The Shinto religion has many beliefs in which there are many different Gods and spirits. The basic meaning of Shinto is "The Way of the Gods" and it is a traditional ethnic religion. Spirits are worshiped in certain ceremonies called matsuri which you will read about later on. The people of shintoism's many Gods are called deities. The Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, is the chief deity. This religion does not have a complete theology, but their scriptures talk about the "High Plain of Heaven" and the "Dark Land" which is the unclean land of the dead.
Izanami and Izanagi, gave birth to the Japanese islands are were the first of the gods. Amaterasu was a daughter of the imperial family, along with her brother Susano-no-mikoto. Susano-no-mikoto came down from the heavens and roamed the earth seeking the evil dragon which he killed later. All emperors were Gods, with an exception of the last few.
Spirits of this religion are called Kami. Kami are found in everything, whether it is natural such as a tree or human made such as a television. Guardian Kami sustain and protect certain areas or families. All people in the world are regarded to as Kami's Child." Each shrine is dedicated to a specific one and they only answer to sincere prayers. Also, each Kami has a distinct personality.
People who practice shintoism have four main beliefs called the Four Affirmations. The first affirmation is family. The family is important because traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Families celebrate rites of life, death, and marriage. The second affirmation is Love of Nature. Being in contact with nature means that you are in contact with the Gods. The third affirmation is physical cleanliness. Japanese people like to wash their hands, take baths, and wash out their mouths often. When entering a shrine, you must be clean in the presence of spirits. The fourth and final affirmation is matsuri. Shintoism has many different kinds of matsuries. It is a festival honoring spirits collectively or individually. There are seasonal matsuries, birthday matsuries, marriage matsuries, and age matsuries.
When entering a Shinto shrine, you pass under a large gate outside called a torii. The torii marks the gateway between the infinite world and the infinite world of the Gods. Before entering the shrine, people usually bathe in a nearby stream. In recent years, shrines contained a water basin inside. All shrines in Japan have flowing water near by and many trees. The word origami means paper of the spirits. Origami paper dates back to pre-writing dates. Followers used to take a piece of paper or fabric, whisperer a prayer over it, and tie it to a tree so that when the wind blew, it would repeat their prayers. Origami is found around shrines and respected for the spirit that gave its life for the paper. This paper is never cut with scissors or sharp objects.
Shinto has many rituals, but there is no way I could list them all. Their main ritual is called the matsuri, which is the fourth affirmation. There is a matsuri at the beginning of every season. The two main ones are spring and autumn. At season matsuri's, farmers pray for a good harvest for the coming season. Another matsuri is the 3-5-7 matsuri. In this ritual, girls ages three and seven, and boys age 5 go to the shrine and are prayed on. The closest similarity that I could find with Christianity is a baptism. They performed this matsuri a few hundred years ago because many children did not live through adolescence because of deadly diseases.
Other rituals that the people of Shinto share are cleansing, offspring prayers, and dances directed toward a Kami. Sometimes karaira, ritual dances accompanied by ancient musical instruments, are performed. The dances are usually trained and skilled and consist of virgin girls or young men. When these dances take place, marnori, which are charms worn as an aid in healing and protection are worn. Each Shinto home has a Kami-dana which is an alter (a shelf of Gods).
There are many other festivals than the matsuri, such as Oshogatsu (New Year) on January 13th, Ohinamatsuri (Girl's Festival) March 3rd, Tang no Sekku (Boys Festival) May 5th, Hoshi matsuri (Star Festival) July 7th, and the 3-5-7 matsuri on November 15th. Each has a special meaning and purpose. Shintoism is mainly practiced in Japan.