Shinto, literally meaning the way of the gods, is the Japanese religion from the ancient times, centering on the ideas of Japanese intimacy with nature and ancestor worship.
All things on earth were brought forth and ruled over by the gods who reside throughout all nature.
Mountains and trees often become objects of worship, and Shrine archways and sacred Shinto rope mark sacred areas.
Ordinarily, shrines are built there, and objects of worship in which a god or gods reside are enshrined.
Shinto constitutes the foundation of the sensibility of the Japanese people, but most present-day Japanese, rather than placing faith in Shinto, feel their cultural identity through it.
Shinto meanwhile supported the Emperor system in a religious sense, and even now its ancient customary practices remain as the religion of the Imperial Family.
Shinto shrines are buildings where Shinto deities are enshrined.
At the entrances are Shinto shrine archways indicating the shrine precincts, then come the main sanctuary and other facilities.
The floor of the main building is elevated and roofs are generally thatched with cogon grasses and Japanese cypress bark.
The Shinto shrine is a place of deep affinity for the Japanese people, even for those who are not Shinto believers, as being observed at New Year, when virtually all Shinto shrines are thronged with worshippers for the first temple or shrine visit of the New Year.
In addition, they visit the shrines on such occations as newborn infant’s shrine visit, to cerebrate the gala day for children of three, five and seven years of age, and to offer prayers.
Buddhism : Bukkyo came to Japan in the middle of the sixth century.
Supporters of bukkyo subsequently won a victory in the political power struggles of the time; building temples in every area under government patronage, it spread throughout the country. In the Kamakura Period(ll85-1333), as a number of new leaders appeared and deepened its philosophy, Bukkyo made clear its position of saving the weak.
The Zen Buddhism was brought to Japan in the Kamakura Period by priests who studied in China, and it flourished principally as the religion of samurai.
At present, a culture in Japan that has Bukkyo as its backdrop has laid roots deeply in the lives of the people and, together with Shinto, forms the spiritual culture of the Japanese people.
Also, even today new sects of Bukkyo keep emerging and gaining believers.
Buddhist temples are where priests and nuns reside to practice ascetic exercises and Buddhist ceremony, and Buddhist images are enshrined.
At the entrances are two-story temple gates, then come buildings such as the main temple, an auditorium, a pagoda, a bell tower.
Almost all the roofs are tiled.
Most graves are set within the temple site in Japan.
People go to temples during the Bon Festival and equinoctial week to visit the graves of their ancestors, and relatives gather on the anniversaries of the dead and have priests recite sutras in the temple.
On the other hand, there are numerous temples in Kyoto and Nara that have more than 1,000 years of history and have been identified as places of sightseeing interest.
People visit such temples for the pleasure of appreciating the structures and the Buddhist images.
In Japan long ago, Buddhism, which came from abroad, and Shinto, which is a folk religion, occasionally came together in a synthesis.
Because Buddhism is not a theistic doctrine and Shinto principally worships nature, there were no contradictions in synthesizing them.
This is called Shinbutsu-shugo.
This tendency continued for a long time after Buddhism was introduced in the sixth century as seen in Shinto shrines supporting in building Buddhist temples.
When Japan began to function as a modern nation state in 1868, Shinbutsu-shugo was prohibited because the government set a policy of strengthening Shinto.
But now, it is quite commonly practiced to set up both Buddhist family altars and Shinto family altars in the same house, or to have weddings with Shinto rituals and funerals with Buddhist rituals.