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.
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.
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 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
Main article: Kojiki
Main article: Nihon Shoki
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.