Practical Wisdom for the Modern World

Shinto in Europe


Shinto has been the natural way of life in Japan for over 4000 years. People follow the rhythm of the seasons, respect nature and give thanks for nature's gifts: the harvest. They see life as a cyclical process. This means that a person's life started long before his birth and ends long after his death. This is a big difference with how we see life in Europe, where life begins with our birth and ends with our death. In Japan, grandparents and ancestors are still seen as part of the family. Unlike the monotheistic world religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism, Shinto does not recognize an absolute God who is all-powerful and far above us. Instead, Shinto recognizes mysterious powers in nature that reside in rocks, trees, waterfalls, sea, and mountains. These mysterious powers are called "kami". It is wrong to translate this Japanese word as "god". The word "Shin" in "Shinto" is the same as the word "kami". Shinto means: the Kami Way. We cannot approach Shinto in the same way as the world religions I mentioned earlier. Shinto is not a religion, it has no teaching, it has no believers, it has no founder, it has no god. Shinto recognizes the mysteries of nature and life. The mysteries are partly transmitted in Japanese mythology.


Paul de Leeuw was the first European in 1977 to delve deeply into the secrets of Shinto. In the past, there was no information about Shinto at all. If you search on Google now, you will get 38 million hits. Even if you read all the information on the internet, you will still not understand Shinto. There is a well-known saying: "Shinto cannot be taught, but must be caught". It means that experiencing Shinto is the only way to understand it. Japan offers 1001 opportunities to experience Shinto, but the people there are not likely to exchange their experiences with foreigners. Paul de Leeuw was lucky enough to find a school in Japan where he could study and experience Shinto. This was the school of Yamakage Shinto. The 79th Grand Master of Yamakage Shinto at the time was one of the few who believed that Shinto is universal and can be understood by foreigners as well. After completing his studies in Yamakage Shinto School, it had indeed become clear that Shinto is of universal importance. Grand Master Yamakage asked him to introduce Shinto to Europe and gave him an official certificate appointing him as Yamakage Shinto Holland Saigu Guji to perform the traditional Japanese ceremonies.

Yamakage Shinto

Yamakage Shinto describes itself as a “New Way of Shinto”, but has a tradition of more than 17 centuries. In ancient times, Yamakage was the name of a collective of noble families who served as physician and educator to the emperor at the court in Kyoto, until they were dismissed by the Meiji Reformation seeking a National Shinto. For three generations Yamakage Shinto managed to survive by educating commoners in the “imperial practice of chinkon”, a technique to calm the spirit. In the second half of the last century Yamakage Shinto was registered as an educational spiritual organization. In 1991 the Yamakage Shinto School moved from Shizuoka- ken to Aichi-ken.

Holland Saigu in Amsterdam

In 1980 Paul de Leeuw built a place where people can experience Shinto. The place is called "dojo". Here we do physical and spiritual exercises to cleanse our minds from prejudice, worry and other types of pollution. Gradually, a student becomes more attuned to nature, feels respect for others, even if they do not share the same opinion. If you have an open mind, you can view life from different angles, and regain the special sense of nature that is characteristic for Shinto, and that is lost in the West since the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. At the “dojo” he also built a “jinja”. Jinja means the place where kami lives. People with an open mind can feel the presence of kami. Often it feels like the radiance of light. In the jinja, he performs many ceremonies to show respect for the powers of nature and to express gratitude for the gifts of nature that support our lives.

Universal Shinto

The famous cultural anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once defined the "loss of our natural roots" as the greatest danger threatening humanity. The loss is caused by mass production and mass consumption. However, the Japanese do not understand work as the action of humans on inert matter, in the Western way, but as the establishment of an intimate relationship between man and nature. To save our future, we better follow the Japanese example and regain our natural roots. Interestingly, Lévi-Strauss hoped to be reborn in Japan, where the people still have the Shinto framework that allows them to live in harmony with nature.

Your shinto

So, it's easy to start a new life with Shinto: work hard to get an open mind, don't judge others who see life from a different angle, say thanks for everything that sustains life, and respect the nature of which we are all a part.