these religious emblems as part of conserving the rich Japanese religious history.44 The following figures demonstrate a torii, which is one of the outstanding historical symbols that signifies a bird perch and used as a traditional Japanese gate located at the entrance of Shrines.

a torii, which is one of the outstanding historical symbols that signifies a bird perch and used as a traditional Japanese gate located at the entrance of Shrines.

Almost all the Shrines in historical as well as contemporary Japan have the eminence of this symbol. Structures, scripture furniture, and even a broad set of artifacts developed by artists in modern Japan have the presence of this symbol, distinctively or partially incorporated.45 Buildings, inclusive of residential, shrines, and industries designed from the Japanese system have influenced religious symbols designed by the Shinto. The symbol demonstrates divinity and holiness and thus priests, politicians, and nationalists have respect for them.

The symbol demonstrates divinity and holiness and thus priests, politicians, and nationalists have respect for them.

Emperorship in the Japanese

One of the most significant features that cannot miss in the literature concerning the historical power of Shinto is the long-existing emperor photos that Meiji and his fellow leaders created and made nationalists respect it. Within the Asian and African continents, photos of political leaders have always formed political culture with the entire populace expected to respect the representations of either Kings or presidents in the form of images or photos.46 Emperorship was and has probably been a crucial aspect in the Japanese political history with the Meiji constitution forcing the use of emperor images in almost all national sectors in Japan, including having the photographs in all educational institutions and other public places. The image below demonstrates Emperor Meiji photographed in court shawls in the 1800 century. Both Yasukuni and emperor symbols in Japan contribute to a greater shared emotional sense of heritage and belonging that influences the concept of civil religion.

Both Yasukuni and emperor symbols in Japan contribute to a greater shared emotional sense of heritage and belonging that influences the concept of civil religion.

Symbols of war

War and aggression had marked the existence of the Shinto period, religious, and national imperialism, which is a connection that has much associated with the Japanese current nationalism with current literature highlighting Japanese involvement in arsenals. In particular, religious conflict has been a crucial aspect in the Japanese government and since the association between the state and religion decreased with no religion expected to receive more privilege from the religions has been slightly stable in Japan.47 One of the rich historical symbols that the Japanese have remained renowned from their filmmaking is the symbols of war. War has been a strong belief among believers of the Shinto religion. “Its roots extend to ancient religious beliefs according to which the spirits of the slain enemy had to be feared and placated so that they would not take revenge after their death”.48 This Japanese symbolism underscores the armed strength, authoritarian, and imperialistic nature of national governance during the Shinto period.

This Japanese symbolism underscores the armed strength, authoritarian, and imperialistic nature of national governance during the Shinto period.

Explanations, synthesis, and analysis

In a bid to develop a coherent understanding of the long perceived correlation between the Shinto religion and Japanese nationalism, one must first understand the prevailing Japanese nationalism. Japanese nationalism in the first place developed from the religious forces exhibited by the Shinto religion and the political stand that developed during the early centuries. Despite a shallow coverage of the history concerning Shinto in this study, it is imperative to understand that much of the political, social, and cultural paradigms arose from the aspect of Shintoism during the pre-war and post-war era49 Drawing evidence from the historical point of view, it is eminent that the Shinto religion has been in the Japanese national interests and thus it has a great connection between Shinto and Japanese nationalism. Efforts to restore civil religion and fight against state religion resulted in the break of religious nationalism propelled by State Shinto and replaced by a nation-state. Nonetheless, some of the current trends and activities accustomed to Japanese nationalists still reveal Shinto’s influence in modern Japan.

Religious ceremonies in modern Japan

Despite the dismantling of Shinto and some of its practices after the post-war period of the Second World War after disbanding of state religion philosophies in Japan, much has not changed in the religiousness of current Japan. History reveals that a majority of the religions that emerged after the disbanding of the Shinto religion during 1946, involved small units of religions still accustomed to the Shinto religion. One of the contemporary religious practices that still portray Japanese nationalism is the religious ceremonies that still portray the presence of Shintoism in Japanese. The undistorted Shinto shrines that are currently standing erect in Japan have been constantly connecting the historical Shinto to the current Japanese communities. New Year celebrations are among the elements that can best describe the existing connections between Japanese nationalism and the Shinto religion. Among the Shinto’s beliefs, customs involving New Year were among the most respectable rites that the department of divinity considered during the moment of the Meiji constitution.

Public holidays in modern Japan

Globally, public holidays are governments’ most treasured moments, and akin to other nations across the world, Japan has always been observing national holidays and public ceremonies. Most of the current and important national ceremonies that normally remain practiced in modern Japan have been linking with several customs and traditions that Shinto introduced in the early centuries. The Imperial Re-script on Education that solely remained Holy Scripture and with nationalistic rituals has been an important tool in conducting Japanese national holidays. Therefore, “the great majority of the Japanese do not see themselves as preoccupied with religion, meaning that the Japanese religion is socially weak, both privately and publicly”50. This aspect has led to extensive and popular involvement in communally oriented practices and rituals even outside Japanese public ceremonies. Accustomed to the use of Shines and rituals, several national holidays that are considered in contemporary Japan have traces and influence of Shinto religion. This study noted approximately ten main national holidays that Shinto plays an important role.

Of all the important national ceremonies and celebrations, “New Year’s Day, Adults day or Coming of Age Day, Emperor’s Birthday, Bean-Throwing Ceremony, Labor Thanksgiving Day, Constitution Memorial Day, National Founding Day, Greenery Day, Girl’s Festival or Doll Festival and a few but to mention, Festival for Deceased Ancestors”.51 All these ceremonies mark the co-existence of the Shinto religion in Japanese nationalism with approximately two million religious members visiting shrines within three days during the New Year celebrations. Rituals and important traditions in current Japan normally happen in several shrines that the Shinto religion managed to develop during the prehistoric era. Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine and Hanamidō are some of the common shrines used in the current Japanese national holidays. Nonetheless, the Japanese use some portable shrines while marking some important national celebrations and activities, with followers conducting parades, music, dancing, games, and theatrical performances. Japanese nationalists during this moment pray to the gods to provide a continuum of blessings inclusive of rich harvests, good health, fertility, and even success in businesses.

Japanese nationalists during this moment pray to the gods to provide a continuum of blessings inclusive of rich harvests, good health, fertility, and even success in businesses.

Shinto robes and features in modern Japan

Perhaps the most important thing to consider while reflecting the presence of Shinto in contemporary Japanese nationalism is the issue of religious clothing associated with the Shinto religion. The current Japanese attire has much correlation with the long historically developed robes by the Shinto religion with approximately two million followers practicing the use of shawls in their clothing. The robes formally accustomed to Shinto shrines and only given to ritually clean priests are now common religious fashions in the Japanese communities and mainly used when celebrating certain public ceremonies. Both men and women can qualify to be priests in the Shinto religion just as it was in the traditional foundation of Shinto, with such priests assisted by young priestesses known as Miko.52 During Shinto rituals and performances the priestesses who are the Mikos wear special white cloths familiarized with Shinto known as Kimono, the women must remain unmarried and this is normally daughters from elder priests. The ceremonies also involve a million civilians wearing little talismans and charms that they believe provide protection against evil and bring success.

Discussion and conclusion

Given a continuum of studies covering the correlation between the Shinto religion and Japanese nationalism, it is impossible to alienate the two aspects, which are currently inseparable. The events of pre-war remained under the stint of colonies characterized by national or religious imperialism and leaders had a greater connection to certain rituals, traditions, customs, and beliefs. Shinto cannot be exceptional in the case of religious nationalism throughout its history and towards the forming of the present-day Japanese nationalism. Buddhism, Christianity, and Shintoism have been major religions in developing Japanese nationalism through religious nationalism. How “these traditions combine in fashioning Japanese religiosity is not easy to see for outside observers and due to the variety of traditions, which in order for one to exist next to the other, religious tolerance is a requisite, but it also follows from the nature of both Shinto and Buddhism.”53 The Americans with their revolutionary in the Japanese communities led to civil religiousness, but could not manage to change the Japanese Shinto religiousness.

Shinto is an old Japanese non-doctrinal religion that has historically been associating with numerous Japanese communities which sources revealing that it existed even before the appearance of other religions like Buddhism, in the early 6th century. Despite its suppression by the American colonists during the post-war, Shinto has continuously remained influential in developing Japanese current nationalism as it influences all forms of national social, cultural, and political spheres. Within the Japanese government, several matters of national interests have been depending on some traditions historically embedded in Shintoism. The military-political order that is currently eminent in the leadership of modern Japan resulted from the association between Emperors and State Shinto in the early centuries of Japanese governance.54 The educational paradigm has been under the influence of earlier teachings introduced by the Shinto religion including narrative and imitative learning rather than logical reasoning. Most of the current dressing behaviors, national celebrations, and religious occasions in contemporary Japan have been depending on early practices and rituals as introduced by the Shinto religion.

Though not appealing to all nationalists especially those who formed religions after the invasion of immigrants, Shinto still holds an important cultural role in current Japan. In essence, none of the religions can ever prove significant in improvising, developing, and nurturing cultural values that have become past tense in other countries and no longer in practice. Not everyone might agree with the perceived significance of the Shinto religion in shaping modern nationalism in Japan, but understanding the importance of cultural influence that it carries is quite imperative. Perhaps one of the forms of nationalism experienced in contemporary Japan is religious nationalism that history links its development and empowerment to the era of Meiji restoration, and values in shaping culture are remarkable. Notwithstanding the socio-political battle that almost destroyed this important religion, the Shinto religion has become of great national value to the Japanese.


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Bree, John, and Mark Teeuwen. A New History of Shinto: Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Dobbins, James, and Suzzane Gay. “Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion.” Journal of Japanese Studies 7, no.1 (1981): 1-21.

Fukase-Indergaard, Fumiko, and Michael Indergaard. “Religious Nationalism and the Making of the Modern Japanese State.” Theory and Society 37 no.4 (2008): 343-374.

Inoue, Nobutaka, Endo Jun, Mori Mizue, and Ito Satoshi. Shinto: A Short History. Washington: University of Washington Press, 2003.

Littleton, Scott. Understanding Shinto: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Festivals, Spirits, and Sacred Places. London: Watkins Pub, 2011.

Nelson, John. A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Ono, Sokyo, and William Woodard. Shinto the Kami Way, Clarendon, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2004.

Reader, I. “Civil Religion in Contemporary Japan.” The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies 9, no.94 (1994): 6-31.

Shimazono, Susumu, and Murphy Reagan. “State Shinto in the Lives of the People: The Establishment of Emperor Worship, Modern Nationalism, and Shrine Shinto in Late Meiji.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 36, no.1 (2009): 93-124.

“Shinto History.” Web.

Shoji, Rafael. “The Failed Prophecy of Shinto Nationalism and the Rise of Japanese Brazilian Catholicism.”Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35, no.1 (2008): 13-38.

Suga, Kōji. “A Concept of “Overseas Shinto Shrines: A Pantheistic Attempt by Ogasawara Shōzō and Its Limitations.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37, no.1 (2010): 47-74.

Sugimoto, Yoshio. An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Yamakage, Motohisa. The Essence of Shinto, Japan’s Spiritual Heart. New York: Kodansha International, 2007.


  1. John Bree and Mark Teeuwen, A New History of Shinto: Blackwell Brief Histories of Religion (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 211.
  2. “Shinto History,”, Web.
  3. Nobutaka Inoue, Endo Jun, Mori Mizue, and Ito Satoshi, Shinto: A Short History, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2003, 115.
  4. Ibid, 144.
  5. Shoji, Rafael, “The Failed Prophecy of Shinto Nationalism and the Rise of Japanese Brazilian Catholicism,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 35, no.1 (2008): 33.
  6. Scott Littleton, Understanding Shinto: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Festivals, Spirits, and Sacred Places, London: Watkins Pub, 2011, 73.
  7. Kōji Suga, “A Concept of “Overseas Shinto Shrines: A Pantheistic Attempt by Ogasawara Shōzō and Its Limitations,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37, no.1 (2010), 47.
  8. Ibid, 49.
  9. James Dobbins and Suzanne Gay, “Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion,” Journal of Japanese Studies 7, no.1 (1981): 12.
  10. Ibid, 16.
  11. Motohisa, Yamakage, The Essence of Shinto, Japan’s Spiritual Heart, New York: Kodansha International, 2007, 206.
  12. Dobbins and Gay, 18.
  13. Ian Reader, “Civil Religion in Contemporary Japan,” The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies 9, no.94 (1994): 18.
  14. Susumu Shimazono and Murphy Reagan, “State Shinto in the Lives of the People: The Establishment of Emperor Worship, Modern Nationalism, and Shrine Shinto in Late Meiji,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 36, no.1 (2009): 94.
  15. Dobbins and Gay, 20.
  16. Shoji, 36.
  17. Yamakage, 148
  18. Yoshio Sugimoto, An Introduction to Japanese Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, 209.
  19. Sugimoto, 92.
  20. Littleton, 95.
  21. Yamakage, 132.
  22. Sokyo Ono and William Woodard, Shinto the Kami Way, Clarendon, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2004, 105.
  23. Bree and Teeuwen, 230.
  24. “Shinto History,”, Web.
  25. Suga, 67.
  26. John Nelson, A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996, 68.
  27. Ibid, 144.
  28. Shimazono and Reagan, 102.
  29. Nelson, 125.
  30. Inoue et al., 94.
  31. “Shinto History,”, Web.
  32. Fumiko Fukase-Indergaard and Michael Indergaard, “Religious Nationalism and the Making of the Modern Japanese State,” Theory and Society 37 no.4, (2008): 347.
  33. Bree and Teeuwen, 146.
  34. Reader, 22.
  35. “Shinto History,”, Web.
  36. Fukase-Indergaard and Indergaard, 349.
  37. Ibid, 364
  38. Shimazono and Reagan, 114.
  39. Littleton, 114.
  40. “Shinto History,”, Web.
  41. “Shinto History,”, Web.
  42. Ibid, 118.
  43. Bree and Teeuwen, 169.
  44. Suga, 66.
  45. Reimon Bachika, “A Look at Religion in Japan,” Religion and politics in present-day Japan 1, no.4 (2010): 17.
  46. Reader, 24.
  47. Bachika, 29.
  48. s. Littleton, 119.
  49. Bachika, 22.
  50. Suga, 70.
  51. Nelson, 58.
  52. Bachika, 21.
  53. Nelson, 103.