Shinto is Japan's indigenous religion; a complex of ancient folk belief and rituals; basically animistic religion that perceives the presence of gods or of the sacred in animals, in plants, and even in things which have no life, such as stones and waterfalls. The roots go back to the distant past. A large number of items discovered amongst remains dating from the Jomon period (up to 200 B.C.) are thought to have had some magical significance.
In early Japan the diverse local practices did not constitute a religious system; there were groups of ritualists, abstainers and taboo experts, diviners and reciters of tradition. Religion and magic centered in fertility rites and purifications; there were local and seasonal festivals and supernatural forces, with legends of creation and descent of the gods to populate Japan.
Shinto would thus appear to be a Japanese form of religious practice which enjoys close ties with people's everyday lives, and which did so in the past too. It does not seem to have had the form of an organized or systematized religion. Shinto has little theology and no congregational worship. Its unifying concept is 'kami', inadequately translated "god". It only became a systematized religion when it was faced with the competition of the newly-imported religion, Buddhism, which reached Japan in either 538 or 552.
The word Shinto was coined to distinguish the traditional religion from Buddhism and is written with two Chinese characters; the first, 'shin', is used to write the native Japanese word 'kami', meaning "divinity" or "numinous entity", and the second 'to' is used to write the native word 'michi', meaning "way". The term first appears in the historical chronicle 'NIHON SHOKI' (720) where it refers to religious observance, the divinities, and shrines, but not until the late 12th century was it used to denote a body of religious doctrines. Since then, for centuries, the relation between Shinto and Buddhism developed in so various forms that merged one time with establishment of 'Ryobu Shinto' (Two-aspect Shinto) and separated them another time with rediscovery of 'KOJIKI' (712), 'NIHONGI' (720) and other early documents, which revived Shinto (Fukko Shinto) and exalted the emperor as the descendant of the Amaterasu Ohkami, the Sun Goddess, or the Great Glorious Goddess.