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The Essence of Shinto: Japan's Spiritual Heart Hardcover – May 1, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Western visitors to Japan sometimes come away with the idea that Shinto, Japan's indigenous religion, is a "dead" tradition, with shrines preserved as mere historic sites or tourist traps. Not so, claims Yamakage, who represents "the 79th generation of an ancient Shinto tradition" and makes a case for living Shinto as a faith-based religion that is predicated on "the belief in the presence of the kami," or spirits. Yamakage calls for a return to koshinto, the ancient Shinto practice that he says had no shrines at all, and for a rejection of the "secular, materialistic, atheistic society" that he believes modern Japan has become. He offers a strong introduction to Shinto, stressing that it is nondogmatic, nondoctrinal and almost wholly decentralized. Still, Shintoists are united by a reverence for nature and an emphasis on self-purification, particularly through water rituals and cleansing. The book is nicely designed, with an excellent layout and black-and-white photos throughout. At times, Yamakage's voice can be overly strident, as when challenging the faith and motivations of some contemporary Shinto priests. Overall, however, this is a fine primer that makes a compelling case for Shinto as a religion invested with deep meaning. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Yamakage, the seventy-ninth grand master (he retired in 2005) of the school of Shinto that bears his family name, believes that Shinto well addresses disillusion with materialism and renewed interest in spirituality. Largely dispensing with Shinto's history, he discusses its character and practices. Reverence toward nature is the bedrock of Shinto, which otherwise has neither doctrine, commandments, gods, idols, nor organization. It does use shrines, great and small, to center devotion, and the aim of the individual adherent is to purify thought, behavior, and person to live aright, by which Shinto means what is called living the Dao, following the way, and so forth in other religions. The Yamakage theory of one spirit, four souls; the Shinto view of the afterlife; and some physical exercises--highly reminiscent of yoga, since they are concerned with breathing, and of zen, since they involve clearing the mind--are the topics of the last three chapters of this exceptionally handsome, to-the-point primer on the faith that now-more-prevalent Buddhism and Christianity both found when they came to Japan. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha USA; First Edition edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 4770030444
  • ISBN-13: 978-4770030443
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.6 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,090,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Motohisa Yamakage's The Essence of Shinto is a unique work in the annals of exploring Shintoism, the folk religion of ancient Japan. Unlike scholarly works that explore the religion from position of a researcher's emotional sterility, Yamakage writes from the perspective of the true believer as he is the 79th Grand Master of Yamakage Shinto and a respected and celebrated expert on Shintoism, its history and practice.

However, being that close to the subject also carries with it some inherent problems as the author finds it difficult to remain unbiased in discussing the classic religions of the western world. A well-earned mastery of Shintoism does not necessarily make one an expert in evaluating other paradigms.

Nonetheless, The Essence of Shinto is a wonderful addition to the library of any researcher who wants a readable and accessible overview of a folk religion that has played a major role in the shaping of the culture Japan. One caveat though. It is helpful, though probably not totally necessary, to have a basic understanding of Japanese culture before reading this work.

Sadly, this is the only volume written by Motohisa Yamakage that has been translated into English. His five-volume An Introduction to Shinto is available only in Japanese and it is this reviewer's hope that someday this important work will also be made accessible to Western reader. Until then, we can be grateful The Essence of Shinto fills an important niche in the Shinto library presently available.
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I teach a course in Comparative Religion at Castleton State College here in Vermont. Most available short introductions to Shinto deal with ancient history. This book is a great, lively yet short and highly readable account of Shinto practice today, with a much more universal message than one usually gets from other sources. It is the best thin volume intro to the tradition that I have found. Shinto is often viewed as chauvinistic, closed-minded religion for Japanese only. The author offers insights from Shinto tradition that would be of use to anyone interested in healing the world.--Rabbi Doug Weber
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I chose this book as part of a research effort to understand how the Toyota Production System (TPS) was influenced by societal aspects found in Japan. One thing that is "uniquely Japanese" is Shintoism, and so a working hypothesis was that it provided unconscious bias ("intuition") in how this manufacturing system was created and refined. This book provides a wealth of tantalizing clues useful in my study, and hope that there is enough commentary here to be useful to others seeking to satisfy curiosity or other forms of knowledge/enlightenment.

Pro:
+ This book, to the novice that I am, appears complete enough to be called "The Essence of Shinto"
+ Complete, yet relative short and to the point
+ Corrects the view that Shinto is a religion, rather it is better described as a value system that reveres "the Great Nature"
+ Well written and easy to understand... with a better translation into English than other Japanese texts I have read
+ Contains some interesting statements that might explain motivations behind "taking a long view" in cellular manufacturing: cell shape, 5s systems, kaizen, hansei, and "Ohno Circle" as well as why despite strong beliefs in standardization why separate factories often do not share these standards
+ Also helped me explain why additional TPS-like systems are not emerging from Japan...
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Format: Hardcover
"respect for great nature" - that's the very essence of this brilliant book. Especially, Chapter 2 "What is Shinto?" and Chapter 3 "What is Jinja?" help you understand the way of thinking and feeling among Japanese. These two chapters summarize the spirit of Shinto (For beginners, it would be helpful to try reading these two chapters).
This book is the translated one from the Japanese original version and written in a kind of "Japanese style English", but it excellently carries the essence.
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Format: Hardcover
The clear exposition of Shinto in this book has an authentic feel of a genuine transmission. Many books give bits and pieces of Shinto philosophy but do not hit the heart. The translation into English is clear and succinct. Due to the clarity of the understanding that is transmitted, I can easily adopt a 'Shinto perspective' to my own spiritual practice.
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If you want a clear and precise explanation for this Spiritual Experience, this is the book you need. The Author doesn't talk down to you, if you begin by knowing nothing. He begins with "Kami" and being in tune with this spirit - but, more like an experience. Motohisa Yamakage goes step by step to bring the order of this Nature based religion to the reader's understanding - A book that you can read a little each day and change - if that is your goal.
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