Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan, a life-affirming animism calling upon the blessings of the numinous forces of nature and of specific spirit deities.
Thus, being about nature, this religion is largely associated with growth and prosperity. It encourages people to be sincere, cheerful, and pure, and to live in relationship with Kami. Kami is sort of a catchall term for invisible spiritual forces that range from the nameless power that inhabits a waterfall, beautiful tree, or enigmatic rock formation, to an actual, personified guardian or helper.
Typically, a Shinto religious site can be a formal temple – approached by a vermilion cross-beamed gateway – or an unadorned feature of the Japanese landscape marked off only by a white straw rope.
The devotee presents an offering, claps hands or rings a bell to alert the Spirit of the environment of their presence, and says a prayer to respect and honor them.
Small shrines for Kami are also very common in homes and offices.
Followers of Shinto celebrate a mythical history of Japan and the special bond between the people and its islands.
In the 19th century, Shinto was used to legitimize militaristic and fascist nationalism, a phase that officially came to an end in 1946 after Japan’s defeat in world war 2, when the emperor publicly renounced the belief that he was a living embodiment of Amaterasu, the Shinto goddess of the sun.
This religion is by far the largest religion in Japan, practiced by nearly 80% of the population, yet only a small percentage of these identify themselves as “Shintoists” in surveys. This is because “Shinto” has different meanings in Japan: Most of the Japanese attend these shrines and beseech Kami without wanting or need to belong to institutional religion. In this, Shinto is more of a way of life and honoring of nature, than an actual religion.
Therefore, the number of members is often counting those who join organized sects. Today, there are 81,000 shrines and 85,000 priests across the country.