About the symbol: This symbol is the gateway to "heaven"
Shinto, the native religion of Japan, is one of the oldest religions in the world. Related to some of the religions of Korea, Manchuria and present-day Siberia, Shinto is primarily a form of nature worship, where natural objects, such as mountains, rivers, heavenly bodies, etc. are worshipped and personified (for example, Amaterasu the Sun Spirit). Shinto has no real founder, no written scriptures, no body of religious law, and only a very loosely-organized priesthood. Shinto is a non-exclusive religion--that is, people may practice Shinto along with a second or even third religion; this is because the beliefs of Shinto do not conflict with those of other faiths. Most Japanese practice both Shinto and Buddhism.
Practitioners of Shinto use the word "affirmations" to describe their basic beliefs; affirmation means "things we agree are good."There are Four Affirmations in Shinto:
1.Affirmation of tradition and the family: Shinto celebrates the rites of life--birth and marriage are especially important. Traditions must be passed down from generation to generation, therefore the family is extremely important, since it is the family that transmits traditions. The most important religious ceremonies are those that deal with the family. In a derogatory manner we westerners refer to this tradition as ancestor worship. It is not worship but they hold their ancestors in high esteem and with great honor.
2.Affirmation of the love of nature: Japan is physically a beautiful country, and the Japanese have always reveled in its beauty; that is why so much of her poetry deals with nature. People must be close to nature; that is why activities such as cherry-blossom and maple-leaf viewing are so important. Since natural objects are worshipped as sacred spirits, nature itself is sacred, and being in contact with nature means you are in contact with the gods.
3.Affirmation of physical cleanliness: Cleanliness IS godliness in Japan, hence the Japanese concern with taking baths, washing their hands often, rinsing out their mouths. One must be clean in the presence of the spirits. Something that is not clean is ugly.
4.Affirmation of matsuri: A matsuri is a festival honoring the spirits, either collectively or individually. It is an opportunity for people and spirits to come together and enjoy each other's company. Major matsuri in Japan are Feb. 11 (National Founding Day), the first days of each season, especially spring and autumn, and local patron spirits.