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 healing.
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 imperial family. 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.