All that you wanted to know about shintos...
Shinto Shrines are places of worship and the dwellings of the kami, the Shinto "gods". Sacred symbols that represent the kami are stored in the innermost chamber of the shrine where they cannot be seen by anybody.

Besides the main building that usually includes the innermost chamber and an offering hall, there can be a variety of other buildings such as the priest's house and office, a storehouse for mikoshi, a stage and other auxiliary buildings. On the other hand, Shinto shrines almost never include a cemetery because death is basically thought to be evil. Most Japanese cemeteries are Buddhist.

A variety of typical objects can be found at and in shrines. Among them are symbolic offerings, mirrors, purification wands, laterns and straw ropes with zigzag papers (shimenawa) that are tied around sacred objects like trees.

A torii is the entrance gates to a shrine. It is a characteristic element of Shinto shrines and separates the secular from the spritual world. Traditionally they are built of timber and many are coloured red and black.

The architecture and features of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples have molted together over the centuries. There are several construction styles, most of which show (Buddhist) influences from the Asian mainland. Only a few shrines are considered to be built in a purly Japanese style. Among them are the most important ones: the Great Shrines at Ise and the Itsumo shrine.

People visit shrines in order to pray for good fortune and to turn away evil spirits. The way to pray at a shrine is as follows (there are variations): 

Hachiman Shrine, Kamakura

Torii at the Fushimiinari Shrine in Kyoto

Praying at the Gion Shrine in Kyoto.

Small wooden plates with wishes written on them at the Meiji Shrine

First of all you should purify yourself by cleaning your hands and your mouth with clean water at a little pavilion outside the main building. Then you throw your small offering, usually a coin, into the box in front of the sanctuary, bow twice deeply, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds . You are not supposed to visit a shrine if you are sick, have an open wound or are mourning because those things are considered impure.

Many people seek support, protection and good fortune at shrines before important events such as the opening of a new business or an entrance examination. Many traditional wedding ceremonies are held at shrines. New-born babies are brought to shrines only a few days after birth. Later the three, five and seven year old children visit shrines on the shichi-go-san festival.

At most shrines one can get amulets, charms and post cards against a small offering (i.e. buy it for money). You can also buy pieces of paper which tell you your fortune. By tying the piece of paper around the branch of a tree afterwards, good fortune will come true or predicted bad fortune can be avoided. Wishes can also be written on small wooden plates which are left at the shrine.

Shichi - Go - San Index