Shinto Shrines

Doctrines Until 1868 Shinto doctrines, where they existed, varied substantially according to the local traditions of the shrine and the relative influence of kokugaku thought, Buddhism, Confucianism etc. Examples of 'Shinto' doctrines can be found under Ryobu Shinto, Suika Shinto, Watarai Shinto, Yui-itsu Shinto and Sanno-ichijtsu Shinto. During the 1870's unsuccessful attempts were made to develop a distinctive theology in the context of the Taikyo (Great Teaching) campaign. Shrine priests were forbidden to teach doctrine after the 'pantheon dispute' of the 1870's when the imperial household, in order to resolve a damaging quarrel among competing groups of priests about the relative status of the shrines of Ise and Izumo, banned all theological debate. Priests were henceforth required to concentrate on rites, particularly those celebrated simultaneously at the imperial shrines and local shrines.
The doctrines of 'state Shinto', emphasising veneration of the emperor and obedience to government were taught, but in schools not shrines, until 1945. Shinto shrines are therefore known not for their doctrines but almost exclusively for the benefits or blessings such as good marriage, business or exam success that they are believed to bestow, and to some extent for the engi or founding legends which explain why the shrine was built in that place, enshrining that particular kami. It is not unusual to find shrines to kami whose identity is unclear; the shrine is essentially a shrine to the kami of a particular place, so further identification is not necessarily important.

History The earliest known shrines are those of Ise and Izumo; the former, because of its role as a centre of pilgrimage and its primacy under State Shinto has been rebuilt at prescribed 20-year intervals throughout Japanese history. The building at Ise is therefore never more than 20 years old, though the style is believed to preserve the appearance of the earliest form of the shrine. Today there are nearly 100,000 recognised shrines in Japan, as well as many times more independent and small wayside shrines. Major historical shrines such as those dedicated to Hachiman, Inari, Munakata, Tenjin and Hie (Sanno) have over many centuries given rise to thousands of dependent branch shrines scattered throughout Japan. The old imperial capital, Kyoto, boasts several thousand shrines including the well-known Gion, Kamo and Fushimi Inari shrines, and every town and village in Japan has its own shrines and associated local festivals (matsuri).
Some well-known shrines such as the Nikko Toshogu were built to enshrine historic figures; in the case of Nikko the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. Shrines traditionally developed their teachings and rituals in association with Buddhist temples but after the Meiji restoration of 1868 they were differentiated from Buddhism, nearly half disappeared in 'shrine mergers' and a number of new government-sponsored shrines were built. These included shrines to the war dead (the Yasukuni jinja in Tokyo and associated 'nation-protecting' shrines in each prefecture) shrines dedicated to members of the imperial line, (e.g. the Meiji jingu dedicated to the Meiji emperor and empress) and shrines to great political or military heroes such as General Nogi.

Symbols The Ise shrine is generally regarded as in the purest and most 'Japanese' style of Shinto shrine building. However, equally symbolic of Shinto are the many ornate and complex shrines whose construction styles reflect Chinese influence. Pre-Buddhist Shinto was aniconic, and most Shinto symbolism including representations of the kami (often as bodhisattvas) has been Buddhist-influenced in some way. There are many symbolic elements in shrine rituals and festivals (matsuri). Food offerings which are typically raw, salty or alcoholic when dedicated to kami, in contrast to the sweet vegetarian offerings made to Buddhas, affirm the bounty of nature and of the kami. Zig-zag strips of cloth or paper (shide, heihaku) symbolise offerings of cloth made to the shrine, by the emperor or others. The shrine itself is a symbolic sacred space; the honden or central building enshrining the symbol of the kami (which may be an item such as a mirror but is often wrapped, unseen and even unknown) is protected by fences, bridges, torii (portals) hung with shimenawa (straw ropes), gates and a hand-washing stand for the ritual purification of shrine visitors.

Adherents Approximately 80-90million Japanese people visit a shrine at least once a year (usually at New Year's in the shrine-visiting ritual known as hatsumode).

Main Centre
 Since 1946 the Jinja Honcho (Shrine Headquarters, Association of Shinto Shrines) in Tokyo has been the central administrative body for Shinto shrines. It regards Ise Jingu as the main central shrine in Japan. There are other shrine networks, and some large shrines such as the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo and the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto are independent of the Jinja Honcho.