|SHINTŌ, THE OLD RELIGION OF JAPAN.|
DURING the last twenty years there has been considerable discussion in Japan, both among native and foreign scholars, concerning the real nature of Shinto, the old religion of that country, and this discussion seems to have revolved around two central questions, namely, whether Shinto is a religion or not, and whether it was native to Japan or not. Different answers have been given, and diverse views have been expressed. However, the question whether Shinto was native to Japan or not largely depends upon what do we mean by Shinto, just as the question whether Shinto is a religion or not, depends upon just what we mean by religion. Shinto can not be a religion in the sense that Buddhism, Christianity, and Mohammedanism are, for it has neither code of morals nor system of beliefs, as these systems have. But if we are justified in saying that the rude Hebrews of the pre-Mosaic ages had their religion, and the wandering Arabs of the ante-Mohammedan centuries also had theirs, in this sense at least there can be nothing improper in the statement that our early forefathers too had their own religion, known later in history as Shinto.
What is Shinto, then? one may ask. What does its name mean? How old is it? What is its history? Is the present Shinto different from its primitive form? What will be the best method for investigating it? To answer all these questions with any degree of fullness is not the intention of the present writing—indeed, is not possible in such a paper as this. But the writer will venture to answer some of the above questions by presenting certain results of his personal experiences and investigations regarding this old and yet living religion of his native country.
The name Shinto consists of the two Chinese words shin and to. The word shin may be either a noun or an adjective, as many Chinese words are. As a noun it means god or gods, and as an adjective it means divine. The word to is the same word with the taou of Taouism, and means primarily way or path, and secondarily teaching or doctrine. This is the word by which the Logos of the Gospel according to St. John is rendered in both the Chinese and Japanese versions of the New Testament. Thus, taken by itself, the name Shinto may mean several different things, but as it is applied to the old religion of Japan its meaning is quite definite, and can not but be the "way of the gods." We know that the term shin is plural from the fact that the gods of Shinto are very numerous, and also we know the term to is singular from the fact that Shinto as a religion is but one.