Meaning “Way of the Divine”, Shinto represents an almost entirely Japanese way of thinking, distilled from strong influences such as animism, Buddhism, and general Chinese thought.
There are three general types of Shinto, all closely inter-related. Shrine Shinto (Jinja Shinto) is the principle form, in existence from the beginning of Japanese history, through which others act. Folk Shinto (Minzoku Shinto) is a sub-string of this, centered on the veneration of small roadside images, with a particular focus on agricultural rites. Sect Shinto (Kyoha Shinto) has developed during and since the 19th century, with about 13 forms currently in existence, each one having a founder who sought to systemise Shinto belief.
A fourth, State Shinto (Kokka Shinto) was an attempt to identify religion and state together, effectively rendering the Japanese monarch as Divine, but was discontinued after the Second World War (1939-1945).
Shinto has no founder or canon of texts, but has consistently been a powerful force in Japanese culture. Acknowledging a range of spirits and deities, it is a personal system of belief without general dogmas.
There are, however, some texts that stand out and are commonly read among practitioners, not least the Nihongi, the Kojiki, and the Yengishiki, which are included on this site.
These essentially link the Japanese people directly with the Divinities of Heaven, though more specifically, the purpose of the Kojiki and Nihongi is to link the Yamato victors of the 7th century AD with Divine descent.
Shinto in itself has no defining morality of its own. Essentially, in the Shinto worldview, the world is good, people are good, and there is harmony – which is ever threatened by evil spirits, who must be dispelled and kept at bay. The social ethic of the Japanese people therefore comes from a close mixing of both Confuscian and Buddhist principles, with strong emphasis on honour, duty, and filial piety.