The word 'Shinto' comes from a combination
of Chinese words that translate roughly into 'way of the gods'. However, the
gods celebrated by this Japanese religion can hardly be compared to deities
of other major faiths.
The Shinto gods, or spirits, are known as 'kami', a word that does not easily translate into English. These kami inhabit everything, including trees, stones, food and the home; in this way they could be considered spirits. However, there are certain kami with the power and position of deities, such as the most powerful Sun-Goddess. Kami have certain tendencies that give them the impression of being much more human than deities or spirits of other religions. There are no distinct 'good' and 'bad' kami- rather, every kami is basically good, with strikingly mortal personality flaws such as mischievousness and greed.
The most important kami is the Sun-Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami. She is a daughter of the original divine pair of kami, Izanagi-no-mikoto and Izanami-no-mikoto, the creators of the islands of Japan. Amaterasu Omikami is also the ancestress of the Emperor and the Imperial family in general.
The world as viewed by Shinto is full of kami, for they are the very essence of the universe. There are kami that dwell in trees, rivers, and food. There are kami that protect the home and kami that preside over fertility, war and health. And there are many more. An infinite number of kami work together in the universe.
The Shinto kami are the focus of many fascinating ancient Japanese myths, some of which can be read here.