Koshinto (as practiced prior to the introduction of Confucianism and Buddhism to Japan) (古神道)

Koshinto was the ancient Japanese religion which was the origin of Shintoism and was called Kodo, Shintoism before 6th century.

Koshinto is also referred to as primitive Shinto, Jomon Shinto and Fukko Shinto; all such names are used refer to the Shinto that existed before being influenced by foreign religions like Buddhism, esoteric Buddhism and Taoism, and indeed Koshinto is sometimes used to express those forms of Shinto opposed or contrasted to Shrine Shinto. Today's Shinto and Shrine Shinto have incorporated Koshinto to such a degree they are inseparable.


Koshinto is also termed a primitive religion, similar to those that sprang up naturally all over the world when people first formed into societies in the most ancient times. Its major tenets are worship of nature and of the dead (animism), and also emphasizes an extended understanding of and respect for the lives, souls, and gods of one's ancestors, conceiving of these things as the essence of life, and whose material substance it is possible to know; it also views existence as divided between the Tokoyo (the spiritual world, the realm of gods, heaven and hell) and the Utsushiyo (this world, the realm of human beings), and also affirms the existence of Kinsokuchi, places where gods dwell (within whose hallowed borders one may not enter), as well as barriers that prevent crossing between the realms, and the efficacy of prayers and fortune-telling (shamanism), including in the determining of government policy, and finally in the creation of a mythology of the world and of human beings. Japan's case, in which this sort of primitive religion survived the feudal and Medieval periods and reached the modern period intact, is almost unique. Although at base Shinto is a primitive religion, it has existed in Japanese culture for thousands of years and now has very deep roots, becoming sublimated to the point that up until the Meiji period, most professions held as sacred the principle of hard work, just as expressed in the Norito (Shinto prayer), and even apart from the official rituals of Shrine Shinto, there are many work-related ceremonies even today that originally came from Shinto rituals.

A view of the world

Many concepts have been added to Koshinto since ancient times, including the idea of shinra bansho (all natural things in the world), making it very difficult to classify the religion precisely, but the following concepts--as well as comments concerning the meaning of the Chinese characters and ancient Japanese words used in Shinto terms--of the religion, beginning with Koshinto and turning into today's Shinto, can be listed:

Kamiyo (realm of the gods): the entire world, including this realm and Tokoyo (the spiritual realm).

Tokoyo (常世)
Tokoyo (常夜)
Utsushiyo (current world)
Kami (God)

Mikoto in Japanese mythology refers to a god who takes the form of a human. Mitama refers to all gods except Mikoto. Tamashii or "Mitama" are terms used to describe the life(force) of human beings or their spiritual state.
God's mind

An "arimitama" is a god who acts malevolently.

Nigimitama (Spirit of Peace) refers to the gentle god Kannagi.

Shikon (four spirits)

A "Kamiyo" or "Kamishiro" is a place in this physical world where a god dwells. It is called Kamiyo (上代) or Kamiyo (神世) when it is the era of God ruling the world before the era of Emperor Kanmu of Japanese Mythology.

Kannabi, Kamunabi, or Kaminabi (which can all be written in various ways, with different Chinese characters) are terms that can be used to describe either a mountain where a god dwells or a forest in which a god lives hidden.

The term "Iwakura" (rock-seat) refers to boulders or mountains in which a god is enshrined or alternatively--and in particular when termed an "Iwasaka" (border-rock)--to the boulders or mountains that form the borders either of shrines or of the Tokoyo (the spirit realm).

"Himorogi" delineates a forest or stand of trees in which a god lives hidden; it can also refer to the borders of hallowed ground, or to the border with the Tokoyo (spirit realm). Today, it refers to the holy branches or leaves in which gods are thought to live, which are then used in rituals of Shrine Shinto.

Shintai (lit. "god-body"), which have existed since ancient times, refer either to places gods are always present, to the gods' bodies themselves, or to places or objects in which relatively large-sized traditional gods inhabit.

Mitamashiro, yorishiro, and shiro all refer to substitutes (that can be honored in place of spirits or gods), and are used to describe all objects--except for those already mentioned--in which gods come to dwell temporarily.

The word "fukannagi" has the same meaning as "kamioroshi", or in other words, a person who can channel spirits and gods (that is, a medium).

Nature and ancestor worship

Nature worship, in the form of continuing belief in himorogi (holy branches) and iwakura (rocks in which gods are said to dwell) has survived to the present day, and more specifically, there are sacred trees and spirit rocks decorated with shimenawa (holy straw cords) on the grounds of every shrine and distinct from the shrine building itself; indeed, quite apart from shrines, well-known and familiar sites of nature worship include the village groves near shrines as well as the huge boulders known as "fufuiwa" that can be found along the coast. Moreover, thunder was thought to be a sign of the Ina no kami, the god of rice, and was believed to bring a good harvest, which is why lightning came to be called "Inazuma" (Ina's wife); and to an archipelago like Japan, whales that drifted ashore or were beached became an important source of food, so out of gratitude the people began to call such whales "Ebisu" (today worshipped as the god of fishing), and people in many different provinces began to believe in Yorikami ("the god who visits," also known as hyochakujin, the god who drifts ashore, or as kyakujin, the guest-god). It was thought that the gods arose not only out of nature or happiness, but also--as seen in the case of Tsukumogami--choose to dwell in living creatures that had lived for a long time or even in man-made tools that had been used for a long time. And it was thought that gods also lived even in the enemies who had invaded Japan and in the bodies of the animals killed and eaten by humans for food, which is why the mounds raised for the fallen Mongols, swords, fish, and whales have all been made into shrines.

The festival called Obon is based in its traditions and style on the ancestor worship of Koshinto, but monks at various temples carry out the ceremonies differently due to the syncretic blending of Shinto and Buddhism, and so the "true" version of such traditions has become unclear.

The festival called Obon is based in its traditions and style on the ancestor worship of Koshinto, but monks at various temples carry out the ceremonies differently due to the syncretic blending of Shinto and Buddhism, and so the "true" version of such traditions has become unclear. Originally, because Buddhism held that if people cultivated enough virtue over the cycle of rebirth, they would finally reach enlightenment and become Buddhas, there was no significance to any particular death of an individual and hence no ancestor worship, so in the beginning Urabon was an official Buddhist ceremony to revere Shakyamuni. Today, if a person is not affiliated with any Buddhist sect, s/he will have little opportunity to participate in Urabon, which is why Obon is thought to be a specifically Buddhist festival.

Kinsokuchi (hallowed ground) and the barriers between Utsushiyo (the current, physical world) and Tokoyo (the spirit realm) as well as the barriers around Shinto shrines

As yorishiro that occur in nature, boulders and mountains (like holy Mt. Fuji) as well as seas and rivers are both places that the gods come to dwell and barriers between the spirit realm and the current (physical) world, and the "gi" from himorogi also means "fence", much as iwakura can also be called "iwasaka" (where "saka" means "border"); all these terms express the idea of the spritual boundary around a Shinto shrine. In fact, there are many places--Okinoshima island, for example--whose entire area, including the shrines, the little islands, and the forests, are hallowed ground; this concept has been passed down to Shrine Shinto, and finds expression in the various building methods used in shrines, like for instance the fact that originally, the sando (the road that approaches the shrine) was for the gods, and as such no human was allowed to walk on it. Symbolic barriers are still present in ordinary homes; for example, the shimenawa (holy straw cords) displayed around the new year and the ornaments made of dried sardines hung up for Setsubun (the holiday marking the end of winter, according to tradition) are intended to separate out the gods one wishes would visit from those one does not. Furthermore, small shrines, stone statues of the god who guards travelers, or statues of Jizo (the god of travelers and children) adorn the crossroads connecting villages; these are there not only to make the road safe and protect those traveling, but also to form barriers that can keep disasters or misfortune from affecting the village.

Prayer or fortunetelling

Traditions concerning prayer and divination have been passed down to the modern-day Shrine Shinto, and there are still some shrines where tortoise-shell divination is still practiced at the new year, just as it was in ancient times. Japanese archery, which was popular up through the Taisho era, has also had a significant influence on the culture of Japan and the values of its people (as seen in terms like "to target," "to be on the mark" and "speculative spirit" (lit. "the hitting good fortune heart"), all of which derive from words used in archery), and because people determined the luckiness of each year by divination, the one selected to be "arrow taker" often went down to the "target area". Today's omikuji (fortune) is a simplified version, made by the Shinto priesthood, of the original prayers and divination. Moreover, Miko no mai (Shrine maidens' dance) as well as many kinds of entertainment among the common people and professional performers that have been passed down to the present day, including the "show business (Sumo) as Shinto ritual" or various kinds of mai (dance) like the Matoi (flaming flag) mai, shishi (lion) mai, Kagura (musical dances including Miko no mai) and Daikagura (spinning tricks and acrobatics), were originally types of ritual prayer intended to honor and appease the gods.

Government, festivals, and enshrinement

It is thought that many in ancient times, including Himiko, were actually shamans who made political decisions about the course the country should take based on prayer or divination. Shrine Shinto priests have been involved in governance since ancient times, and in the Heian period, they incorporated the Taoist concept of Inyo (Onmyo) gogyo shiso (yin and yang and the Five Elements) into their beliefs and practices and in so doing, obtained official positions in the government as Onmyoji (masters of divination and sorcery). And so through their prayers and divinations, they were able to control the course of government policy. This sort of decision-making model fell out of vogue and lay dormant starting in Japan's Warring States period, but remained in use among the court nobility and among Shrine Shinto. In ancient times most local development efforts were carried out by temples and shrines, and among such shrines, the focus was on entertainment, religious festivals, and Shinto rituals; their efforts were not limited only to building temples and shrines, but also extended to firming up societal infrastructure as well. And their method, in which even commoners practiced self government, received recognition, and indeed it became all the more striking starting in the Edo period (beginning in that period, large cities were divided into machiba (towns, under the jurisdiction of town magistrates), niwaba (jisha-bugyo, under the jurisdiction of (government-appointed) temples and shrine administrators), and nochoba (unsurveyed areas or suburbs of unfixed jurisdiction), and so commoners and townspeople cooperated to achieve self-government); the people used festivals to enshrine gods, spirits, and elements of nature itself, including such festivals as Tanabata (the Festival of the Weaver, celebrated July 7) and the Feast for Ebisu, both of which are still celebrated today, eventually becoming established as popular versions of Shinto rituals quite separate in form from Shrine Shinto rituals, but in any case, shrines continue to contribute to local development, even as they did in the past.

Remnants of Koshinto that have survived to the present day, and the sacredness of hard work

Remnants of Koshinto can still be seen today, many of which can be termed "folk belief", but in fact Koshinto is the very origin and essence of Shrine Shinto, and as such is inseparable from it. Some Shinto rituals, unlike those of Shrine Shinto, actually developed into occupations, including such ancient practices as entertainment and show business, farming, forestry, and fishing but also extending to blacksmithing, iron smelting, sake brewing, public works, and construction; it was said of such jobs that in the act of working itself was something divine. This tradition of hard work has been passed down to the present day, and many companies today choose both to erect small Shinto altars at their workplaces and to commemorate major turning points for the company with ceremonies featuring Shinto rituals. Originally, Shinto lacked any set doctrine or teaching method, which meant there was no need to differentiate Koshinto and folk beliefs in Kozukuri (baby-making) or Yorigami (god-summoning) from the rest of Shinto, including Shrine Shinto; if one constrains oneself to unearth the similarities that can be discovered in the above-mentioned actions, the only one that comes to mind is the concept that one must "purify, rectify, and beautify" one's heart.

Religious sects and changes among them

There are two such sects, one whose form and style preserve the ancient ways and another which underwent a restoration beginning in the Edo period.

Religious sects and changes among them

Many concepts and ceremonies from Koshinto were introduced into Japanese society during the late Edo period, their popularization tied to the rise of both the sonno joi (revere the Emperor, expel the barbarians) philosophy and the Hirata school of Kokugaku, but few historical records detailing Koshinto influence survive today, so much like the case of primitive Buddhism, it seems it is in fact only possible to make inferences on Koshinto based on later documents or by analogy.

Beginning in the Meiji period, Koshinto--in contrast to State Shinto, which was classified as a series of civil ceremonies and thus as different from other religions like Buddhism or Christianity--was marked by a much stronger sense of religiosity. On this point, Koshinto is very similar to late Edo-period Shinto sects, notably the Kurozumikyo sect, and indeed, quite a few people choose to describe Sect Shinto's religious organizations as Koshinto.

At present, a new religious sect calling itself Koshinto exists, and has inherited much the same characteristics as those sects described above; there are also other religious sects calling themselves Koshinto though none of these was in existence before the Edo period. In traditional Koshinto, ceremonies and gyoho (ascetic practices) that had been passed down from Hakke Shinto branch of Imperial Shinto, one of whose head students was Atsutane HIRATA; but other gyoho and religious groups were handed down, not from the Hakke branch but from Izumo Shinto, Kannagi Shinto, Kukami Shinto, or Shugendo (a type of mountain asceticism).