Shinto Beliefs & the Modern Western World

Shinto beliefs have affected Western thought.

Shinto beliefs have affected Western thought.

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by Contributing Writer

Despite the role of Shintoism as the native religion of Japan, it does not have a central text or organization. Instead, the religion reflects a number of folk traditions and beliefs that differ depending on the region. While these beliefs often reflect uniquely Japanese concerns, Shintoism doesn't exists in isolation from the rest of the world. As Japan's global role changed, Shintoism began to have an impact on the Western world.


The origin of Shintoism extends back into prehistory, but the introduction of Buddhism to Japan changed the religion greatly. Buddhist and Shinto beliefs became intermingled with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples often built side by side. During the Meiji restoration, in an attempt to bolster Japanese nationalism, the Japanese government sought to purify Shintoism and reaffirm its position as Japan's national religion. However, after the end of World War II, America forced the Emperor to renounce his divine status changing the religion once again.

Western Influence on Shintoism

Shinto teachings now claim that the Emperor is merely a figure of national unity, effectively separating religion and the state and returning Shintoism to its more regional roots. However, this was not the first time Western values came into conflict with Shintoism. Another change occurred much earlier when Japan opened its ports to the rest of the world. Prior to this, Shinto concerns were largely centered around the country of Japan, and while this did not change drastically, many followers began to focus on broader concepts such as the natural world.

Ecology and Peace

Shinto adherents believe that many of the religion's beliefs have the power to shape the Western world for the better. Chief among these beliefs is the worship of nature. As many in the West struggle to deal with issues of pollution, Shintoists cite belief in the divinity of nature as proof that governments must do more to protect the natural world. Similarly, the Shinto emphasis on harmony rejects war and affirms the importance of global peace.

Shinto in the West

In the Western World, Shintoism only has a short history and estimates claim there are only about 1000 believers living in North America. In 1986, the first Shinto shrine was built in mainland America, although it was predated by numerous shrines all over the islands of Hawaii. Since a purely Japanese focus is problematic for many non-Japanese believers, many overseas shrines focus on the divine power of all nature and the healing powers of worship.

About the Author

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.

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