Shinto is the oldest surviving religion of Japan. The word
Shinto means the way of the gods. Shintoists worship many
gods, which are called kami. According to Shinto, kami are
the basic force in mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, and
other parts of nature. Shinto also considers kami the basic
force in such processes as creativity, disease, growth and
Shinto emphasizes rituals and moral standards. It does not
have an elaborate philosophy, and, unlike many religions,
it does not stress life after death.
Many Shintoists worship at small shrines in their homes.
Some public shrines consist of several buildings and
gardens. Individual worshipers recite prayers and offer
gifts of cakes and flowers to the kami.
No one knows when or how Shinto began, but Shintoists have
always worshiped the kami through nature. Shinto myths
appear in the Nihongi (Chronicles of Japan) and the Kjiki
(Record of Ancient Things), both written in the AD 700's.
These myths tell how the kami created the world and
established customs and laws. According to Shinto
mythology, the sun goddess became the ancestor of Japan's
On certain occasions, Shinto priests lead ceremonies called
Matsuri. One of the most important Shinto rituals is the
Great Purification Ceremony. It consists of a confession of
sins committed by individuals and by the nation as a whole,
followed by a request that the kami remove the impure
conditions caused by these sins. Other ceremonies deal with
such basic goals as long life, peace, abundant harvests,
and good health.