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Sacred time in Shinto is focused on the human life cycle, particularly on milestones such as birth, coming of age, and marriage. The New Year, harvest, and other significant moments in a yearly cycle are also celebrated, sometimes in conjunction with Buddhism. When one enters the confines of a shrine with a reverent attitude, one can also experience sacred time.
Any space where a kami has manifested is sacred space. This includes natural objects such as trees or mountains, and the precincts and altars of Shinto shrines. In Japan today it is not uncommon to see a small shrine, marked by a specially designed rope called a shimenawa, in the middle of a downtown shopping district, or a shrine indicated by a torii gate atop a high-rise building.
Rites and Ceremonies
Ritual is central to the practice of Shinto. Every step of a ritual within a shrine follows a carefully prescribed pattern, with segments including purification, prayer, offering, and entertainment for the kami. Matsuri, or festivals, are yearly celebrations that encompass an entire community and may last for several days.
Worship and Devotion in Daily Life
In earlier generations, it was common to have a kamidana within the home and workplace. These would be purified daily, and daily offerings were placed on them for the kami. Talismans from local shrines might also be placed in the kamidana. Today individuals will visit a local shrine to pray whenever they have a need or desire to do so.
There are many Shinto symbols. Among these are the torii gate that is found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine, the sword and the mirror (both related to the myth of Amaterasu), and a pair of foxes seen at the entrance to shrines for the deity Inari. Symbols placed on Shinto altars are usually covered or hidden.
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