This was one of the first books I read when I started getting into practising Shinto. I saw it appear on lots of recommended reading lists for Shinto so I thought Shinto: The Kami Way would be a good reference material.
In a nutshell, what it is it about?
Quite simply, it’s a concise introduction to Shinto first published in the 1960s, making it one of the older English-language books on Shinto out there. It includes its history, its characteristics both as a religion and as a socio-political construct, and of course descriptions on how worshippers practise their faith. Throughout the book there are photos and illustrations, which are really useful for those unfamiliar with Shinto.
What did I particularly like about it?
I really liked Dr Ono’s attitudes towards Shinto and how he presents the religion objectively and honestly. He’s very quick to dismiss common claims that Shinto is 100% Japanese, highlighting its many foreign influences, and doesn’t shy away from talking about the more unpleasant sides to the history (i.e. its use by the far-right). While he concedes that Shinto is a “racial religion,” he also concedes that “it possesses a universality which can enrich the lives of all people everywhere,” which is an encouraging message for the international Shinto community.
It’s also a very simply and gently-written book. Although its a book of academic significance, it’s clearly aimed at the general reader as well.
Finally, for such a small volume, this book manages to cover a surprising amount of material, from shrines to festivals to Shinto’s history.
Was there anything I didn’t like about it?
The only problem I had was the length – although it does cover a lot, I wish it could have been a little longer with a bit more detail! Especially for the rather high price.
How has it helped my spiritual development?
Shinto: The Kami Way mostly confirmed and reaffirmed some of the things that I already suspected about Shinto, for example:
- People can be regarded as kami too
- Performing one’s daily duties well is a form of kami worship
- In contrast to Buddhism, Shinto is quite positive about material possessions and wealth – as long as they are desired and acquired for the benefit of the community
- Shinto is taught and learned far more by direct experience (for example, attending festivals) than by preaching or texts
- Shinto is an optimistic religion, holding that the world is inherently good
Would I recommend this book to others?
Definitely to those new to Shinto looking for a nice, clear, accurate introduction. Despite being such a little book, its importance to the world of international Shinto studies and its presentation of factual details probably makes it worth the cost.