- Currently a democratic nation state with a constitutional monarchy and a common language, Japanese. It comprises about 3,000 islands bordering the East Asian mainland, close to Korea. The southern (Ryukyu) islands reach almost to Taiwan and the northern islands are close to Siberia. The inhabitants are mainly ethnic Japanese and some indigenous Ainu, with significant minorities of Koreans (most of whom are third or fourth generation and largely indistinguishable from the Japanese) and now other Asian and western peoples. The word 'Japan' (nihon, nippon) means [land of the] sun's origin; land of the rising sun, which suggests a Chinese perspective. A more 'Japanese' term used for Japan is Yamato (after the earliest political centre) or more commonly 'waga kuni' 'our country'. From the Meiji period until 1945 the notion that the emperor, the land and its people were descended from the Japanese deities and that a citizen of Japan was one who followed Shinto and revered the emperor as a deity, regardless of any other personal or family religious affiliation, was successfully disseminated through the education system and extended to overseas Koreans and Chinese in the Japanese empire. Since 1945 there has been freedom of religion in Japan coupled with separation of religion and state, leading to a flourishing religious pluralism. In recent times efforts have been made to promote Shinto as a broad-minded form of spirituality, possibly with environmental overtones, which though indigenous to the Japanese nation is not coterminous with the Japanese state and is therefore open in principle to non-Japanese people.
A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Brian Bocking.