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    The major tenets of Shinto- Japan’s indigenous religion – were the imperial family’s direct descent from the sun Goddess and the resulting divinity of the emperor. Although his divinity was renounced only after World War II, the emperor remains Shinto’s titular head.

    Literally “the way of the gods,” Shinto has a strong component of nature-worship, with shrines in such places of great natural beauty as mountain tops or forests, where divine spirits are believed to inhabit waterfalls, unusual rocks, or great trees.

    Followers of Shinto respect the deities through ritual purification ceremonies. Menstruation, Childbirth, sickness, injury, and death are all considered sources of impurity -so that workers in slaughterhouses, leather tanneries, or graveyards have traditionally been restricted to a caste of “untouchables,” known today as the burakumin.

    Shinto remains a much less solemn religion than Westerners are used to. The commercial bustle around Tokyo’s Asakusa shrine typically evokes the atmosphere of a Western country fair. In front of the shrine, people clap their hands to attract the god’s attention, bow respectfully, toss some coins into a slatted box, and after up a prayer. Then they go off to the food stalls, amusement booths, and souvenir shops, all located inside the sanctuary grounds.

    In few countries do religion and commerce coexist so harmoniously.

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