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Shinto is a religion unique to Japan is known to Japanese as Kami-no-michi, or The Way of the Gods and has its origins deep in the mytths of ancient Japan. Shinto appears to have derived from the reverence for the natural wonders such as the sun, rivers, mountains and animals. Followers worship spirit gods or Kami, which preside over all things in nature, living, dead or inanimate -  the manifestiations of each have their own specific kami and a pantheon of gods and shrines, each with a level of importance attached,  have been created accordingly over the centuries. There are lesser and greater kami with the sun-goddess Amaterasu at the zenith of this heirarchy , worshipped at the Imperial Shrine at Ise-Shima.

Torii are possibly the most recognizable images of Shinto.They act as gateways dividing the sacred shrine from the secular world. Often of vermillion painted wood, they can be stone or even concrete


Today very few Japanese are strict followers of Shinto - but most will observe Shinto ritual alongside Buddhist practices - the emphasis on purity of being which is fundamental to both allows for assimilation of the two. Indeed the specific occasion will often determine whether Shinto or Buddhist rituals are observed.

Shinto priest at Daizafu Shrine in Kyushu

Unusually, Shinto has no ’founder’ and there is no real way of converting to it as at its heart is the fundamental myths and legends that make up Japan. It was Shinto tradition which held that the emporer himself was a deity or kami up until 1945.

Shinto shrines are destroyed and rebuilt every 20 years in accordance with the purity ethic at the religion’s heart - so when visiting an ’ancient’ Shinto shrine, in reality only the site is ancient, together with any relics or sacred teasures of the deity to which that shrine is dedicated. Frustratingly for the visitor, much of the inside of the shrines are often out of bounds to the public, however the grounds and architecture alone will often make the visit worthwhile.


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