Japan's indigenous religion. The word Shintō is written with two Chinese characters; the first, shin, is also used to write the native Japanese word kami ("divinity," "god," "numinous entity"), and the second, tō, is used to write the native word michi ("way"). The term first appears in the historical chronicle Nihon shoki (720), where it refers to religious observance, the divinities, and shrines; but not until the late 12th century was it used to denote a body of religious doctrines. The worship of kami slowly emerged at the dawn of Japanese history, crystallized as an imperial religious system during the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods, and subsequently was in constant interaction with Buddhsim and Confucianism, which were introduced from the Asian continent. This interaction gave birth to various syncretic cults that combined the worship of kami with the imported religions. In the Muromachi (1333-1568) and Edo (1600-1868) periods, however, there was a revival of Shintō as the "Ancient Way," and an attempt was made to pare away all foreign influences. This expurgated system became the state religion of Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912), but in 1945 Shintō was disestablished and again became one among other forms of worship. Shintō can be regarded as a two-sided phenomenon. On the one hand it is a loosely structured set of practices, creeds, and attitudes rooted in local communities, and on the other it is a strictly defined and organized religion at the level of the imperial line and the state. These two basic aspects, which are not entirely separate, have deep roots in the history of Japan's sociopolitical structures, art, architecture, literature, philosophy, rituals, and daily life. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)
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