Separated by sea, Japan has undergone various cultural evolutions in solitude, creating a truly unique traditional culture.

As an island nation separated from outside influences, the Japanese people and Japanese culture is strikingly homogeneous.

Indigenous groups, such as the Ryukyukan people of southern Okinawa and the Ainu people from the northern island of Hokkaido as well as Koreans, account for the diversity in Japan. These aforementioned islands were colonized by the Japanese in the late nineteenth century.

The Ainu people in ceremonial dress are pictured on the left.

Shintoism and Buddhism are the widely practiced religions in Japan. Unlike the West, Japanese religion is not a doctrine and is rarely preached. It is a moral code, a way of living, almost indistinguishable from Japanese social and cultural values.

Japanese religion is considered a private, family affair, separate from the state. Religion is rarely discussed in everyday life and the majority of Japanese do not worship regularly or claim to be religious.

However, religious rituals in birth, marriage and death are followed and most people will take part in spiritual matsuri (or festivals) throughout the year.

Shintoism is the indigenous spirituality of this world and this life. It is believed that every living thing in nature (rocks, flowers, trees, animals) contains gods.

To celebrate a birth or marriage, or to pray for a good harvest, the Japanese turn to Shintoism.

Shinto Shrines can be identified by the huge entrance gate or torii, often painted a deep red.

To appreciate a shrine, use the bamboo ladle to wash your hands and mouth to purify your spirit before entering. Then, ring the bell, throw a coin before the altar as on offering, clap three times to summon the kami, then clasp your hands together to pray.

Buddhism and Shintoism exist successfully together in Japanese culture because they are without contradiction. Whereas Shintonism was concerned with the spiritualism of the outside world and life, Buddhism is concerned with the inner soul and the afterlife. Thus, funerals are usually Buddhist ceremonies.

At a Buddhism temple, the Japanese will kneel on the tatami-mat floor before an altar or icon to pray.

Deeply rooted in Japanese culture, sumo wrestling has a long history originating as a form of Shinto ritualism. It is believed that the survival of the Japanese people were determined by the outcome of a sumo match between the gods.

Other martial arts, such as Kendo, Karate, Aikido, and Judo, are also popular in Japan.