Jinja Kentei Textbooks 1

I’ve been asked to give some recommendations for books to read in Japanese about Shinto, because some of the people following my blog can read Japanese. If you can’t, this post is not going to be of much use to you — sorry.

My first recommendation is the official texts for the Jinja Kentei. At least some of these are available from Amazon US (and I have added affiliate links), which is one reason to recommend them. However, Amazon Japan will also ship overseas, so I have added (affiliate) links there as well.

These texts are overseen and approved by Jinja Honchō, which means that they are a solid, uncontroversial look at mainstream Shinto. There is, of course, a lot more to Shinto than that, but it is very helpful to know what the mainstream is while you are reading other sources. You might decide that a fringe version of Shinto is the one that appeals to you, and that is fine. However, visits to Japan are likely to go more smoothly if you know that your version of Shinto is not mainstream.

There are currently eleven volumes available.

Volume one is the basic introduction to Shinto, focused on contemporary practice. It covers basic jinja etiquette, and how to have a kamidana (although it is one of the sources that doesn’t tell you when to take the offerings down), as well as a summary of some of the major kami and jinja. There are whole chapters on Jingū at Isë and the Tennō’s ceremonies in the palace. This is a very good place to start, if you read Japanese. (Amazon US; Amazon Japan)

Volume three (yes, I know I’ve skipped one) is a history of Shinto. It’s not, in my opinion, the best one available, but it is a good relatively short summary, and it probably is the best source for the “official line” on the history of Shinto. (Not on Amazon US; Amazon Japan)

Volume five and volume seven are basically an encyclopaedia of Shinto. These texts are for the advanced exam, and cover material that priests are not expected to know (and typically do not). They are very good as summaries of important debates over central concepts, such as kegarë, or important matsuri, such as the Daijōsai. They are definitely not for beginners, but if you read the other textbooks, you will be ready for them. I do recommend these when you are ready for them; I refer to them sometimes while preparing essays. (Volume 5: Amazon US; Amazon Japan) (Volume 7: Amazon US; Amazon Japan)

Another reminder: These books are all in Japanese. Unless you read Japanese well (JLPT N1+) you are unlikely to get your money’s worth.

And I will come back to the other volumes in the future; I think this is going to be about three posts in total.

I have a Patreon, where people subscribe to receive in-depth essays on various aspects of Shinto, about once per month. If that sounds interesting to you, please take a look.

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