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The Essence of Shinto: Japan's Spiritual Heart

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  204 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
In The Essence of Shinto, revered Shinto master Motohisa Yamakage explains the core values of Shinto and explores both basic tenets and its more esoteric points in terms readily accessible to the modern Western reader. He shows how the long history of Shintoism is deeply woven into the fabric of Japanese spirituality and mythology--indeed, it is regarded as Japan's very sp ...more
Hardcover, 229 pages
Published May 1st 2007 by Kodansha (first published 2006)
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Nimue Brown
Jun 28, 2012 Nimue Brown rated it it was amazing
This is the second book I’ve read on Shinto. I found it gorgeously written conveying complex ideas in accessible ways. Shinto is, in terms of its outlook and structure, very different from most Western religions. There are words in Japanese that just don’t exist in English, and take some explaining. Exploring concepts that belong to a whole other culture and language is not easy going, and yet this relatively small book undertakes to make a great many things make sense. The first book I read on ...more
Jul 12, 2014 C.R. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosphy, japan
Well, first of all, I am glad I didn't read the goodreads reviews prior to picking up this book. Not so much because any of the low star reviews are incorrect about some tonal elements but because I would have missed out on some very interesting translations (language and cultural).

This is absolutely a book written by a religious practitioner rather than a secular scholar. The author's tone reflects that. However, I disagree that the entire book is preachy. I think it is written by a true believ
Nov 17, 2011 Gregory rated it did not like it

This is a thoroughly conservative, even reactionary book. It is in a way a fundamentalist tract. Here is what the author had to say in the preface:

"Shinto is the consciousness underlying the Japanese mentality, the foundation for Japanese culture and values. Japanese society is still in a state of confusion, one of the symptoms of which has been the proliferation of bizarre cults and sects. It is important, therefore, for the Japanese people to rediscover their spiritual essence and their cultur
Nov 14, 2011 Cheryl rated it it was ok
For someone who is just beginning to explore the concepts of Shinto, this is probably not the best of books. Yamakage sensei approaches the subject a bit more moralistically and with a bit less rationalism than should be expected from a tradition that has no doctrine, no teachings and no founder. There is no single Shinto, and there seems an expression in this text that Yamakage Shinto (Yamakage family tradition, not the self aggrandizement of the author) should be the only and original way of t ...more
Aug 12, 2016 Christopher rated it really liked it
I was very reluctant to read this book. I like reading about religions, especially polytheistic ones, but usually I prefer that from a more objective and academic perspective. After all, I am a materialist and do not actually believe any of the claims of these faiths.
The problem is that academic treatises of Shintoism are pretty lame. Just a recitation of architecture and ceremony without any real *umph* for something without real canonical texts to just cite. So the text of a true believer was
Nov 03, 2009 Sarika rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan, spirituality
The author is up front of his bias, he is a head priest of his shrine. Despite that or because of it, he has a very even view on the religion. This book was written for a Japanese audience, but it is well translated and the cultural differences do not seem to be more then the average reader can overcome.
Elizabeth Spencer
Nov 15, 2013 Elizabeth Spencer rated it liked it
The most fascinating thing about this book is that it was written by an actual Shinto priest who lives, breathes, and believes the tenants of Shinto. This is remarkable, because--and he stops to mention this too many times--most Japanese are areligious. So this was the first time that I’ve read a non-academic description of how Shinto views the world, life, and death.

That said, it wasn’t an easy read. It reads like it was translated faithfully from the original, and literal Japanese translations
Juan Rivera
Dec 01, 2016 Juan Rivera rated it really liked it
Shelves: lecturas-2016
In the opportunities of life I have been fortunate to go to Japan and to know another philosophy of life. A clean, respectful, orderly, educated far east.

But what did I know about the spiritual life of Japan?


But now I had the opportunity to read "The essence of Shinto Japans Spiritual heart" of Motohisa Yamakage and I realized many things ....

Eastern religions are very similar. Many of Shinto's practices resemble those of Buddhism and Hinduism. However the novelty, and what I loved, is t
Nathan Bell
Jul 06, 2016 Nathan Bell rated it liked it
I spent a year living in Japan, and attended a few Shinto ceremonies and festivals with friends and colleagues, without really knowing what was happening. So I was looking for an introduction, something that covered the basics in an easily digestible manor.

This was the first book I've read on Shinto, and clearly the author is well educated and experienced in the subject, but in terms of a giving fundamental introduction to the theology, history, I found it a little too cold, and 'matter-of-fact'
Oct 05, 2010 Jack rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Japanese culture
I was last in Japan some 35 years ago and there, I met a Shinto priest who changed my outlook on world religions and set me upon the course that has led me to where I am now. I thought in those three afternoons I spent discussing dogma and philosophies with him that I'd learned a lot about the Shinto philosophy.

It turns out I barely scratched the surface!

And, after reading Master Yamakage's book, I've still barely scratched the surface. But this is a must-read for anyone exploring religions and
Aug 29, 2016 Jeremy rated it it was amazing
An excellent introduction to Shinto from a contemporary practitioner's standpoint. Yamakage communicates something about the unique qualities of this tradition while also making a bridge between other traditions and the modern world. I found few books on Shinto, perhaps because of the non-textual nature of the tradition and the fact, reading between the lines Yamakage's account, the tradition might be somewhat in decline. This is definitely not an objective or rationalistic account of the tradit ...more
Dec 02, 2012 Karen rated it liked it
This was not quite I was looking for, but it did a nice job in explaining some aspects of Shinto as it's practiced in Japan today. The black and white photographs were beautiful, and the appendices in the back was very helpful. Yamakage's tone, however, ranged from very sincere to highly critical, not only of other Shintoists, but Buddhists and occasionally Christians. I found that his occasional fundamentalist rants distracted me from other aspects of the book. Still, it was a nice read for wha ...more
Jul 13, 2012 Riobhcah rated it it was amazing
As a Buddhist who is also quite interested in Japanese culture, I was interested to read this book called "The Essence of Shinto." It seems to be a good basic overview of Shinto beliefs and some of their practices. I would think it might be a good place to start for those who would like to learn about Shinto. The author explains their complex beliefs in a way that those who are not practicing Shinto can begin to understand Shinto with more depth.
Nov 30, 2008 Cate rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book a lot. It is not easy to find treatments of Shinto, and this one I found especially interesting. It not only covered some of the basics that I had read in other books, but addressed specific examples of Shinto practice. While it delved into some areas of belief that I couldn't quite buy, overall I found the descripton of Shinto informative and appealing. I am definitely looking forward to reading this again and also reading more books about Shintoism.
very useful for understanding a bit more of the background to a lot of japanese pulp/pop media, although i'm deeply uninterested in the subject per se. (a small reward was that it did have some startling sentences along the lines of "the desirable condition of the [soul] is to have it condensed to the size of a soccer ball")
Jan 08, 2009 Michael rated it liked it
I liked this book, but it is written by a strong believer in Shinto that has some strong issues with the way it is currently being practiced. It is a good overview of Shinto and an adequate introduction if you know little or nothing about the religion. Although for a religion that professes to have no dogma, this book can be rather dogmatic.
May 26, 2009 Kevin rated it really liked it
Covers a lot of the basics, history, etc. Was quite well written. There were a lot of Japanese words used in it, but at times it became a bit distracting, because the word wasn't defined until a bit later on. Overall, though, I'd recommend it to anyone interested in Shinto
Feb 28, 2015 Dipa rated it liked it
Interesting book. This book is a good introduction to Shintoism. Personally I would have preferred less musings on the state of the world today, and more information on Shintoism, its stories and its practise.
Jul 27, 2013 Damien rated it really liked it
This is the first book I read on Shinto that DID NOT treat it as a expose of quaint foreign religion, and so far it was also the best. It focused on the spiritual side, rather than try entertain you with the spectacles of Japanese cultural festivals or clever tales of Japanese mythology.
Sep 16, 2010 Neil rated it it was ok
The air of superiority that beams out of the early chapters of this book doesn't prevent it being informative and interesting on its topic, but the author really does seem to be disconnected from his audience, and rather dogmatic about his religion, despite claims to the contrary.
Suat Aydin
Feb 22, 2016 Suat Aydin rated it really liked it
First half is really good, he is explaining the philosophy behind. But second half is on practice. I felt that practice is not parallel to the philosophy. Just to make it very special so that people need religious people.
Richard Horsman
Dec 01, 2013 Richard Horsman rated it liked it
It's an interesting book, with quite a bit of good background and general information for the reader who is new to Shinto. The last third or so does suffer by being more of a guide to Yamakage's specific practice and theology, though it is still interesting.
Apr 20, 2015 Myra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Superior Book on Shinto

This is by far the most understandable and detailed book I've read on Shintoism. I will be reading it again soon.
Suzanne Yoder
Mar 12, 2016 Suzanne Yoder rated it liked it
Very informative.
May 10, 2007 Hilary rated it it was ok
I didn't get very far in this one. The author's tone turned me off, and I never mustered enough interest to pick it up again before it was due back to the library. Maybe another time.
Aug 29, 2015 Nwaf rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spirituality
الكتاب جيد بالمناسبة يحكي الممارسات الروحانية والطقوس الشنتوية اليابانية الغامضة والقليل جداً من الجذور التاريخية لأصل الديانة
Dec 14, 2010 Kris rated it really liked it
Shelves: research
Very cool introductory book about Shinto; while not very clear in a few places, this book is an invaluable resource for understanding the religion that has guided so much of Japan's history.
Coryl Reef
Jun 21, 2016 Coryl Reef rated it it was amazing
Loved it.
Kate rated it it was ok
Oct 25, 2016
Kyle Massey
Kyle Massey rated it really liked it
Jun 29, 2014
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