A Brief Introduction to Shintoism and Buddhism
The Shinto religion is the native religion of Japan. The word ‘Shinto’ means ‘way of the gods’. Shinto embraces many kami (gods) which often take the form of things close to life and nature such as trees, mountains, rivers, wind, rain, and fertility. One of the Shinto beliefs is that upon death people become kami and are worshipped as ancestral gods by their relatives.
According to Shintoism people are essentially good. Therefore, anything bad that people do is believed to have been caused by evil spirits. As a result, the purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep evil spirits away. This is accomplished through prayer, purification, and offerings to the kami.
Shinto is deeply rooted in the history of the Japanese. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), Shinto was officially recognized as the state religion but after the Second World War the state and the Shinto religion were officially separated.
Shinto shrines are considered to be the homes of the kami and are therefore places of worship. Shrines are visited during special annual events such as ‘Oshogatsu’ (New Year’s holiday) and festivals. People also visit shrines to pay respect to the kami and pray for good fortune.
Throughout the year there are countless festivals held all over Japan. These celebrate events such as the upcoming farming season, harvest time or important local historical events. Some festivals are small and local while others are huge and attract people from all over Japan. If you are lucky enough to experience such a festival, or matsuri, you will find it to be a memorable event.
How should you behave when visiting a shrine? It is not much different than visiting a church or cathedral. Visitors are expected to behave respectfully and to dress appropriately. Near the shrine’s entrance you will find a purification fountain. Pick up the ladle lying over the small well, fill it with the water provided, and rinse both hands. Then pour some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water out beside the fountain. You are not supposed to drink the water directly from the ladle. Many people only wash their hands or simply do not perform this purification ritual.
At the offering hall, throw a coin (any amount will do) into the offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds. If there is some type of gong, use it before praying in order to ‘wake up’ the gods.
Although visitors are usually allowed to take pictures at shrines watch for signs prohibiting photography. Sacred objects representing the kami are stored in the inner chamber of the shrine where they cannot be seen except on very special occasions.
In the 6th Century, Buddhism made its way into Japan through Korea and China. Unlike Shintoism, which does not have a founder, Buddhism is based on the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha, who lived almost 2,600 years ago in what is now Nepal and northeastern India. Initially there were conflicts between Buddhists and Shintos but eventually the followers of the two religions learned to live together in relative harmony.
Throughout history Buddhism gained political influence. During the 8th Century in Nara, it was this influence that prompted the move of Japan’s capital from Nara to Kyoto.
The first branch of Buddhism introduced to Japan was Mahayana Buddhism. This was soon followed by other sects of Buddhism from China such as the Tendai sect (805 AD), the Shingon sect (806 AD) and the Zen sect (1195 AD). Other popular sects like Jodo (1175 AD), Jodo-Shinshu (1224 AD) and Nichiren (1253) developed in Japan as well.
Currently about 90 million people in Japan consider themselves to be Buddhist although the religion does not significantly affect their everyday life. Buddhist rituals are more apt to be practiced on occasions such as funerals.
Byodo-in Temple, Uji, KyotoAs with Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples are places of worship and visitors should behave respectfully and dress appropriately. Every town in Japan has a temple. Some cities like Kyoto have thousands of temples.
Visitors can show their respect at a temple by throwing a coin (any amount will do) into the offering box in front of the main hall and then quietly saying a short prayer. When entering temple buildings, as a sign of respect you may be required to take off your shoes. Leave your shoes on the shelves at the entrance or take them with you in plastic bags provided at some temples.
At some temples visitors burn incense in large incense burners. The smoke from the incense burners is believed to have healing power or make you more intelligent.
Some of the temples function as monasteries while others only store and display sacred Buddhist objects. Photography is usually permitted on the grounds although some temples prohibit indoor photography. Visitors should watch for signs concerning the use of cameras.
Rediscover Tours arranges amazing trips whether you are traveling with your family, on your honeymoon, as a couple or as a group of friends. We work with you to make sure everything is exactly as you want it.
If none of our tours match exactly what you have in mind that is OK. Just let us know what destinations you like or what kinds of sights or activities you enjoy. We will create a custom tour just for you.
A group composed of people you already know. Planning a corporate trip, an adventure for your sport club or simply for a group of friends these customizable tours are for you.
The tours featured throughout our website are intended to give you ideas for what's possible when you travel with us. Treat them simply as inspiration, because your trip will be created individually by one of our specialists to match your tastes and budget.
It was our first trip to Japan. Working with Jeff was a pleasure. His knowledge of the country and local contacts were very helpful. Choice...
Working with Jeff at Rediscover Tours was a wonderful experience. He helped me plan a 10 day trip of a lifetime to Japan with my mother...
I would like to take this opportunity to commend and thank you for the marvelous vacation we recently enjoyed in Japan. The entire experience exceeded...
Our team of Japan experts have all lived in Japan for years and know its the hidden treasures. Our team is here to answer all your questions and to build your tour just the way you want it.
Jeff was born in a south suburb of Chicago named South Holland and lived in Japan for 14 years. He now lives in Commerce Township, Michigan with his wife Yoshimi, son Shota, and daughter Mina. He enjoys playing with his kids, volunteering with his daughter’s marching band, cycling and training and teaching Aikido.
Michiyo was born in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido Prefecture though currently lives in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture. Her main passions in life is traveling all around the world and enjoying their cultures.
Izumi has spent most of her life in the Kansai region, except for the 10 years that she enjoyed in the UK. Living abroad has made her appreciate her own culture and local beauty even more. She currently lives in Osaka with her family, including two cats and two dogs.
Great trips don't just happen; it takes expert knowledge and years of experience to create a truly memorable holiday. You can rely on Rediscover Tours to make your perfect Japanese experience. Our dedication to excellence makes the difference.
Your Japan travel expert will create your trip just for you
Your interests and travel style will be front and center when designing your tour
Accommodations will be selected based on your style and we will inform them of all your special meal and physical requirements
Your Japan expert has lived in Japan or is Japanese
They know the hidden treasures of Japan that you will love and most tourists miss
Most of our team lives in Japan giving them first hand knowledge of the latest trends and experiences for you to enjoy
Private local guides add a whole new depth to your Japanese tour
We only hire the best guides and review each trip with them insuring excellent experience
Your private guide will listen to you, show you sights of interest and will make on the fly changes to match the weather and crowds
Our office in Japan is here to assist and support you
Rediscover Tours has been organizing travel to Japan since 2000
You will arrive comfortable in the knowledge that all details are taken care of and that our Japan office is just a call away