In ancient times, the Japanese believed that all natural phenomena, animals, and plants possesed kami, or divine power. This belief came to be known as Shinto and was established as an official religion after Buddhism and Confucianism were introduced to Japan from the Asian continent. Buddhism came to Japan from the mainland Asia in the sixth century. Its teachings were embraced by the rulers of the time and then spread to the general public during the Heian period (794-1192) and the Kamakura period (1192-1338).
Shinto and Buddhism have both become important parts of daily Japanese life. On New Year's eve, for example, the ringing of Buddhist temple bells fills the air. And on New Year's Day, people visit both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples to pray for good fortune in the coming year. During the spring and autumn equinoxes and also Bon festival (in July and August), families perform Buddhist memorial services for their ancestors. Also through the year, towns and villages hold lively Shinto festivals, where participants carry portable shrines around on their shoulders and tow floats through the streets. Wedding ceremonies are usually Shinto style, while funerals tend to be Buddhist. In addition, many families have small-sized Shinto shrines and Buddhist altars in their homes.
Christianity has also taken root in Japan; a Jesuit missionary from Spain, Francisco de Xavier, introduced the religion to Japan in the sixteenth century. The country's feudal rulers banned Christianity during the Edo period (1603-1868), but it made a comeback during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Today, Shinto has the largest number of believers, followed by Buddhism, and Christianity.