In contrast to the Buddhist temples, the shrines were for me a near pure pleasure. I am bewildered (if curious) at a people that can be so technologically astute and at the same time practice a form of animism and spirit worship usually relegated to the pre-Roman world by western academics. Of course, this bewilderment is all the more enjoyable because I imagine that it must have bewildered many an anthropologist, secure in his belief that science replaced small gods as a belief system and explanatory power.
I'm not even sure that with the prefix small, Japan's shrines can be said to be raised to any sort of god, at least not one that would in any way be recognizable by western eyes. I will admit some ignorance of Japanese Mythology (and anyone who could point me to a few good source texts would be amply thanked) but rather than ever having been sources of explanatory power, the shrines always seem to have operated more as parks. In fact, several of the shrines I went to included small playgrounds. They are relaxing, enjoyable places to find oneself. The Tori gates are beautiful, and sometimes bewildering and labyrinthine. Unlike the Buddhist temples, not one (at least as I remember) demanded any sort of money, though they do make money through donations and the selling of good-luck charms.
Furthermore, the shrines never close. People go through them, and pause in them, at all hours of the day and night. The objects of "worship" (if it may be called that) are locked up for the night, the foxes put to bed (some shrines are specifically fox shrines) but the shrines remain open, a garden for every traveler.
The Japanese attitude towards shrines is more like the American attitude towards fad diets than the American attitude towards Churches.
Whether or not this makes them religious or dangerous is another question.
But that's just my current pith, and I will admit that there are many things about the Japanese attitude towards shrines that I just don't understand, and that pique my curiosity greatly.