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The Essence of Shinto: Japan's Spiritual Heart

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  140 ratings  ·  22 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 mythologyindeed, it is regarded as Japan's very spir

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Published March 14th 2007 by Kodansha International (first published 2006)
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Nimue Brown
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
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

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
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
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.
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
Oct 25, 2010 Jack rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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")
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.
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.
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
Richard Horsman
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.
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.
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.
Finally, justification of my strange fondness for a "good stick."
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Mohammed Alattar
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