Shinto is practised almost exclusively in Japan. It is very hard to estimate the overall numbers of Shintoists because it is possible to practice Shinto and Buddhism at the same time. According to some estimates about 100 million Japanese practice a combination of the two religions.
The ancient Japanese found divinity manifested within nature itself. Flowering peaks, flowing rivers, and venerable trees, for example, were thought to be sanctified by the deities, or kami, that inhabited them.
Shinto emerged gradually in ancient times and is distinctive in that it has no founder, no sacred books, no teachers, no saints, and no well-defined pantheon. It never developed a moral order or a hierarchical priesthood and did not offer salvation after death.
Shinto (literally “the way of the gods”) is Japan's native belief system and predates historical records. The many practices, attitudes, and institutions that have developed to make up Shinto revolve around the Japanese land and seasons and their relation with the human inhabitants.
Humans, like all aspects of nature, are manifestations of a life-giving power, a generative, creative force that is the basis of all life. The Shinto term for this creative principle permeating all forms of life is musubi.
Unlike many religions, one does not need to publicly profess belief in Shinto to be a Shintoist. Whenever a child is born in Japan, a local Shinto shrine adds the child's name to a list kept at the shrine and declares him or her "Ujiko", lit. name child. After death an "Ujiko" becomes an "Ujigami", lit. name kami.
Shintô was the earliest Japanese religion, its obscure beginnings dating back at least to a period known as the Jômon (8000-300 B.C.E.).
In Japan and Japanese communities around the world, people visit Shinto shrines to pay their respects to the kami, to pray or request a favor, and to celebrate festivals and life events. Each shrine contains a sacred object representing the kami, which is not normally viewed by anyone.
Shinto only received an actual name and became in any way systemized in the late 6th century AD, in order to distinguish it from Buddhism and Confucianism, newly introduced from China. In the late 8th century, under the great teacher Kukai, Shinto and Buddhism were united as a new doctrine called Ryobu Shinto.
In essence, "unusual" and "superior" aspects of both nature and humanity are given the name kami- a spectacular waterfall, a particular tree that has an imposing presence, or a great leader who inspires others-and are "conceived of as possessing awesome potency," namely musubi.