It is a series of low buildings among trees. Space in a shrine is horizontal and not, as in a cathedral, vertical. In a church, space is confined. It must struggle upward, having no place else to go. In a shrine, space is spread. There are no high walls, no tight enclosures. The space is a grove and this grove seems so endless that it might be the world itself.
The sky seems low, near. There are long expanses of lawn or grove among the buildings. One is not enclosed, nor is one directed. One is liberated, and almost always alone.
Shrine prayer, as I have said, is not communal prayer. It is solitary prayer. It is not a state—it is a function. It lasts only a minute or so and it is spontaneous. One does not enter, as in churches, or descend, as in mosques. The way to the shrine is through a grove, along a walk, through nature itself, nature intensified. Through these trees, over this moss, one wanders to shrines.
This casual, unremarked acceptance of nature speaks to something very deep within us. It speaks directly to our own nature, more and more buried in this artificial and inhuman century. Shinto speaks to us, to something in us which is deep, and permanent.
Certainly we feel—which is to say, recognize—more here than in smiling Buddhism with its hopeful despair, more than in fierce man-made Islam with its heavenly palaces on earth, more than in the strange and worldly tabernacles of the Hebrews or in the confident, vaunting, expectant Christian churches.
This religion, Shinto, is the only one that neither teaches nor attempts to convert. It simply exists, and if the pious come, that is good, and if they do not, then that too is good, for this is a natural religion and nature is profoundly indifferent.—Donald Richie, The Inland Sea