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     Shintoism is peculiarly Japanese.  In one way it's hard to ascribe the term "religion" to such a system  since there is no  particular set of beliefs that is followed, no creed, no founder, no real set of doctrines.  The word originates from the words shen and tao, which literally means the "way of the gods."       Shintoism has existed long before written records and can be looked upon as a type of animism, or nature worship,  and involves the worship of kami, or sacred spirits, that represents natural processes or objects such as trees, springs, rivers, wind, fertility, etc.   These beliefs reflect those of the indigenous people of Japan and most likely migrated to this area from central and southeast Asia.

     Others say that the beliefs came from China and Korea along with various shamanistic and agricultural rites which transformed under the unique conditions found in Japan.  Still others say that Shinto did not really exist as we understand it today, but that at one time it should be referred simply as "kami worship."

     Modern Shinto customs are a syncretic mixture of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddism.  Upon the original kami worship was fused various customs and teachings of Confucianism and Taoism.  Originally each tribe and region has its own set of kami.  However, around the third to fifth centuries in order to lend more credence and power to the Yamato Kingdom, the ancestors of the emperor were mythologized and given prominence over others.  The kojki which is the earliest surviving historical book dealing with Japanese history, claimed that the emperor's family descended from the Sun Goddess herself.

    The introduction of writing (fifth century) and Buddhism (sixth century) led to the fusion of many of Buddhist beliefs and these beliefs of early Japan.  Later there was an effort to separate the beliefs of the two and to establish Shintoism as the pure state religion of Japan (Meiji Restoration).
















Links to Shintoism

Site critical to the religion

Good summary