Shinto, translated into ‘The way of the gods’ and dates back to 660 B.C. Shinto is loosely called a religion but is seen as and practiced as embracing many practices and beliefs. Shinto has influences from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism but there is a strong history in mythology and mysticism. Women have had a long history throughout Shinto from the highest ranking of priestess to being unable to be a religious leader at all. Common Characteristics of other Religions
Shinto is Japan’s indigenous religion. The origins of Shinto are difficult to trace back to any one branch of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Confucianism but there are similarities between them all. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism have all influenced the Shinto religion. Buddhism
Buddhism has had considerable influence on the Shinto religion. One shared characteristic is the idea of harmony. Harmony is wanted between society, deities or kami, humans, and the cosmos. Moral thoughts and actions are shared between the two religions. Symbolism is shared as well. Rituals are used in both religions but in varying ways. Both religions share the belief of sacred places either building or natural objects. Hinduism
Shintoism and Hinduism are polytheistic religions. Both religions have been influenced by cultures over time. Neither religion has a founder. Shinto and Hindu both have faced challenges from the government to make changes and succumb to a new religion. Confucianism
Shintoism and Confucianism both have written texts but the Confucianism texts were written by students after his death. In both religions humans and their ability to reach the highest level of existence or purification is of the utmost importance. The need for practicing rituals is strong in both religions. According to Patheos.com, “Confucius was a strong advocate for ritual. He believed that participation in ritual served to unite people and strengthen the human community” (“Comparison,” 2014, p. 1). Modern World Challenges
Shintoism has evolved into three different classifications to maintain connection with its followers. Professor Naofusa Hirai at the Kokugakin University in Tokyo states, “How is this religion responding to challenges in the modern world” (Hirai, n.d., p. 1). Shrine Shinto is the main basis or foundation and has been in existence since the prehistoric ages. Sectarian Shinto is a new sect in Shinto. Sectarian Shinto has thirteen sects and founders and started in the 19th century. Folk Shinto is a substructure that is closely involved with the folk beliefs is the history of Shinto. Eric Alcorn states, “Folk religious practice also encompasses the yearly cycle of observances and matsuri such as shōgatsu (New Years), hina matsuri (Dolls Day in February), and obon. An almanac is often used to determine how fortuitous or foreboding certain days are. Also shichi-go-san and other rites of passage can be placed under the umbrella of folk religions” (Alcorn, n.d., p. 1). Women in Shinto
Early Shinto texts do not have a clear perspective on the role of women in the religion. There is some speculation about whether women were priestesses before there were male priests. Women were believed to be the connection between the earth and the deity and made the announcements that came from the deity. Shinto under goes changes as it is growing it starts becoming more mystical and the role of women becomes greater. Okano Haruko states, “Proof of this is that many of the miko (female shamans) were deified and the ancient chronicles speak of female rulers such as Himiko and priestesses such as Tamayori-hime” (Haruko, n.d., p. 2). The Taika Reform period brought changes to the government and moved towards an absolute monarchy. Politics and religion began to have problems with teach other and women began to pull back from this part of society. During this movement the religion was guided away from worshiping local gods important to the geographical area to an organized system of religion.
This created The Department of Shinto Affairs and the beginning of creating shrines for worship. This movement put the onus on the government instead of the religious person following their faith. During this period female priestesses were phased out by The Department of Shinto Affairs and men began to assume the role of priest in the shrines. The third period begins with the Meiji Restoration. Women’s roles are affected during this period. The Imperial dynasty strove to create national awareness and to establish Shinto as the pure and national religion. In doing this the Imperial dynasty abolished the mysticism and the practice of rituals that included magic. In addition, women are no longer allowed to be members of the Shinto priesthood.
World War II brought changes to Shinto once again. Women were once again accepted into the priesthood but they must renounce their femininity and the women as looked at as back up priests to the males. Currently in Shinto there are approximately one thousand priestesses in Japan, however, the woman’s role is limited. The Kokugakuin University Encyclopedia of Shinto defines mike as, “”MIKO. A general term for a woman possessing the magico-religious power to receive oracles (takusen 託宣) from the kami in a state of spirit possession (kamigakari 神懸 or 神憑). Nowadays the term generally refers to a woman who assists shrine priests in ritual or clerical work” (“Miko,” 2013, p. 3). The miko are active once again and a few female sects of Shinto are being established. Conclusion
Shinto is deeply rooted in the history of Japan and its creation. There are influences from Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Shinto has deep roots in mythology and mysticism and beliefs that the kami is found in nature and in objects. Women had more roles and influence in the beginning of Shinto but have lost the austerity of the level of priestess over the historical changes made to Shinto.
Alcorn, E. (n.d.). Japanese religions. Retrieved from http://jpnreligions.weebly.com/folk-religions.html Becoming a Shintō Priest or Priestess
Titles-Roles of Men & Women Serving Shrines. (2013). Retrieved from
http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/shinto-priesthood.html Haruko, O. (n.d.). Women and Sexism in Shinto. Retrieved from https://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/3517 Hirai, N. (n.d.). Shinto. Retrieved from http://www.oocities.org/caveofthesun/today.html Patheos Lenses. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/Library/Lenses/Side-By-Side?path1=x1233&path2=x1295&path3=