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State Shintō (国家神道 Kokka Shintō ?) has been called the state religion of the Empire of Japan. The idea of "State Shinto" was never conceived of during the imperial era, but was first proposed in 1970 by the postwar religious scholar Shigeyoshi Murakami to classify those Shinto ideals, rituals and institutions that were created by the government to promote the divinity of the emperor and the uniqueness of Japan (kokutai).[1] Murakami's book proved to be one of the most popular books about religion in postwar Japanese history. While the concept has since been considered by scholars to be overreaching the actual scope of government interference in religion, the fact that government did interfere cannot be denied.[2]

Empire of Japan banknote with Yasukuni Shrine



In the late Edo period, numerous scholars of kokugaku believed that Shintō could become a unifying agent to center the country around the Emperor while a process of modernization was undertaken. After the Meiji Restoration, the new imperial government needed to rapidly modernize the polity and economy of Japan, and the Meiji oligarchy felt that those goals could only be accomplished through a strong sense of national unity and cultural identity.

In 1868, the new Meiji government established a government bureau, the Shintō Worship Bureau (神祇事務局 Jingi Jimukyoku ?) to oversee religious affairs and to administer the government-ordered separation of Buddhism from Shintō.



See more at Modern system of ranked Shinto Shrines.

In 1871, all Shintō shrines throughout Japan were declared to be property of the central government, were assigned an official rank within a hierarchy and received a subsidy for their upkeep. Shrines were divided into twelve levels with the Ise Shrine (dedicated to Amaterasu, and thus symbolic of the legitimacy of the Imperial family) at the top.

Furthermore, all citizens were required to register as a parishioner of their local shrine, and each parishioner of a local shrine was automatically also a parishioner of the Ise Shrine. This was a major reverse from the Edo period, in which families were required to register with Buddhist temples, rather than Shintō shrines.

In 1872, an Office of Shintō Worship (神祇官 Jingikan ?) was established to develop and promote new government-centered rites of worship, and all Shintō priests officially became government employees. Thus, from a legal perspective, State Shintō was not a religion and its values came under the heading of moral instruction rather than religious teaching.[3]

This concentrated on the more important shrines; folk Shintō practices were mostly left unmolested and various fringe Shintō movements dating from the Edo period were allowed to continue under the rubric Sect Shintō.

In 1890, the Imperial Rescript on Education was issued, and students were required to ritually recite its oath to "offer yourselves courageously to the State" as well as protect the Imperial family. The practice of emperor worship was further spread by distributing imperial portraits for esoteric veneration. All of these practices, used to fortify national solidarity through patriotic centralized observance at shrines, gave pre-war Japanese nationalism a tint of mysticism and cultural introversion.[4]

Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) dressed as the high priest of State Shintō

Article 28 of the Constitution of the Empire of Japan reaffirmed the privileged position of Shintō, but also guaranteed freedom of religion “within limits not prejudicial to peace and order and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects”. In practice, this meant that religious groups were required to receive government approval and that their doctrines and rituals came under government scrutiny.[5]

During World War II, the government used State Shintō to encourage patriotism and to support efforts towards militarism. Noted figures in government, including Kuniaki Koiso, Heisuke Yanagawa, Kiichirō Hiranuma and Prince Kan'in Kotohito, participated in public rituals modeled after ancient ceremonies to foster a sense that supporting the war was a sacred duty.

State Shintō officially came to an end after the surrender of Japan.[6]


On 1 January 1946, Emperor Shōwa issued a statement, sometimes referred to as the Ningen-sengen , in which he quoted the Five Charter Oath of Emperor Meiji and announced he was not an akitsumikami.

The Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers ordered the separation of the government from religious affairs during the occupation of Japan, and separation of church and state was incorporated into the 1947 Constitution of Japan.

In practice, this official policy distinction is sometimes blurred or overlooked. For example in the context of Confucian texts; as Hiroi Takase notes, 'Confucianism is a religion, yet Japanese people do not see it that way'.[7]


  1. ^ 村上重良『国家神道』岩波新書、1970年。
  2. ^ Norman Havens. "Shinto". In Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: U. of Hawaii Press, 2005.
  3. ^ Agency for Cultural Affairs, Japanese Religion, p. 30.
  4. ^ Hall, Japan From Prehistory to Modern Times, p. 328.
  5. ^ Kasza, The State and the Mass Media in Japan, p. 68.
  6. ^ Neary, The State and Politcs in Japan, p. 45.
  7. ^


  • Agency for Cultural Affairs, Gregory J (1972). Japanese Religion, A Survey. Kodansha International. ISBN 0870114670.  
  • Breen, John (2000). Shinto in History. RoutledgeCurzon. ISBN 0700711724.  
  • Hall, John Whitney (1971). Japan From Prehistory to Modern Times. Charles Tuttle & Company.  
  • Hardacre, Helen (1991). Shinto and the State, 1868-1988. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691020523.  
  • Holton, Daniel Clarence (1984). The Political Philosophy of Modern Shinto: A Study of the State Religion of Japan. AMS Press. ISBN 0404159370.  
  • Kasza, Gregory J (1984). The State and the Mass Media in Japan, 1918-1945. University of California Press. ISBN 0520082737.  
  • Neary, Ian (2005). The State and Politcs in Japan. Polity. ISBN 0745621341.  


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