Japanese Religion



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- Japanes Religion

Here is an article on Japanese Religion.

Most Japanese people do not believe in any one particular religion; instead they incorporate the features of many religions in their daily lives Japanesse Religion in a process known as syncretism. Many people, especially those in younger generations, claim to feel Japanes Religion that the Japanees Religion religions in Japan are part of the traditional culture. Shinto and Buddhist teachings are deeply entangled in Japanese everyday life, though the Japanese Japnese Religion people themselves may not Jappanese Religion be aware of it. Generally speaking, it can be difficult for westerners to disentangle "real" Japanese religion from everyday superstition and rituals; most Japanese Japanse Religion people do not often Japannese Religion give the distinction much thought.

One of the main characteristics of Japanese religion is its tendency towards syncretism. The same person may have Japanee Religion a wedding at a Christian church and have a funeral at Apanese Religion a Buddhist temple. Japanese streets are decorated on Tanabata, Obon, Halloween and Christmas.


  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 Shinto
  • 3 Japanese Japaese Religion Japamese Religion Buddhism
  • 4 Other Japanesee Religion Religions
    • 4.1 Christianity
    • 4.2 New Religions
  • 5 Religious Japnaese Religion Practice
  • 6 Religion and the State
  • 7 Reference
  • 8 See Jpanese Religion also
  • 9 External links


The colossal statue of Vairocana at Todaiji in Nara
Iwashimizu Hachiman Shinto Shrine, Kyoto Prefecture

While it has been the backbone of the Japanese culture from ancient times, between the 16th to the 19th century Shintoism flourished, eventually seeking unity under a symbolic imperial rule. Adopted by the leaders of the Meiji Restoration as a "pure" Japanese religion, it received state support, was isolated from Buddhism and radicalized to spur patriotic and nationalistic feelings in the buildup towards World War I.

Following World War II, state support was discontinued and the Emperor publicly disavowed divinity, under American pressure. Today Shintoism has reverted to a more peripheral role in the life of the Japanese people. The numerous shrines are visited regularly by local believers and, if they are historically famous or known for natural beauty, by many sightseers. Many marriages are held in the shrines, and children are brought after birth and on certain anniversary dates; special shrine days are celebrated for specific occasions, and numerous festivals are held throughout the year, often drawing huge crowds at the larger shrines. Many homes have "god shelves" (神棚, kamidana), where offerings can be made to Shinto deities.

Buddhism first came to Japan in the 6th century and for the next 10 centuries exerted profound influence on its intellectual, artistic, social, and political life. Most funerals are conducted by Buddhist priests, and burial grounds attached to temples are used by Buddhism, Shinto, and other faiths such as Christianity and Islam.

Confucianism, although not practiced as a religion, has deeply influenced Japanese thought. In essence, Confucianism is the practice of proper forms of conduct, especially in social and familial relationships. It is derived from compilations attributed to the fifth-century B.C. Chinese philosopher Kong Fuzi or Kongzi (Confucius; in Japanese, Koshi). Confucian government was to be a moral government, bureaucratic in form and benevolent toward the ruled. Confucianism also provided a hierarchical system, in which each person was to act according to his or her status to create a harmoniously functioning society and ensure loyalty to the state. The teachings of filial piety and humanity continue to form the foundation for much of social life and ideas about family and nation. Neo-Confucianism, introduced to Japan in the twelfth century, is an interpretation of nature and society based on metaphysical principles and is influenced by Buddhist and Daoist ideas. In Japan, where it is known as Shushigaku (Shushi School, after the Chinese neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi--Shushi in Japanese), it brought the idea that family stability and social responsibility are human obligations. The school used various metaphysical concepts to explain the natural and social order. Shushigaku, in turn, influenced the kokutai (national polity) theory, which emphasized the special national characteristics of Japan.

Taoism from China has influenced Japanese thought and has a special affinity to Zen Buddhism. Zen's praise of emptiness, exhortations to act in harmony with nature, and admonitions to avoid discrimination and duality all are parallel in Daoist beliefs. The lunar calendar, the selection of auspicious days for special events, the sitting of buildings, and numerous folk medicine treatments also have origins in Daoism and continue as customs to varying degrees in contemporary Japanese society. Daoism has also influenced native shamanistic traditions and rituals.


The Nachi Shrine is an ancient site of Shinto worship.
Main article: Shinto

Shintoism is one of Japan's largest religions and is the native religion. It originated in and is almost exclusive to Japan. Shintoism originated in prehistoric times, as a religion with respect for nature and in particular certain sacred sites. These sites may have originally been used to worship the sun, rock formations, trees, and even sounds. Since each of these things was associated with a deity this resulted in a complex polytheistic religion. The deities in Shintoism are known as kami, and Shinto itself means "the way of the kami". Worship of Shinto is done at shrines. Especially important is the act of purification before visiting these shrines.

Shinto as an indigenous religion has no holy book, no founder, and no canon. The Nihongi and Kojiki, however, contain a record of Japanese mythology.

Shinto began to fall out of fashion after the arrival of Buddhism, but soon, Shinto and Buddhism began to be practiced as one religion. On sites of Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples were built, and people began to adhere to both.

Before 1868, there were three main forms of Shinto: Shrine Shinto, the most popular type; Folk (or Popular) Shinto, practised by the peasants; and Imperial Household Shinto, practiced by the imperial family.

But soon, in the 18th and 19th centuries, people began to form independent Shinto sects, which were very radical and some even monotheistic, such as Tenrikyo. These were soon known as the Shinto Sects, or the New Religions.

After the Meiji Revolution in 1868, Shinto and Buddhism were forcefully separated. The Emperor Meiji made Shintoism the official religion, creating a form of Shinto known as State Shinto, which merged Shrine, Folk, and Imperial Household Shinto together. Sect Shinto was seen as radical and separated from Shintoism. Under Meiji, Japan became a moderate theocracy, with shrines being controlled by the government. Shinto soon became a reason for Japanese nationalism. After Japan took over Korea and Taiwan, State Shintoism became the official religion of those countries as well.

During World War II, State Shinto was the only legal religion, and Christians and radical Buddhists were persecuted, as well as Sect Shintoists. However, many people were still adherents of both State Shinto and Buddhism.

When the Americans occupied Japan in 1945, the shrines were taken away from the government, and State Shinto was abolished. Shrine, Folk, and Imperial Shinto became separated. The Sect Shinto distanced itself from mainstream Shinto.

Today, most Japanese adhere to Shrine Shinto, and also to Buddhism.

Japanese Buddhism

Main article: Buddhism in Japan
The Toshodaiji was an early Buddhist temple in Nara.

Buddhism first arrived to Japan in the sixth century, from the Southern part of Korean peninsula kingdom of Baekje, where the Baekje king sent the Japanese emperor a picture of the Buddha and some sutras. Japanese aristocrats built many Buddhist statues and temples in the capital at Nara, and then at the later capital of Heian (now Kyoto).

Buddhism is divided into three forms, the more orthodox and impersonal Theravada Buddhism, which is prevalent in India and Southeast Asia, and the more personal Mahayana Buddhism, which spread to North India, China, Tibet, and from there went to Korea, where it came to Japan. The third is Vajrayana Buddhism. From the beginning, the largest form of Buddhism in Japan was the Mahayana school.

In the capital of Nara, six Buddhist sects were created. These six are today terribly small and called together "Nara Buddhism". Some were Theravada influenced. These Buddhist schools did very well, but when the capital moved to Heian, more forms of Buddhism arrived from China. The two survivors of that day are Shingon, an esoteric form of Buddhism similar to Tibet's Vajrayana (or Tantric) Buddhism, and Tendai, a monastic conservative form known better by its Chinese name of Tiantai. These Buddhist forms converted many Japanese, and temples were built all over Heian. Most Japanese at this time too adhered to both Shinto and Buddhism.

When the shogunate took power in the 1100s, and the administrative capital moved to Kamakura, new forms of Buddhism arrived. The most popular was Zen, known in China as Chan and in Korea as Seon. Zen Buddhism was completely different, and it was the most popular type of Mahayana Buddhism of the time period. Zen split up into two different forms, Rinzai and Soto. Soto Zen is the more popular of the two today. Zen Buddhism is today the fourth largest type of Buddhism, but the most popular among Westerners.

Another form of Buddhism arrived in the Kamakura period, known as Jodo-kyo or Pure Land Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism emphasizes the role of Amida Buddha or the Buddha of the Western Paradise. This school promises that reciting the phrase "Namo Amida Butsu" upon death will result in a person being removed by Amida to the "Western Paradise" or "Pure Land" and from then on to Nirvana . Jodo-kyo attracted the merchant and farmer classes. But after Honen, Jodo-kyo's head missionary in Japan, died, the form split up. Jodo-shu were followers of Honen who said that saying the Nembutsu (an abbreviation for Namo Amida Butsu) many many times would save someone. The more liberal form started by Shinran known as Jodo Shinshu says that saying the phrase once with a pure heart will save you. It has also dropped monastism. Jodo Shinshu is the largest form today.

A more radical form of Buddhism was Nichiren Buddhism, created by the monk Nichiren, which praised the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren's teaching was often revolutionary, and the shogun distrusted him, especially when he said that the Mongols were to invade Japan. When the shogun heard this, he exiled Nichiren, but it soon became true. Nichiren Buddhism is the second largest form, and split off into Nichiren-shu, Nichiren Sho-shu, a more radical form, and Soka Gakkai, a very radical Nichiren denomination, whose political wing forms the conservative yet buddhist New Komeito Party, Japan's third largest political party.

Shinto and Buddhism were closely knit, and forms of Shinto and Buddhism were formed where the two were merged together. In 1868, after the Meiji Restoration, Buddhism and Shintoism were separated, but many Japanese still adhered to both.

Today, most Japanese adhere to Nishi Honganji-ha Buddhism, a conservative form of Jodo Shin-shu. It was formed in 1580, after Honganji, a form of Jodo Shin-shu, split up into two forms - Nishi and Higashi. Most Japanese also adhere to other forms, however, such as Higashi, Zen, Nichiren, and other forms, as well as Shinto.

Other Religions

Main article: Christianity in Japan

Christianity, first introduced to Japan in 1549, was virtually stamped out a century later, surviving only in the secluded area around Nagasaki; it was reintroduced in the late 1800s and has spread slowly. Today it has 1.4 million adherents, which includes a high percentage of important persons in education and public affairs. Several Universities were started by Christians and there is even a Christian university called "International Christian University" established in 1949. Some Japanese confuse Judaism and Christianity, or consider Judaism to be part of Christianity, as the Christians were the first to arrive in Japan and were better known by the Japanese.

Main article: Judaism in Japan

Judaism, meanwhile, is mainly practiced by Americans and Europeans in two synagogues and several US military bases in Japan. The synagogues are in Tokyo and Kobe, and there are about 600 non-military Jews residing in all of Japan. [1] There is also a community of Japanese (mostly Christians save one) who claim to be descendants of two of the Lost Tribes of Israel - that of Dan and Zebulun.

Main article: Islam in Japan

Islam constitutes a relatively small group in Japan, which has a little social influence.

Main article: Hinduism in Japan

Hinduism is a small minority religion in Japan that began when Hinduism and other Indian related beliefs (including Buddhism) spread to Japan from China and Korea during the 6th century. In the 19th century Hindu numbers increased, seeking to take advantage of the textile importing and exporting industry.


See also: Kirishitan

Japan's first contacts with the West in the 16th and 17th centuries were with either traders or missionaries. The first form of Christianity which arrived was Roman Catholicism, spread by Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch missionaries, usually Jesuits. Thousands of Japanese converted from Shinto/Buddhism to Catholic Christianity.

On August 15th, 1549, Francisco Xavier (a Catholic Saint), Cosme de Tores (a Jesuit priest), and Father John Fernandez arrived in Kagoshima from Spain with hopes to bring Christianity and Catholicism to Japan. On September 29th, Xavier visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, asking for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo agreed in hopes of producing a trade relationship with Europe. During his stay in Japan, Xavier ordered all missionaries to study the Japanese language and an early form of Romaji was developed as a result. He also succeeded in baptizing and fully converting 100 people to Catholicism - a surprising feat, seeing that he spoke very little Japanese.

The shogunate and imperial government at first supported the Christian movement and the missionaries, thinking that they would reduce the power of the powerful Buddhist monks, but soon the shogunate did what other colonial powers did elsewhere. It was thought Christianity threatened to destabilize and overthrow their government until the 17th century, when Christianity was banned and those who refused to abandon their new faith were brutally killed, like Paul Miki or Magdalene of Nagasaki.

The shogun defeated the Christian daimyos at the battle of Satsuma.

European missionaries who did not leave the country were also killed, and they are known to the Catholic Church as martyrs. Many Christians fled to Europe or the Spanish Philippines. Suspected Christians were forced to burn crosses and tread on fumie, something considered sacrilegious for a real Christian. In the next two centuries, Japan remained in a state of complete isolation from the outside world. Dutch traders were limited to the island of Dejima, were forbidden to proselitize and were forced to tread on Christian images.

In secluded areas, the hidden Christians (Kakure Kirishitan) continued to practice a corrupted Catholicism, actually a cult of their Christian ancestors with misremembered Latin and Portuguese prayers. When Meiji modernization allowed freedom of religion, several of these hidden Christians turned to Roman Catholicism while others maintained their traditions.

Russian Orthodox church in Hakodate

With the 19th century Meiji Restoration, missionaries were able to return. State Shinto was made the official religion, but Christianity was allowed. In addition to Roman Catholicism being allowed back in, Protestantism and Russian Orthodoxy (from Sakhalin) also came. Protestant missionaries from Britain, other European countries, and especially the United States succeeded in making many conversions.

Denominations included Methodists, Episcopalians/Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Mormons, and Unitarians. The most popular denomination was the Congregationalist Church, under the name Kyōdan (United Church of Christ).

When the military took power in 1931, Christians of all stripes were forced to merge into the United Church of Christ. During World War II, Christians were persecuted due to their perceived association with the American enemy, leading many to flee the country.

In 1945, free religion was allowed. All the former denominations were revived, as was the independent United Church of Christ.

Today, Christianity is adhered to by a million people, or less than 1% of the population. Most people adhere to Shinto and Buddhism. But in the Japanese Diaspora, mostly in America, there are many Japanese Christians. Most Japanese Christians in the United States belong to the United Methodist Church, and other Protestant denominations (and Catholic and Orthodox too). Some churches in America take an active missionary role in converting Japanese in Japan, and America, but even in America, 97% of Japanese Americans adhere to Shinto and Buddhism.citation needed]

In Japan today, most Christians are Protestant, and most belong to the United Church of Christ, followed by Catholics, and then other Protestant denominations. There are Korean churches; the Unification Church is also in Japan. (However, the Japanese Catholic Church does not recognise the Unification Church. [2])

Though Japanese Christians make up a small fraction of the population, they tend to be visible beyond their numbers. Christmas is widely observed, though in its secularised form. Its practitioners tend to be more devoted and proselytizing than other religions, and they attract sympathy among many young Japanese who view Western culture in a positive light. Furthermore, Christian organizations tend to give large amounts to charity, and have founded some important educational institutions such as the International Christian University, Kwansei Gakuin University and the Jesuit Sophia University.

The writer Shusaku Endo was a Catholic and the Finn-born MP Tsurunen Marutei came to Japan as a lay Lutheran missionary. Toyohiko Kagawa was a well-known writer and social reformer.

New Religions

Main article: Shinshūkyō

Beyond the two traditional religions, many Japanese today are turning to a great variety of popular religious movements normally lumped together under the name "New Religions". These religions draw on the concept of Shinto, Buddhism, and folk superstition and have developed in part to meet the social needs of elements of the population. The officially recognized new religions number in the hundreds, and total membership is reportedly in the tens of millions.

The biggest new religion is Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect, founded in 1930. The New Komeito Party party is of this faith. It is both in national and local assemblies and has a huge influence on politics as it is a part of the coalition government at the Diet. Because the Constitution requires separation of church and state the religion's connection with politics is often criticized.

Many of these new religions actually arose as part of Shintoism, and some still have Shinto in their teachings. Some, not all, of the new religions are also known as Sect Shinto, such as Tenrikyo.

They do not make up much of the population, however. Most people follow Shinto and Buddhism, and these new religions make up a little more than Christianity.

Other new religions include:

  • Church of Perfect Liberty
  • Seicho no Ie
  • Shinreikyo (God-Soul Sect)
  • Mahikari Kyodan (True Light Sect)
  • Kiriyama Mikkyo (Kiriyama Esotericism)
  • Kofuku no Kagaku (The Institute for Research in Human Happiness)
  • Aleph (formerly called Aum Shinrikyo)
  • Mahikari
  • Oomoto
  • Konkokyo
  • Tenrikyo
  • Zenrinkyo (formerly Zenrinkai)

Religious Practice

Most Japanese participate in rituals and customs derived from several religious traditions. Life cycle events are often marked by visits to a Shinto shrine. The birth of a new baby is celebrated with a formal shrine visit at the age of about one month, as are the third, fifth, and seventh birthdays and the official beginning of adulthood at age twenty. Wedding ceremonies are often performed by Shinto priests, but Christian weddings (or rather secular American-style chapel weddings, called howaito uedingu ("white wedding") in Japanese) are also popular. In the early 1980s, more than 8% of weddings were held in a shrine or temple, and nearly 4% were held in a church. The most popular place for a wedding ceremony—chosen by 41%—was a wedding hall.

Funerals are most often performed by Buddhist priests, and Buddhist rites are also common on death day anniversaries of deceased family members. Some Japanese do not perform ancestral ceremonies at all, and some do so rather mechanically and awkwardly. But there have also been changes in these practices, such as more personal and private ceremonies and women honoring their own as well as their husband's ancestors, that make them more meaningful to contemporary participants.

There are two categories of holidays in Japan: matsuri (festivals), which are largely of Shinto origin and relate to the cultivation of rice and the spiritual well-being of the local community, and nencho gyo (annual events), mainly of Chinese or Buddhist origin. The matsuri were supplemented during the Heian period with more festivals added and were organized into a formal calendar. In addition to the complementary nature of the different holidays, there were later accretions during the feudal period. Very few matsuri or nencho gyo are national holidays, but they are included in the national calendar of annual events. Most matsuri are local events that follow local traditions, and vary from place to place.

Most holidays are secular in nature, but the two most significant for the majority of Japanese--New Year's Day for Shinto believers and Obon (also called Bon Festival) for Buddhists, which marks the end of the ancestors' annual visit to their earthly home-- involve visits to Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples. The New Year's holiday (January 1-3) is marked by the practice of numerous customs and the consumption of special foods. These customs include time for getting together with family and friends, for special television programming, and for visiting Shinto shrines to pray for family blessings in the coming year. Dressing in a kimono, hanging out special decorations, eating noodles on New Year's Eve to show continuity into the new year, and playing a poetry card game are among the more "traditional" practices. During Obon season, in mid-August (or mid-July depending on the locale), bon (spirit altars) are set up in front of Buddhist family altars, which, along with ancestral graves, are cleaned in anticipation of the return of the spirits. As with the New Year's holiday, people living away from their family homes return for visits with relatives. Celebrations include folk dancing and prayers at the Buddhist temple as well as family rituals in the home.

Many Japanese also participate, at least as spectators, in one of the many local matsuri celebrated throughout the country. Matsuri may be sponsored by schools, towns, or other groups but are most often associated with Shinto shrines. As religious festivals, these strike a Western observer as quite commercialized and secular, but some who plan the events, cook special foods, or carry the floats on their shoulders find renewal of self and of community through participation.

Religion and the State

Article 20 of the 1947 Constitution states, "Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority". Contemporary religious freedom fits well with the tolerant attitude of most Japanese toward other religious beliefs and practices. Separation of religion and the state, however, is a more difficult issue.

Historically, there was no distinction between a scientific and a religious worldview. In early Japanese history, the ruling class was responsible for performing propitiatory rituals, which later came to be identified as Shinto, and for the introduction and support of Buddhism. Later, religious organization was used by regimes for political purposes, as when the Tokugawa government required each family to be registered as a member of a Buddhist temple for purposes of social control. In the late nineteenth century, rightists created State Shinto, requiring that each family belong to a shrine parish and that the concepts of emperor worship and a national Japanese "family" be taught in the schools.

In the 1980s, the meaning of the separation of state and religion again became controversial. The issue came to a head in 1985 when Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro paid an official visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, including leaders from the militarist period in the 1930s and 1940s. Supporters of Nakasone's action (mainly on the political right) argued that the visit was to pay homage to patriots; others claimed that the visit was an attempt to revive State Shinto and nationalistic extremism. The visit was protested by China, North Korea, South Korea, and other countries occupied by Japan in the first half of the twentieth century, and domestically by leftists, intellectuals, and the Japanese news media. Similar cases have occurred at local levels, and courts increasingly have been asked to clarify the division between religion and government. Separating religious elements of the Japanese worldview from what is merely "Japanese" is not easy, especially given the ambiguous role of the emperor, whose divinity was denied in 1945 but who continued to perform functions of both state and religion.


  • This article contains material from the Library of Congress Country Studies, which are United States government publications in the public domain. - Japan

See also

  • Ryukyuan religion. The beliefs of Ryukyuans, the people of Okinawa and the other Ryūkyū Islands.

External links

  • Religion and the Secular in Japan: Problems in History, Social Anthropology and the Study of Religion, discussion paper by Tim Fitzgerald in the electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies, 10 July 2003.
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