Shinto (“the way of the gods”) is Japan’s oldest religion and centers on the worship of kami, or spirits. These are believed to inhabit any powerful or impressive natural phenomena, such as the wind or Mount Fuji.
No one knows how old Shinto is, for its origins lie deep in prehistory. Its main elements probably appeared from the 4th century BCE onward. Although most Shinto worship relates to earthly kami, Shinto texts written around 700 CE also mention heavenly kami, who are responsible for creating the world.
Followers of Shinto consider nature to be sacred, so their places of worship are often found in beautiful natural settings. Natural sacred places are marked with a thick rope (shimenawa) tied around a tree or rock. Shinto shrines, which are built to house at least one kami, are marked by a simple torii, or gateway.