Emperor System (State Shinto)

Doctrines The imperial institution in Japan was from its beginning legitimated by the divine descent of the imperial family and the protection afforded to the nation by the emperor's adherence to the Buddhist Law. This was symbolised by esoteric Buddhist accession ceremonies and by rituals performed at shrines and temples throughout the emperor's reign. Implicit in modern Shinto thought since the Meiji period has been the concept of the emperor as a divine being, descended, like the land and people of Japan, from the sun goddess Amaterasu. The central role of the emperor in the conduct of ritual is believed by Shinto devotees to have national as well as individual significance. In 1945 the emperor publicly renounced his divinity following Japan's defeat in the war. Since that time devotion to the emperor as a kami has been a matter of personal religious choice rather than civic duty

History The superior status of certain ancient shrines relied on recognition by the emperor, symbolised in imperial ritual offerings to the shrine. Otherwise, for most of Japanese history the emperor held little power. Emperors frequently came to the throne as young children and 'retired' shortly afterwards. Affairs of state were conducted by regents from the court nobility and from 1192 onwards by the shoguns (military rulers), the first of whom established his government in Kamakura, well away from the imperial court at Kyoto.
The emperor became significant in Shinto thought in the late Tokugawa period as kokugaku ideology came to support the 'restoration' of the emperor in place of the Tokugawa shoguns. Direct life-long imperial rule was introduced in1868 and the young emperor Meiji moved to Tokyo a year later. Because the authority of the Meiji government derived from the divine emperor, the absolute duty of citizens to revere and obey the emperor was emphasised consistently up to 1945, when the emperor renounced his divinity. Shinto from 1868 to 1945 was largely devoted to support of the emperor system. Local shrine rituals were synchronised with those of the imperial court, Shinto-style rites for the emperor were conducted in schools and government buildings and each parishioner of a local shrine was automatically also a parishioner of the Ise Jingu, the shrine to the imperial ancestor Amaterasu.

Symbols The central role of the emperor in national and political life was symbolised in the Meiji period and up to 1945 by frequent rituals of veneration directed to the emperor's portrait. In schools from 1890 onwards the portrait of the emperor was revered and the 'Imperial Rescript on Education' which instilled Confucian virtues of loyalty and obedience was reverently recited. In public gatherings including those at Buddhist temples and Christian churches the kokumin girei or 'people's rite' came to be compulsory. This began as a moment's silence in honour of the war dead and by 1945 had developed into a practice of turning towards the imperial palace, singing the national anthem and reading an imperial rescript.

Adherents It is not meaningful to talk of specific numbers of "adherents" since State Shinto was based on the universal obligation of citizens to revere the emperor.

Main Centre
 The Imperial Palace, formerly in Nara, then Kyoto, has been in Tokyo since 1869.