If everything seems meaningless, then you’re way off center.
Shintoism is very concerned with purity, but this purity is not the moral concept we think of. They believe that by doing, or being associated with disharmonious things, you pick up a spiritual stain. You aren’t a bad person, nor will you necessarily be damned, but it is seen to be in your best interests to rid yourself of the stain.
Karma like? Basically, yes. They believe that the Kami want to help people, but your own disharmony will distort their influence, or upset them directly depending on what you did. But purification wasn’t any form of “brown nosing”. It wasn’t approval seeking. It’s more personal.
Harmony? Yes, basically it’s returning to harmony in yourself. Their purification rituals were to allow you to put the spiritual taint behind you and didn’t require permission.
Did it require any sacrifice? Sometimes, in the case of an act, that would be roughly “theft”.
Can you give an example of such a ritual? Have you ever seen a monk doing “penance”? It isn’t actually penance, but they do repeat what they have done. By redefinition they are exhausting and expelling it.
Like when they walk three steps, and bow to the ground, and repeat? Yes. It’s in a sense a mnemonic device to reorient you in relationship to the Kami. They can do it for months at a stretch. Purification goes on for as long as the “worshipper” feels it’s necessary. The priest doesn’t judge it, but they do hear from the one seeking purification if they feel they aren’t succeeding. It‘s sort of like the Australian Walk About in a way. As a matter of fact, Shinto pilgrimages are purifying. They aren’t taken out of guilt. They are taken to “clear” the perception.
Regrettably I’m not deeply versed in their ceremonies, and I’m not “formally Shinto” but in fact, no one is. It technically isn’t possible. I guess in a sense if you recognize the spirits then you are Shinto. Shinto comes from shin = spirit, and to = way.
Do they have meditation practices? Yes, they use ritual chanting, and Buddhism and Shintoism have sort of blurred into each other a bit in Japan. So a Buddhist wedding is just as much a Shinto wedding, and a Shinto priest might also be a Buddhist. Perhaps of interest, they don’t technically have any holy cannon. No sacred text, just recorded stories that are viewed as the actions and stories of the Kami, and of mans relationship to the Kami. They do study them, but they don’t see them as more important than current experience.
Any spiritual leaders in it’s past at all that are remembered? Oh, many. Countless actually. They are a part of the ancestral piety, so you may very well see pictures of former Shinto priest at a shrine.
But no single like Buddha/Jesus/etc.? No, just the Kami and story figures.
Do they have any central human religious authority akin to a Pope? No one person in their history is seen as especially holy, except maybe the emperor. But that’s actually a late addition to Shintoism. The emperor, seen as the sun of heaven, a.k.a Amaterasu the sun goddess, but he isn’t the one true emperor. All of them were her sons.
Interesting. The sun is feminine. Is there the father earth? No. No single Kami for the earth, but yes, in Shintoism the sun is feminine. The Kami is gender neutral. Amaterasu is a Kami, and even some non human or “non-divine” things are also Kami.
The emperor is not seen as sovereign. He is not the owner of Japan. He is seen as the son of Amaterasu, and thus the father of all Japanese. In their culture, the splintering of families is not an orthodox practice. Traditionally, you as a young man would never move off of the family land. You would seek employment, and guess who made the decisions about your pay check? Your father, or your grandfather even, and so even as a young man your father might be doing the exact thing you are. The home is not “your home”, or even the property of the eldest surviving male. It’s the property of the family, and even the ancestors who are now Kami. So the emperor is ideally not a tyrant, he’s just filling the father role for the nation.
Guiding not ruling? Yes, basically, though his guidance has the weight of communal authority, so he might as well in a way be ruling.
Can a non Japanese follow Shintoism? In a sense, yes. They would just be neo-shamanism. The shamanistic traditions world wide have the same trait of being “not a religion.” It’s a way of seeing life and living with the world. It’s hard to say anything categorical about Shintoism, because it’s not structured like that. So it’s hard to be an “authority” on it.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.