Shinto: A History (Oxford University Press), by Helen Hardacre
As professor of Japanese history and society at Harvard, Helen Hardacre is among the foremost academic authorities on Shinto. She has written a dryly authoritative account that examines many questions including: Is Shinto actually a religion? The Japanese themselves can’t seem to agree and as Hardacre points out, many Japanese understand what outsiders call religion as merely a set of social and cultural practices. In teasing history from mythology, the author finds there were many forms of Shinto, regional variants that weren’t coordinated until the 19th century. To complicate the picture even more, for centuries many Japanese practiced Shintoism and Buddhism simultaneously while thinking in Confucian terms.
Shinto practice became compulsory under the militarists who led Japan into World War II. Afterward, Shinto became associated with the country’s political right, yet its imagery and ideas permeated anime, manga and the pop culture Japan exported to the world.