Once you have the inspiration, it is time for the perspiration.

Embodying the idea seems to work well as a single action, with the result being compared to the difficulty of the creation. Now, I want revision to be a normal part of creation, so the first result should generally not be high enough to succeed. The easiest thing to do here is to just take the total of the first roll, and use that as the progress towards creation.

The next step is assessment, looking at what has been achieved so far. This is best done by someone other than the person who embodied the idea; it is a truism of creation that you cannot effectively assess your own work. Of course, it is not impossible to do this for your own work, just difficult, and progressively harder the more revisions you have looked at. This is probably best reflected in a penalty to the number of dice to roll, and this penalty should go up every time you try to assess your own work. Other personae get no penalty the first time, but after that they start to take the penalty, because they are also getting too close to the work.

The difficulty of the assessment should be based on the current progress towards the difficulty of the creation, so that it gets harder to see places for improvement as the work gets nearer to completion. However, it seems likely that the assessment and embodying totals will be about the same, so the difficulty should not be the same as the current progress. It should be possible to make progress even though none of the personae stand a chance of completing the work in one roll. A simple rule would be to double the result of the assessment roll, and compare that to the progress. If this total exceeds the progress, the assessment has succeeded, providing useful insight into the creation.

A successful assessment creates the option to revise the work. The revision roll may use the same total as initial creation, or, in some cases, might be different. To get the difficulty for the revision roll, subtract the current progress of the creation from the total on the assessment roll, after doubling. This is always a positive number for a successful assessment, because the assessment total exceeded the progress of the creation. Then subtract this result, the amount by which the assessment total exceeded the progress, from the progress, to get the difficulty of the revision. If the work has not made much progress, improvement is quite easy, and if the assessment is very successful it is also easy. The difficulty of the revision cannot drop below zero; if the assessment total was more than twice the current progress, the revision difficulty is zero.

After the revision roll, increase the progress of the creation by the amount by which the revision roll exceeded the revision difficulty.

So, for example, suppose that Yoshihiko rolls 6 and keeps 3 (R6K3) for his embodying roll. He gets 13. Aya rolls 5 and keeps 2 for her assessment. She rolls an 11, doubled to 22. That’s 9 greater than the progress on the work, so the difficulty for Yoshihiko’s next embodying roll is 13–9, which is 4. He rolls 11, which means that he can add 11–4, or 7, to the progress, for a total of 20. At this point, Aya and Yoshihiko are probably stuck, because Aya only gets to roll four dice to assess the work a second time, so her chances of getting over 20 are slim; she would need to get 11 or 12 on the two dice she keeps. They need to find someone else, ideally someone who keeps at least three dice for assessment, to make further progress.

A revision need not increase the progress. Instead, a revision may add another concept to the creation. In this case, the assessment roll is followed by a conception roll, rather than an embodying roll. The difficulty of the revision is subtracted from the points available to set the benefits and difficulty of the new concept, which will typically make this harder than just having a new idea. In addition, the difficulty of the new concept is added to the existing difficulty of the creation. Not only does the revision not increase progress, it actually pushes completion further away. It is hard to incorporate too many ideas into the same creation, but extra ideas do make the final product better.

This pattern allows several personae to contribute to a creation, but it doesn’t give the players many choices, and it doesn’t describe the creation. That is where elements come in.


What would make good mechanics for creation?

The first point is that it is important to make it possible for several personae to cooperate. In the real world, a lot of creation is done by individuals working alone, but even then, not all, or even most, of it. In a game, you must give as many players as possible the chance to participate. Obviously, the personae have to be able to communicate in order to collaborate on the creation, but that’s unlikely to cause problems. The personae don’t even need to be in the same place; I have worked on books with collaborators on four different continents.

The process of creation, in my experience, goes something like this.

Have an idea.

Write some words that capture the idea.

Revise the words, because they didn’t work at all.

Have another idea.

Revise the words to incorporate the new idea.

Have someone else read the words, and revise again based on what they say.

Decide the idea was terrible to start with, and go back to the beginning to start again.

The fact that it is possible to just throw an idea away and start again must be reflected in the rules. Going back at any point is possible. For some kinds of creation, there may be limits on whether you can rewind part of the creation process and restart from a partially completed work (you can’t stick marble back on a block of stone, but you can go back to an earlier draft of a novel), but going right back to the beginning is always possible in principle. In some cases, you might not have the resources you need to do so, but that’s something that stands outside the rules for creation itself.

There are four other basic actions in the list above. Let’s call them conceive, embody, assess, and revise. Each of these should be a single action in the game, following the normal rules for single actions.

Conceive is coming up with the idea for the creation. I think it works best if this creates an option. Specifically, it creates the option to create that creation. Let’s say that the conception defines the best that the artwork can be, and also how difficult it is to create. The player can trade these two off to some extent, based on her roll. If she really needs a brilliant artwork, she should make it difficult to realise, but possibly great. On the other hand, if she just needs a basically plausible story, but really, really needs that story, then an easy creation of mediocre quality is the thing to go for.

It is possible to add ideas to a creation later in the process. I do that in real life. However, for game purposes these further ideas should not be able to improve the established potential of the creation. Instead, they add new potential. If the first idea lets the creation have a bonus of up to +3K, then a new idea might allow –2D, or add an additional option. Adding a new idea should always increase the difficulty of the creation, and should increase it more the nearer the work is to completion. Throwing away some or all of the work done so far to get back to a point where you can add the new idea is, of course, an option, if you have the time and resources to do so.

My feeling is that there should be a limit on conceiving for a single persona. Ideas don’t just appear to order, and sometimes you need to take a break and get inspiration from somewhere. However, other personae do not run out of inspiration because you do, and their ideas might inspire you again. One way to implement this would be to impose a penalty to the number of dice rolled, while another would be to require personae to spend a resource statistic (that is, something like Confidence points, Willpower points, Fate points, or Hero points) in order to make a conception roll. I don’t have a resource statistic yet, but I think I’ll be adding one. In any case, this is also something to decide on later.

Having the idea is not, of course, the end of the process. The next post will look at the 90%, the perspiration.

Products of Creation

The products of creation are an important part of the game, so their description does not need to be particularly simple. They are, for example, as important as characters, if a little less important than personae, and so their description could certainly be as complex as a character’s description. In particular, a creation need not be described by a single number, and indeed most often will not be.

A creation that grants a bonus should specify the situation and the bonus. The bonus might be extra dice to roll, extra dice to keep, or a reduction to the difficulty. Those can be abbreviated as +1R, for an additional die to roll, +1K, for an additional die to keep, and –1D, for a one-point reduction in the difficulty. The situation might also be open to abbreviation, for certain standard contexts, but it should also be possible to describe it more generally. The rules should avoid restricting the personae’s possibilities for creation.

A single creation may have more than one bonus, and more than one type of bonus. In general, the type of bonus desired constrains how the creation must be created, but the details depend on what is being created. The players are often able to choose the bonus they want, and that affects the difficulty of the creation process.

A creation that changes the context should specify how it does so. This result will, I think, almost always be specific to a scenario, as contexts are not generally portable. That is, the same context does not normally arise in different scenarios. However, there are always exceptions. To take a simple example, a crash helmet changes the context of a cycling roll to avoid an accident, by reducing the severity of the injury the persona suffers on a failure. The change in context will determine the difficulty of the creation, and will generally need to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Guidelines will be needed, but the game system needs to be a bit more solid before I can start doing that.

Creations that create options also need to specify the option. That might be like a move from Apocalypse World, describing a single action that a persona with the creation may take. It might also be a bit more general, allowing a range of related actions. The difficulty of creating the creation will depend on the usefulness, and difficulty, of the option created. For example, composing a piece of music creates the option of performing that piece. A piece that is easy to perform, but has a great impact on the audience, will be harder to create than a piece that has the same impact, but is more difficult to perform. (This is perhaps not entirely realistic, but it is close enough.) Again, guidelines will be necessary, and will depend on the details of the game system.

A single creation could have all three of these properties, creating several options, offering bonuses to actions, and changing the context of a situation. On the whole, I suspect that it will be better if most creations are not that complicated. An option and a bonus, or a few bonuses, might be best. People do have to be able to play the game, after all. On the other hand, a whole campaign could be concerned with realising a single creation, and in that case it might be a very good idea to make the central creation extremely complex. The creation would structure the whole campaign, so making it simple would also make the campaign simple. The rules, then, should not place any restrictions on the complexity of creations, although they should naturally lead to relatively simple creations in most cases.

The next question, for the next post, is about the rules for the process of creation.

Creating Things

What rules enable the personae to create matsuri, or indeed anything else? Creation is a central part of the game, so it should not be resolved by a single roll. That would not give it enough emphasis in play. In addition, if creation were represented by a single roll, it would be difficult for players to use the rules, because they would have to come up with all the details of the things they were creating for themselves. Creativity is hard work, and one of the reasons for including it in a game is to allow personae to be better at it than the players.

If the game required players to fully describe the things that their personae created, it would be impossible for personae to be more creative than their players. It would be possible to have a persona with more technical skill, for example as a sculptor, than the player, but not to have a persona capable to creating a better concept for a sculpture. On the other hand, if the game simply describes the products of creation as “very good”, they do not feel real, and an important part of the setting loses focus.

The compromise is for the quality of the creation to be determined by game mechanics, but for the elements of the creation to be determined by the players. Anyone with any experience of creativity knows that a good enough creator can make something great from the most unpromising set of elements, so there is no reason to be sceptical about a high quality for a creation just because the elements sound odd or unsuited to one another.

The elements of a creation are determined by the type of creation it is. Creating something is an important part of stories in Kannagara, so game material will describe the elements involved in things that can be created. A matsuri, for example, includes mikë, norito, and kagura. There is nothing general to say about this, but I will have a lot to say about more specific cases in later posts.

On the other hand, there are general things to say about the game mechanics. The mechanics should be consistent, and based on the core mechanic. That is, creating something will involve rolling sets of dice, keeping some, and doing something with the total of the dice you have kept. It will not necessarily involve success or failure, because creation is a different mechanic from a single action.

Before the mechanic can be fixed, however, it is important to think about the end product. Creations are a central part of the game, so they should have an effect on game mechanics, as required by my general philosophy. There are three established ways in which they can affect the game. They can provide a bonus or penalty to actions, they can change the meaning of success and failure, and they can create or destroy options.

Each of these three approaches can happen in two contexts. In one, the creation is primarily created to assist with future actions. In that case, bonuses and penalties or creating and destroying options are most often appropriate. In the other, the creation is the point, in which case it is more likely to change the meaning of success or failure. Nevertheless, all the possibilities apply to both kinds of creation. For example, the point of a scenario might be the creation of a good relationship with a character, but that good relationship creates options for future actions.

In the next post, I want to look at how the end product might be measured, and then, after that, go on to think about the actual mechanics of creation.


Matsuri are the fundamental activity in Shinto. Indeed, a book recently published as an introductory text for people training for the priesthood is called “Jinja and Matsuri”. In contemporary Shinto, most matsuri are extremely ritualised and solemn, but some involve mobs of people running around the town with a giant wooden penis. There is a standard form, but personae have a great deal of freedom in designing matsuri.

Conceptually, a matsuri welcomes a honoured visitor, the kami. The people provide food, read a carefully-written speech of welcome, and offer entertainment, before the kami leaves again. The people may also ask for assistance, or thank the kami for previous aid. These elements all appear to go back to the very earliest times of Shinto, when the kami were not believed to dwell permanently in jinja. Instead, they were welcomed to the sacred space for each matsuri, and bid farewell again when it ended. A standard matsuri still includes the arrival and departure of the kami, even though, these days, the kami is typically believed to be present in the jinja at all times.

Before the matsuri starts, all the people and things that will take part must be purified. This includes both literal cleaning, and harae, or ritual purification. Harae is another central concept in Shinto, so it will get its own post at some point, when I am deciding how, exactly, to work it into the game.

The food and drink for the kami are offered right at the beginning. The food is called “mikë” (mee-keh), and the drink, which is always sake, Japanese rice wine, is called “miki” (mee-kee). The mikë always includes rice, water, and salt, but can also include any other kind of food. Many rituals have special traditional mikë, but it can be literally anything, including a box of chocolates. It is rare to offer the meat of mammals, although this is thought to be due to the influence of Buddhism rather than an original part of Shinto, but fish is common, as are birds. Any food should be high-quality, because it is being offered to a respected guest.

The speech of welcome is called a “norito”. Norito are written in ninth-century Japanese, which is different enough from contemporary Japanese to be hard to follow, without being completely incomprehensible. There are particular phrases that are held to be especially appropriate, and the norito are supposed to follow a fixed structure. However, they are also supposed to be written specifically for each matsuri. A matsuri that has been held every year for centuries normally has a traditional norito as well, but if you ask for a matsuri, the shrine priest may write a special norito for it. That said, most priests own at least a few books full of example norito, because writing norito is not an easy job. “Norito” is often translated “prayer”, and this is not too bad. The norito is addressed to the kami, and it should be written for the situation. However, many prayers in the Christian tradition are much less formal than norito.

The standard form of entertainment is sacred dance, or “kagura”. This dance can take many forms, and is thought to have originated in shamanic possession. It is common for the dancer to wear a mask, or to carry bells, and the music is normally based on traditional Japanese court music, or “gagaku”. This music has very different conventions from Western music. Drums, various kinds of flute, and the koto, a stringed instrument, are the most common instruments, and sometimes people sing. These days, most kagura is performed by miko, female assistants at the shrine, but the most traditional kagura is performed by priests, residents of the area, or members of a particular family.

A matsuri, as you can see, has plenty of room for creation within the basic structure. The mikë, norito, and kagura can all be designed to fit the situation. Creating a matsuri will be one of the central activities in Kannagara, and possibly the most common use of the rules for creation. Those rules will be the topic of the next few posts.


The third possibility for the success or failure of a single action is the creation of options. Success on one action might make it possible to take a further action, while that action is not possible if the first action fails. For example, if a persona convinces a character to talk to her, she then has the option of asking the character questions. If she fails to engage the character in conversation, then she cannot ask questions.

If a single action happens in isolation, it should create an option on a success rather than removing one on a failure. Suppose that the roll does remove an option on failure. If the roll is optional, players will simply not make it. Why would they make a roll that cannot improve things, but might make them worse? If the roll is compulsory, then it is best thought of as creating the option on a success, rather than removing it on a failure. The players do not really have the option before they make the roll, because they have to make the roll first.

This is not true if the action is linked to other features of the situation. For example, a roll to avoid removing an option might only be required if the characters take certain actions. If a persona insults a character, the player might have to roll to avoid losing the option to continue the conversation. Alternatively, there might be a benefit other than the creation of an option from success on the roll. Telling a rude joke might give you a bonus to future rolls to deal with someone if you succeed, but remove the option of talking to him if you fail.

In general, however, rolls that remove options should be treated carefully, because they risk bringing the story to a halt. In a broad sense, the simple success/failure model is a version of this possibility, where the option lost is the option to continue the story.

The options created by these actions must be genuinely optional; it must be entirely possible to continue the story without them. The newly-available action might grant a bonus, or change the context, in a way that was not previously possible. Alternatively, it might allow the personae to tackle a problem in a different way, using different abilities. In general, personae do not have all abilities, and they are better at some than at others, so this might be a very appealing option. However, there should be a way to succeed that was available both before and after the roll.

These three applications seem to cover most of the things that we might want a single action to do, and I will use all three. Single actions either grant a bonus or penalty, change the context, or create an option.

This brings in a meta-rule. If a single action would do none of the above, then there is no point rolling for it. For actions that are possible for the persona, the player simply decides whether it succeeds or fails, no matter how unlikely success is. If the persona cannot perform the action, then it fails, and has no consequences. So, a player can say “Yoshihiko tosses a coin thirty times, and it comes up heads every time. He grabs the other personae to come and see, and tosses another ten heads”. This is possible, and has no impact on the story, so it’s simply colour. However, a player cannot say “Yoshihiko turns into a miniature dragon and flies around the room while he is waiting”, unless Yoshihiko has the ability to turn into a miniature, flying dragon.

This does mean that the same action might sometimes require a roll and sometimes not, depending on whether the outcome affects the story. That, however, is just part of playing a game.

Single actions are not the whole of Kannagara; creation is at least as important. Before I discuss the mechanics for that, however, I want to say a bit more about matsuri, as the creation of matsuri is one of the main things that players will use the creation rules to do.

Possible Results

How can success and failure on a single action affect the course of the game, without risking bringing everything to an untimely halt?

One possibility is for success to give the persona an advantage on future activities. She can still succeed in those activities even if she fails this roll, but she is more likely to succeed later if she succeeds now. Conversely, failure might impose a disadvantage. Obviously, these two could be combined, to create a really big difference between success and failure on this roll.

This solution has to be used sparingly, for two reasons. First, it is dependent on the possibility of success or failure on the following actions. At some point, there needs to be a task that is performed for its own sake.

Second, it is possible to build up so many advantages or disadvantages on early rolls that the final roll, at what should be the climax, is a foregone conclusion. While that might be realistic, it is not dramatically interesting. Sometimes, of course, the part that sounds like it should be the climax is really part of the epilogue, and the real climax happened earlier in the story. For example, if adventurers brave great perils to claim the Gem of Blasting, which then lets them destroy the army besieging their city, the climax is not the destruction of the army; the climax is seizing the Gem of Blasting. The destruction of the army is just epilogue. Even so, the excessive use of advantages and disadvantages can remove the drama from the actual climax. That needs to be avoided.

A second possibility is for success and failure to change the context of future actions. That is, what you get for success or failure changes. Returning to the Gem of Blasting example, successes and failures earlier in the adventure could determine how quickly you get the gem, which determines how much damage has been done to your city by the time you destroy the besieging army.

Building up a lot of context changes does not make the climactic event easier or harder, so it retains its drama. If it is done carefully, success at the climax is still much better than failure, so the players still want to succeed. However, earlier successes increase the benefits of success and reduce the risks of failure. Absolute failure at the climax is dramatically appropriate, and so can be permitted, but earlier successes might mean that even a failure at the climax permits a degree of success.

The problem with changing the context is that it doesn’t always make sense. Think again about trying to recall a fact. It is hard to see how this would change the context of action, and much easier to see how remembering a fact could grant an advantage. This means that we cannot rely exclusively on this option, either.

Fortunately, we are not required to do so. The core mechanic should be unified, but that does not mean that the meaning of success should always be the same. It is entirely reasonable for a success to sometimes grant a bonus, and sometimes change the context. I intend to use both possibilities in Kannagara, but also the possibility of creating options, which I will discuss in the next post.

Success and Failure

There are going to be at least two broad types of activity in the game. The first is single actions. A persona wants to remember a fact, identify a picture, persuade someone to do something, or open a stuck door. These will be resolved with a single roll. The second type of activity is creating something. That might be a Shinto ritual, a painting, or a relationship with someone. Since these are a central feature of the game, they will not be resolved by a single roll.

Single actions are clearly simpler, and will form the basis for creation, so I want to look at their mechanic first. The obvious suggestion for the foundation is to compare the total of the kept dice to a difficulty. If the total equals or exceeds the difficulty, the action succeeds. Otherwise, it fails. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason to reject the obvious possibility, so this is what I will use.

Now, success is straightforward. The persona achieves whatever she was trying to do. This moves the game forward and keeps everyone involved, so there are no problems. Failure, however, is a bit trickier. If we simply say that the persona fails to do something, that stops the game. Even failure should move the game forward, albeit not in the way that the players hoped. That is, failure should change the situation.

In combat, this is not a problem. If the persona hits her opponent, she moves closer to winning the fight. If she misses, she gives her opponent another chance to kill her. Both success and failure move the story forward. Outside combat, however, it gets a bit harder. It is not immediately obvious how failing to remember a fact changes the situation. Before she tried to remember the fact, she didn’t know the fact. After she tried to remember the fact, she didn’t know the fact. The entire process took a fraction of a second inside her head. Why would the situation change?

This may be the good game-design reason for the emphasis on combat in so many existing roleplaying games.

One way to make failure matter is to make success essential to proceed with the adventure. That, however, is a really bad idea, because the whole point of rolling dice for an action is to allow the possibility of failure. It is bad for the game if the story comes screeching to a halt, so deliberately designing stories with that possibility is a bad choice. Quite a few recent games, such as Robin Laws’s GUMSHOE system, are designed to avoid this problem.

Another common approach is to impose a limit. This might be a time limit, or a limited number of rolls. Combat is really an example of this, as the persona is trying to kill her opponent before her opponent kills her. Obviously, this works, but only when there are multiple opportunities to act. If the limit on the number of rolls is one, then failing on that one roll just brings things to a halt. Even with a limit, failure on all the roles can still pose a problem. Total Party Kill is the end of the game, so most games these days are designed to avoid that.

The ideal solution would be a way in which failure changes the situation, but does not end the game. The precise form of this solution depends on the situation of the roll, but we can give some general guidance. I will look at this in detail from the next post, but the three options are as follows: create an advantage or disadvantage; change the context of future of actions; or create an option.

Core Mechanic

Having set the scene in general terms, I’d like to start getting into the details of how I want the game to work. The core mechanic I plan to use for Kannagara is as follows.

For every significant action, the player rolls a number of six-sided dice. She keeps some of them, and adds the values shown to get a total. This total is the mechanical result of the action.

So, for example, the player might roll seven dice, and get 6, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. She might then keep the highest four dice (6 ,6, 5, 4), for a total of 21. Alternatively, she might keep the lowest four dice (4, 3, 2, 1), for a total of 10.

Personae have numerical characteristics, just as in most roleplaying games. In many cases, one of these characteristics is the number of dice to roll, while another is the number of dice to keep.

If the number of dice to roll is higher than the number to keep, this is straightforward. Roll the indicated number of dice, and keep the highest dice for the total. So, if the two characteristics are 7 to roll and 4 to keep, the player rolls seven dice and keeps the highest four; the 21 total in the example.

If the number of dice to roll is lower than the number to keep, the number of dice actually rolled changes. Add twice the difference between the two numbers to the lower number, and roll that number of dice. In this case, the player keeps the lowest dice for the total. So, if the two characteristics are 1 to roll and 4 to keep, the player rolls seven dice, and keeps the lowest four. She keeps four because the characteristic determining the number of dice to keep is 4, and that doesn’t change. She rolls seven because 4–1 is 3, and one plus twice three is seven.

In this system, the number of dice you keep determines how well you can do. The number of dice you roll determines how likely you are to be at the top or bottom end of that range. In the example, the player has exactly the same range of possible results in both cases: any number between 4 and 24, inclusive. However, when she rolls seven and keeps the best four, she is much more likely to get a result at the top end of that range, while rolling seven and keeping the worst four puts her much nearer the bottom.

The numbers of dice are not always set by characteristics. In fact, it might be more common for one to be set by other features of a situation. However, the core mechanic does not change; one number determines the number of dice to roll, and the other determines the number of dice to keep.

The plan is to use this mechanic for everything that includes a chance of failure, or where it is necessary to determine the degree of success. That might be a single action, but it might also be part of a larger action. Larger actions that are a common part of the game, such as creating things, will have a common structure, so that these rolls are always put together in the same way. This consistency should make it much easier to learn the game.

So far, however, I have said nothing about what happens after the player rolls the dice. That will be the topic of the following posts.

Shinto, The Traditional Religion of Japan

Shinto is the traditional religion of Japan.

As is normal with real-world situations, every single word (even “is”, “the”, and “of”) in that sentence is controversial, and potentially misleading, but it is still the best place to start.

I believe that Shinto is best thought of as a religion, but that word tends to create an inaccurate image. Shinto does not have a founder. It also does not really have sacred texts; the oldest collections of Shinto legends are eighth century, and almost nobody within Shinto believes that they are literally true, or should be analysed as a guide to daily life. They are still extremely important to Shinto, but their role is completely different from the role of the Bible or Qur’an. Further, Shinto is not, on the whole, very concerned with what happens to you after you die, nor with what its practitioners believe about the world. It also has little to say on ethics. You cannot really convert to Shinto, because it is not clear what that would involve. You can practise Shinto and Buddhism at the same time, and most Japanese do. In short, it is very little like a religion, if Christianity and Islam are your paradigm examples of religions. Indeed, nineteenth century Christian missionaries to Japan denied that Shinto was a religion, and convinced the Japanese government. This came back to bite them when the government made Shinto compulsory while upholding freedom of religion; if Shinto is not a religion, there is no contradiction here.

“Traditional” might also be misleading. Shinto does not claim a founder, so its age is not clear; there is plenty of room for disagreement over when religious practices in Japan can first be called “Shinto”. The earliest date that I have seen seriously defended is 10,000BCE, while the most recent is 1871. I don’t think either of those dates is at all plausible. Personally, I think Shinto began around the fifth century CE, in Japan’s Kofun period, and some fourth century practices can reasonably be called proto-Shinto. Thus, Shinto has around 1,500 years of history, which means that it originates in Japanese prehistory, albeit barely. Islam is younger, Christianity is older, and Hinduism is much older.

Shinto has also changed a great deal over the last 1,500 years. I call the practices “Shinto” for that whole period because there are enough continuities to make it helpful to use one name, but there have also been a lot of changes. Shinto begins at around the time when Buddhism came to Japan, so most of Shinto’s development has been in reaction to and as part of Buddhism. We find people building temples to help Shinto kami achieve nirvana very early, and for a thousand years most people believed that the kami were manifestations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or vice versa. The influences of Daoism and Confucianism are also obvious, and some kami come from Hinduism. Even the rituals at Jingu in Ise, commonly regarded as the most sacred location in Shinto, have changed almost beyond recognition in the last few hundred years. Shinto is a living tradition, and, in my opinion, all the better for it.

“Traditional religion of Japan” is misleading, then, if it makes you think of a religion like Christianity that arose from purely Japanese sources and has persisted unchanged since the beginning of time. On the other hand, Shinto is a set of religious practices that have been handed down in Japan, created by the people from materials both local and imported without reference to an authoritative source. Thus, Shinto really is, in my opinion, the traditional religion of Japan.