Shinto Holy Books

Shinto has historical accounts of the formation of the world and the coming of the kami to Japan, providing both an 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

O no Yasumaro, painted by Kikuchi Yosai ©

O no Yasumaro, painted by Kikuchi Yosai

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

Some of the myths have a very clear political purposes. 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.

The Holy Kojiki -- Including, The Yengishiki Paperback

The Holy Kojiki — Including, The Yengishiki Paperback

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


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

More Shinto Scripture for readings