Shinto is a religion of shrines, festivals, and rituals. Large, medium, and small Shinto shrines with their torii gates are found all across Japan. Shrines are considered to be the homes of kami and are located around scenic natural surroundings, near banks of rivers or at the foot of a mountain. Many of the sites of the older shrines were considered to be sacred spaces long before the erection of any structure. Japanese considered Shinto to be an optimistic and happy religion and can be found in everyday practices or lifestyle of people.
Children are christened at shrines and many couples have Shinto weddings. Shinto-related festivities take place during rice planting and harvesting cycles. Millions of Japanese visit Shinto shrines on New Year’s Day. Some shrines do a small business all around the year by selling good-luck charms for granting various prayers. A large number of Shinto shrines hold annual matsuri, or festivals, where people carry large portable shrines to transport the local kami all around shrine.
Individuals or groups who visit shrines to worship complete three processes: purification, making an offering, and praying or making a request of the local kami. Before entering the shrine, the people use water to wash one’s hands or wash out one’s mouth to purify themselves. Then an offering is presented to the kami, followed by the prayer.
Values common to most Japanese people today, originated from early religious practices including love for bathing and deep respect for nature.
To pay respects at a Shinto shrine, stand in front of the cashbox and the long ropes dangling from a gong. The shrine may contain offerings of food and sake that are placed in front of the kami. People toss a coin in the box, sound the gong a couple of times, bow deeply twice, clap hands twice, bow once deeply, once lightly and then back away politely and avoid turning their back to the shrine.