Shinto Holy Books

This article covers Shinto holy books.

Shinto has historical accounts of the formation of the world and the coming of the kami to Japan, providing both a historical and spiritual basis for Shintoism. The first and still the most important major accounts of Shinto cosmogony are the Kojiki (‘Records of Ancient Matters’), committed to writing in 712 C.E., and the Nihongi (the Nihon-gi or ‘Chronicles of Japan’), compiled in 720. The Kojiki provide the oldest written record of the Imperial Family and the clans that created the Japanese nation, constituting the basis on which Japanese society is built. The Engi Shiki (Ceremonial Law of the Engi Period), written in 927, contains 27 Shinto rituals, laying down the ground rules for offerings. The absence of an elaborate Shinto canon of sacred writings is a direct reflection of the role of the shrine as the focal point of the religion, taking the place that written doctrine assumes in other traditions.

Wooden Plaque Worship Wish Religion Wooden Japan

Shinto prayers

The holy books are not exclusively Shinto

The dates are very significant, since by the 8th century, when they were compiled, Japanese religious life had received considerable input from Buddhism and Confucianism, both of which coloured the contents of these books.

Political purpose

O no Yasumaro, painted by Kikuchi Yosai

O no Yasumaro, painted by Kikuchi Yosai ©

Some of the myths have a very clear political purpose. In a wide sense, they are intended to establish the primacy of Japan and the Japanese over all other countries and peoples and in a narrow sense, to give divine authority to the ruling classes of Japan, and to some extent to establish the political supremacy of the Yamato clan over the Izumo clan.

Moral purpose

The myths teach a number of truths:

  • Japan and its people are chosen and special to the gods (kami)
  • the kami have many qualities in common with human beings
  • the kami are very different from God in the Western sense
  • the kami have a duty to look after humanity
  • humanity should look after the kami
  • purity and purification are important if humanity is to thrive
  • purification is a creative as well as a cleansing act
  • death is the ultimate impurity

Shinto Scriptures


The Holy Kojiki -- Including, The Yengishiki Paperback

The Holy Kojiki — Including, The Yengishiki Paperback

Main article: Kojiki

Kojiki (古事記, “Records of Ancient Matters” or “An Account of Ancient Matters”), also sometimes read as Furukotofumi, is an early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, songs, genealogies, oral traditions, and semi-historical accounts down to 641 concerning the origin of the Japanese archipelago, the kami (神), and the Japanese imperial line. It is claimed in its preface to have been composed by Ō no Yasumaro at the request of Empress Genmei in the early 8th century (711–712), and thus is usually considered to be the oldest extant literary work in Japan. The myths contained in the Kojiki, as well as the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), are part of the inspiration behind many practices. Later, the myths were re-appropriated for Shinto practices such as the misogi purification ritual.

Nihon Shoki

Main article: Nihon Shoki

The Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), sometimes translated as The Chronicles of Japan, is the second-oldest book of classical Japanese history. The book is also called the Nihongi (日本紀, “Japanese Chronicles”). It is more elaborate and detailed than the Kojiki, the oldest, and has proven to be an important tool for historians and archaeologists as it includes the most complete extant historical record of ancient Japan. The Nihon Shoki was finished in 720 under the editorial supervision of Prince Toneri and with the assistance of Ō no Yasumaro dedicated to Empress Genshō.


Main article: Engishiki

The Engishiki (延喜式, “Procedures of the Engi Era”) is a Japanese book about laws and customs. The major part of the writing was completed in 927.

In 905, Emperor Daigo ordered the compilation of the Engishiki. Although previous attempts at codification are known to have taken place, neither the Konin nor the Jogan Gishiki survive making the Engishiki important for early Japanese historical and religious studies.

Fujiwara no Tokihira began the task, but work stalled when he died four years later in 909. His brother Fujiwara no Tadahira continued the work in 912 eventually completing it in 927.

After a number of revisions, the work was used as a basis for reform starting in 967.

See also

Shinto Scripture From the Internet Text Archive

  • The Kojiki
    Basil Hall Chamberlain, tr. [1919]
    The full annotated version of one of the two Japanese national epics.
  • The Kojiki
    Basil Hall Chamberlain, tr. [1919]
    An abridged version of the Chamberlain translation.

The Nihongi (excerpts), translated by W.G. Ashton [1896]

Japanese Culture, Spirituality and Folklore


  • Gleanings In Buddha-Fields
    by Lafcadio Hearn [1897].

    In Ghostly Japan
    by Lafcadio Hearn [1899].

    by Lafcadio Hearn [1904].

    Japan, An Attempt At Interpretation
    by Lafcadio Hearn [1904]
    One of Hearn’s last books, this substantial volume is a highly readable history of Shinto in Japan, and its interaction with Buddhism and Christianity; highly recommended for outsiders who want to understand the Japanese sprit and culture.


  • The Ideals of the East
    by Kakuzo Okakura [1904]
    The evolution of Japanese art and its relationship to Buddhism.

    The Book of Tea
    by Kakuzo Okakura [1906]
    The aesthetics of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and its connection to the Japanese world-view as a whole.
  • Genji Monogatari
    by Lady Murasaki Shikibu tr. by Suematsu Kencho [1900]
    The first English translation of the classic tale of 10th century Japanese courtly love.
  • Bushido, The Soul of Japan
    by Inazo Nitobe [1905].
    This short and very readable book describes the code of honor of the Samurai and Japanese feudalism, which is essential to understanding many aspects of Japanese society and history.
  • A Hundred Verses from Old Japan
    (the Hyakunin-isshu), translated by William N. Porter [1909]
    A wonderful thousand-year-old collection of Tanka poetry.
  • Shinran and His Work: Studies in Shinshu Theology
    by Arthur Lloyd [1910]
    A Christian scholar explores Shinshu Buddhism. Includes text and translation of the Shoshinge of Shinran Shonen, with extended commentary.
  • The Creed of Half Japan
    by Arthur Lloyd [1911]
    A comprehensive history of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in Japan, and possible ties to Gnosticism and early Christianity. Includes two translated texts from the Nichiren school.
  • Buddhist Psalms
    by S. Yamabe and L. Adams Beck [1921]
    A key Pure Land text, by the founder of the most popular form of Buddhism in Japan.
  • Japanese Fairy Tales
    Second Series. By Teresa Peirce Williston, Illustrated by Sanchi Ogawa [1911]
  • Principal Teachings of the True Sect of Pure Land
    by Yejitsu Okusa [1915]
    The history and practice of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan.
  • Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan
    by Richard Gordon Smith [1918]
    An anthology of Japanese ‘Magical Realist’ legends and folklore.
  • The Nō Plays of Japan
    by Arthur Waley [1921].
    Translations of a selection of Nō dramas, which have deep connections with Japanese Buddhism, Shinto, and Japanese folklore.
  • The Story of Gio
    from the Heike Monogatari, retold by Ridgely Torrence [1935]
  • Japanese Haiku
    translated by Peter Beilenson [1955]
    A collection of 220 Japanese Haiku.


Leave a Reply