Who: Shinto, as a religion, has no founder. It is said to date back to prehistoric times. Myths and legends surrounding the creation of the nation of Japan are thought to be the foundations for this socio-religious institution.
What: Shinto is an indigenous, national, socio-religious institution, which highly values the traditions and history of Japan. The word Shinto is derived from the Chinese word shen-tao, and means way of the gods (kami-no-michi in Japanese). The basis of Shinto is worship of the kami. Kami is roughly translated as deity, but it applies to deities and noble people from history, including the ancestors of the Japanese people and the Japanese imperial dynasties. Shrines are the center of Shinto, with each shrine being dedicated to a specific kami. To enter a shrine, one passes through a torii, a gateway that is the demarcation between the finite (profane) world and the infinite (sacred) world of the gods. Most homes have an altar (kami-dana, shelf of gods) dedicated to worshiping the family kami and ancestors.
When: Shinto is said to have always existed in Japan, in some form. At present, there are three types of Shinto in Japan. They are:
- Shrine Shinto, with prehistoric origins. It included, until 1945, State Shinto, which is closely tied to the government and the Japanese imperial dynasties.
- Sectarian Shinto. There are 13 sects in Sectarian Shinto, each with a founder or systematizer who organized it in the 19th century. Sectarian Shinto also includes sects which formed after World War II.
- Folk Shinto. Folk Shinto does not have an organized religious body, nor does it have any doctrinal formulas. It is, instead, tied to the numerous practices of the individual families. All three types are interrelated. Folk Shinto is the substructure of Shinto faith, the foundation, of sorts. A member of Sectarian Shinto is likely to also worship at a shrine associated with Shrine Shinto.
Where: Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan, and has not spread from Japan to a great extent (only about 60,000 adherents are thought to live outside of Japan). Japanese immigrants in other countries have brought Shinto with them, but they are few in number. Efforts have been made to increase the knowledge of and respect for Shinto in the international community.