Buddhism originated in India in the 6th century BC. It was imported to Japan via China and Korea in a form of a present from the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche) in the 6th century. There were a few initial conflicts with Shintoism, Japan's native religion, but the two religions began soon to co-exist harmonically and even complemented each other.
Nevertheless, Buddhism totally established only during the Nara Period (710-794 AD) due to the capital of those days, Nara. Many Buddhist monasteries and temples were built in Nara during the period that quickly gained much political power and influence. Buddhism of those days was highly influential and the religion helped people overcome troubles as never before or after. The Japanese built the statue of Great Buddha (the only statue of such a construction in the world) to protect them from disasters and fatal maladies.
The primary notion of Buddhism has been and will always be soul salvation, though through the centuries Buddhism has undergone many changes in rituals, customs and worships. People still greatly respect ancient Buddhist temples, but following strictly Great Buddha commands is not customary nowadays. Most Japanese Buddhist temples and monasteries maintain their rituals today, though often with particularly small numbers of monks or priests.
What is Shintoism? The native Japanese religion or Shintoism is a far descendant of ancient animism, mixed with ancestor worship, sun worship and Buddhism. Shintoists see everything have its own spirits, which they call Kami. Even a man becomes Kami, when he dies; Kami can be various. Some Kami make a good harvest and are called Fuku-no-Kami. Some bring disasters and are called Magatsu-Kami. There are many Kami in the world. In the past, each village had its own Shinto shrine, in which the inhabitants deified the most important Kami in their village. Nonetheless, there are many shrines in large cities with several of them designated as World Heritage Sites today. Nowadays, Shintoism has changed far different from the original animism, though its spiritual background remains. Contemporary Shinto is a way of coexisting with the natural world and with all the spirits in the world.
Today, about ninety million people consider themselves Buddhists in Japan, but the religion does not directly influence the everyday life of the average Japanese very strongly. Funerals are usually carried out in a Buddhist way and many households keep a small house altar in order to pay respect to their ancestors. Buddhism, as well as Shintoism, in modern Japan is not usually a staple of life, but a kind of spiritual background and a source of inspiration for many Japanese.
Needless to say that ancient temples and shrines have always aroused the admiration in its visitors, as well as the feelings of purity, kindness, beauty and peace. Hence, many people go to Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines to purify their feelings, admire the beauty of sacred images and statues and get inspiration for a future way of life.