However, this trait is magnified in Shintoism because the religion developed in close relationship to the rest of Japanese culture. While a person who, say, married a Japanese person could follow Shinto practice, it is unlikely that someone outside Japan or a Japanese family would do so (Japan-guide).
HOLIDAYS and TRADITIONS
Unlike most other religions, celebrations are typically local festivals that focus on local shrines. This is because the festivals honor the kami living in those shrines (Author not given, 2004). Thus, use of festivals and ceremonies varies from location to location. Some festivals may take place over several days (Japan-guide). So, although Shinto is a unifying cultural trait throughout Japan, the expression of the religion can vary greatly from location to location.
However, some traditions are practiced nationwide, such as Kagura, or ritual dances performed to traditional music. Many people wear mamori, or charms intended to protect and heal. Many kinds of charms exist to serve a variety of purposes. In addition to the home altar, called a kami-dana, or shelf of gods, people celebrate planting and harvest times. Many shrines hold festivals in coordination with National Founding Day, celebrated on February 11. There is also a festival for girls called Hinamatsuri, a boy's festival called Tango no sekku, and the star festival, or hoshi matsuri, held on July 7.
In addition, certain life passages require a visit to the shrine. The priests bless children on Nov. 15 in a ritual called shichigosan Matsuri. Girls are blessed when they are three and again at the age of seven, while boys are blessed at the age of five (Miller, 1998).
COMPARISON to OTHER RELIGIONS
While Shinto has some superficial similarities to other religions, such as processions celebrating selected gods, Shinto has no one prophet who defined the religion, no set of laws followers must follow, and no concept of punishment for sin. The priesthood is loosely organzed. There is no concept akin to Satan, and no belief in a Hell. Most religious services are held at home, not in a house of worship.
Shinto is a remarkable religion to study. Because of Japan's relative isolation from the Western world, its outside influences came from cultures that were somewhat similar to its own. The result of this is that Shinto retained remarkably and uniquely characteristic traits. The strongest influences from the outside, Buddhism and the teachings of Confucius, were not incorporated into the Shinto religion. Instead, they were allowed to exist side by side. Neither Buddhism nor Confucius' teachings were incompatible with Shintoism, and Confucius' teachings provided moral guidelines Shintoism lacked (Nobutaka, et. al., 2003, p. 4).
In addition, Shintoism is tightly woven into family life and Japanese society. Since Shintoism and the country of Japan developed together, the beliefs about Shinto support beliefs held about the Japanese culture (Miller, 1998). Shinto teaches followers that all Japanese are descended from gods, and that these gods organized their society (into clans) very early in their history. This encourages the Japanese feelings about the importance of family, which is shown not only by ancestor worship but by the number of festivals and ceremonies emphasizing children.
Finally, Shintoism binds the Japanese to the world around them in a way most religions do not. When the very environment is sacred, a deep respect for nature is engendered. This is reflected in many aspects of Japanese life from the layout of gardens to flower arranging and even cultural arts such as origami. This shows that Shinto imbues its presence throughout Japanese life.
As the world becomes more and more a global village, it will be interesting to see how the Japanese will learn to cope with such realities as businessmen who must live, at least for some time, outside Japan, as the religion is not easily transportable outside its home country.
Author not given. Last updated July 2, 2004. Brief history of Shinto, in About Specific Religions, Faith Groups, Ethical Systems, Etc. Accessed via the Internet 7/12/05. http://www.religioustolerance.org/shinto.htm
Japan-guide.com. "Shinto." Accessed via the Internet July 12, 2005. http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2056.html
Kumagai, Fumie. 1995. "Families in Japan: Beliefs and Realities." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 26:1, pp. 135+.
Miller, Alan S. 1998. "Why Japanese Religions Look Different: the Social Role of Religious Organizations in Japan." Review of Religious Research 39:4, pp. 360.