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Religion in Japan

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Religion in Japan

The Nachi Shrine is an ancient site of kami worship.

Most Japanese do not exclusively identify themselves as adherents of a single religion; rather, they incorporate elements of various religions in a syncretic fashion[1] known as Shinbutsu shūgō (神仏習合 amalgamation of kami and buddhas). Shinbutsu Shūgō officially ended with the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order of 1886, but continues in practice. Shinto and Japanese Buddhism are therefore best understood not as two completely separate and competing faiths, but rather as a single, rather complex religious system.[2] Japan enjoys full religious freedom and minority religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism are practiced. Figures that state 84% to 96% of Japanese adhere to Shinto and Buddhism are not based on self-identification but come primarily from birth records, following a longstanding practice of officially associating a family line with a local Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine.[3][4][5][6] About 70% of Japanese profess no religious membership,[7][8] according to "Operation World" (1993), 84% of the Japanese claim no personal religion. In census questionnaires, less than 15% reported any formal religious affiliation by 2000.[9] "Crossing the Gods" (2001) claims 64% do not believe in God, and 55% do not believe in "Buddha".[10] According to Edwin Reischauer, and Marius Jansen, some 70–80% of the Japanese regularly tell pollsters they do not consider themselves believers in any religion.[1]

A 2008 poll carried out by the NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute and ISSP (International Social Survey Programme) surveyed 1200 Japanese people on their beliefs, and 39% of the surveyed people reported having a religious belief: 34% declared to follow Buddhism, 3% Shinto, 1% Christianity (0.7% Protestantism, 0.2% Catholicism) and 1% other religions.[11] Actually, most Japanese people (around 90%) attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami, while not identify as "Shinto" or "Shintoist" since these terms have no meaning at all for the majority of the Japanese.[12]


  • Shinto 1
  • Buddhism 2
  • New religions 3
  • Minority religions 4
    • Christianity 4.1
    • Islam 4.2
    • Bahá'í Faith 4.3
    • Hinduism 4.4
    • Judaism 4.5
    • Ryukyuan religion 4.6
    • Jainism 4.7
    • Taoism 4.8
  • Religious practice 5
    • Social construction of the category "Religion" 5.1
  • Religion and law 6
  • Irreligion 7
    • Demographics on religious belief for the 20th century 7.1
    • Comments on religious belief/non-belief by notable figures 7.2
    • Organizations 7.3
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


Typical Shinto shrine with paper streamers made out of unprocessed hemp fibre.

Shinto (神道 Shintō), also kami-no-michi,[note 1] is the Nara and Heian periods.[18]

The word Shinto ("way of the gods") was adopted, originally as Shindo,[20] from the written Chinese Shendao (神道, pinyin: shén dào),[21][note 2] combining two kanji: "shin" (), meaning "spirit" or kami; and "" (), meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào).[18][21] The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the 6th century.[20] Kami are defined in English as "spirits", "essences" or "gods", referring to the energy generating the phenomena.[22] Since Japanese language does not distinguish between singular and plural, kami refers to the divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms: rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the nature of kami.[22] Kami and people are not separate; they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.[18]

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practiced by nearly 80% of the population, yet only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys.[19][23] This is due to the fact that "Shinto" has different meanings in Japan: most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to an institutional "Shinto" religion,[24] and since there are no formal rituals to become a member of folk "Shinto", "Shinto membership" is often estimated counting those who join organised Shinto sects.[25] Shinto has 100,000 shrines and 20,000 priests in the country.[19]


Buddhism first arrived in Japan in the 6th century from the Southern part of the kingdom of Baekje on the Korean peninsula. The Baekje king sent the Japanese emperor a picture of the Buddha and some sutras. Japanese aristocrats built Buddhist statues and temples in the capital at Nara, and then in the later capital at Heian (now Kyoto).[26]

Buddhism is divided into three forms: the orthodox Theravada Buddhism, which is prevalent in India and most of Southeast Asia; Mahayana Buddhism, which spread to China, Tibet, Vietnam, and ultimately to Korea and Japan; and Vajrayana Buddhism. From the beginning, the largest form of Buddhism in Japan was the Mahayana school. According to the Agency of Cultural Affairs, 91 million Japanese identify themselves as Buddhist.[4]

The six Buddhist sects initially established in Nara are today together known as "Nara Buddhism" and are relatively small. When the capital moved to Heian, more forms of Buddhism arrived from China, including the still-popular Shingon, an esoteric form of Buddhism similar to Tibet's Vajrayana Buddhism, and Tendai, a monastic conservative form known better by its Chinese name, Tiantai.

When the shogunate took power in the 12th century and the administrative capital moved to Kamakura, more forms of Buddhism arrived. The most popular was Zen, which became the most popular type of Mahayana Buddhism of the time period. Two schools of Zen were established, Rinzai and Sōtō; a third, Ōbaku, formed in 1661.

The Tōshōdai-ji was an early Buddhist temple in Nara.

Another form of Buddhism known as Jodo-kyo, or Pure Land Buddhism, arrived in the Kamakura period. Pure Land Buddhism emphasizes the role of Amitabha Buddha and promises that reciting the phrase "Namu Amida Butsu" upon death will result in being removed by Amitabha to the "Western Paradise" or "Pure Land", and then to Nirvana. Jodo-kyo attracted the merchant and farmer classes. After Honen, Jodo-kyo's head missionary in Japan, died, the form split into two schools: Jodo-shu, which focuses on repeating the phrase many times, and the more liberal Jodo Shinshu, which claims that only saying the phrase once with a pure heart is necessary. Today, many Japanese adhere to Nishi Honganji-ha, a conservative sect of Jodo Shinshu.

The monk Nichiren established a more radical form of Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, which praised the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren's teaching was revolutionary, and the shogun distrusted him; when Nichiren predicted that the Mongols would invade Japan, the shogun exiled him. Nichiren was a progressive, the first Japanese thinker to declare that women could gain enlightenment. Nichiren Buddhism is the second largest Buddhist sect in Japan today. Sub-sects of Nichiren Buddhism include Nichiren Shū, Nichiren Shōshū and Soka Gakkai, a controversial denomination whose political wing forms the New Komeito Party, Japan's third largest political party.

In modern times, Japanese society has become very secular, and religion in general has become less important. However, many Japanese remain nominally Buddhist and are connected to a local Buddhist temple, although they may not worship regularly. Buddhism remains far more popular in traditional rural areas than in modern urban areas and suburbs. For instance, while some 90% of rural households include a Buddhist altar (Butsudan), the rate drops to 60% or lower in urban areas.[27]

New religions

Beyond the two traditional types of religions, a great variety of popular religious movements exists in modern Japan. These movements are normally lumped together under the name "New Religions". These religions draw on concepts from Shinto, Buddhism, and folk superstition. The officially recognized new religions number in the hundreds, and total membership is reportedly in the tens of millions.[28] The largest new religion is Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect founded in 1930, which has about 10 million members in Japan.

Many of these new religions arose as part of Shinto and retain elements of Shinto in their teachings. Some, though not all, of the new religions are considered Sect Shinto. Other new religions include Aum Shinrikyo, Gedatsu-kai, Kiriyama Mikkyo, Happy Science, Konkokyo, Oomoto, Pana-wave laboratory, PL Kyodan, Seicho no Ie, Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan, Sekai kyūsei kyō, Shinreikyo, Sukyo Mahikari, Tenrikyo, and Zenrinkyo.

Minority religions


Ōura Church, Nagasaki

In the year 1542, the first Europeans from Portugal landed on Kyushu in Western Japan. The two historically most important things they imported to Japan were gunpowder and Christianity, in the form of Roman Catholicism. The Japanese daimyo on Kyushu welcomed foreign trade because of the new weapons and tolerated the Jesuit missionaries. These missionaries were successful in converting large numbers of people in Western Japan, including members of the ruling class. In 1550, Francis Xavier undertook a mission to the capital, Kyoto.

Near the end of the 16th century, Franciscan missionaries arrived in Kyoto, despite a ban issued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1597, Hideyoshi proclaimed a more serious edict and executed 26 Franciscans in Nagasaki as a warning. Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors continued the persecution of Christianity with several further edicts.

In 1873, following the Meiji restoration, the ban was rescinded, freedom of religion was promulgated, and Protestant missionary work began. Today, there are around 0.6–3 million Christian adherents of various denominations.[4][6][29][30] Most of them live in Western Japan, where the missionaries' activities were greatest during the 16th century. Since World War II, a number of Christian customs, including Western style weddings and the celebration of Valentine's Day and Christmas, have become popular among the non-Christian population.


In 2008, Keiko Sakurai estimated that 80–90% of the Muslims in Japan were foreign born migrants primarily from Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran.[31] It has been estimated that the Muslim immigrant population amounts to 70,000–100,000 people, while the "estimated number of Japanese Muslims ranges from thousands to tens of thousands".[32]

Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith in Japan begins after a few mentions of the country by `Abdu'l-Bahá first in 1875.[33] Japanese contact with the religion came from the West when Kanichi Yamamoto (山本寛一) was living in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1902 converted; the second being Saichiro Fujita (藤田左弌郎). The first Bahá'í convert on Japanese soil was Kikutaro Fukuta (福田菊太郎) in 1915.[34] Almost a century later, the Association of Religion Data Archives (relying on World Christian Encyclopedia) estimated some 15,700 Bahá'ís in 2005[35] while the CIA World Factbook estimated about 12,000 Japanese Bahá'ís in 2006.[36]


There are currently approximately 4,000 Hindus in Japan, about one third of whom are located in the Kansai area and living in Kobe.

Though Hinduism is a little-practiced religion in Japan, it has still had a significant, but indirect role in the formation of Japanese culture. This is mostly because many Buddhist beliefs and traditions (which share a common background with Hinduism) spread to Japan from China via Korean peninsula in the 6th Century. One indication of this is the Japanese "Seven Gods of Fortune", of which three originated as Hindu deities, including Benzaiten (Sarasvati), Bishamon (Vaiśravaṇa or Kubera), and Daikoku (Shiva). Various Hindu deities, including the fore-mentioned, are worshiped in Shingon Buddhism. This denomination, and all other forms of Tantric Buddhism, borrow heavily from Tantric Hinduism.


There are presently about 2,000 Jews living in Japan.[37] With the Opening of Japan in 1853 and the ending Japan's "closed-door" foreign policy, some Jews immigrated to Japan from abroad, with the first recorded Jewish settlers arriving at Yokohama in 1861. The Jewish population continued to grow into the 1950s, fueled by immigration from Europe and the Middle East, with Tokyo and Kobe forming the largest communities.

During World War II, some European Jews fleeing the Holocaust found refuge in Japan, with one Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul to Lithuania, disregarding his orders and issuing more than 6,000 entry visas to Jews fleeing the Nazis. After World War II, a large portion of Japan's Jewish population emigrated, many going to what would become Israel. Some of those who remained married locals and were assimilated into Japanese society.

There are community centers serving Jewish communities in Tokyo[38] and Kobe .[39] The

  • United States Department of State. "2009 Report on International Religious Freedom – Japan". UNHCR. 
  • Fitzgerald, Tim. "Religion and the Secular in Japan: Problems in History, Social Anthropology and the Study of Religion". Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies. 

External links

Further reading

  • Earhart, H. Byron. Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity, in The Religious Life of Man Series. Second ed. Encino, Calif.: Dickenson Publishing Co., 1974. ISBN 0-8221-0123-8
  • Inoue, Nobutaka et al. Shinto, a Short History (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003) online
  • Matsunaga, Daigan; Matsunaga, Alicia (1996), Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, Vol. 1: The Aristocratic Age, Los Angeles; Tokyo: Buddhist Books International. ISBN 0-914910-26-4
  • Matsunaga, Daigan, Matsunaga, Alicia (1996), Foundation of Japanese Buddhism, Vol. 2: The Mass Movement (Kamakura and Muromachi Periods), Los Angeles; Tokyo: Buddhist Books International. ISBN 0-914910-28-0
  • Picken, Stuart D. B. (1994). Essentials of Shinto an Analytical Guide to Principal Teachings. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.  
  • Reader, Ian (1991). Religion in Contemporary Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press
  • Matsunami, Kodo (2004). "A guide to japanese buddhism". Tokyo: Japan Buddhist Federation.  PDF
  • Shimazono, Susumu (2004): From Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Religious Movements in Modern Japan. Trans Pacific Press
  • Sims, Barbara (1989). Traces That Remain: A Pictorial History of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Faith Among the Japanese. Osaka, Japan: Japan Bahá'í Publishing Trust. 
  • Staemmler, Birgit, Dehn, Ulrich (ed.): Establishing the Revolutionary: An Introduction to New Religions in Japan. LIT, Münster, 2011. ISBN 978-3-643-90152-1
  1. ^ a b  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ "Buddhism". Retrieved 24 June 201. 
  4. ^ a b c "Major Religions Ranked by Size". Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  5. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (15 September 2006). "Japan: International Religious Freedom Report 2006". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  6. ^ a b "East & Southeast Asia: Japan". CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 11 July 2010. 
  7. ^ Whelan, Christal (13 May 1995). "Japan's 'New Religion' – Millions Disenchanted With Buddhism, Shinto Find Spiritual Options". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  8. ^ McQuaid, John (29 October 2008). "A View of Religion in Japan". Japan Society, New York. Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  9. ^ Lockard, Craig A. (2010). Societies, Networks, and Transitions Since 1450 (2nd ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 787.  
  10. ^ Zuckerman, Phil (2007). "Atheism: Contemporary Rates and Patterns". In Martin, Michael. Cambridge Companion to Atheism. University of Cambridge Press. 
  11. ^ 宗教的なもの" にひかれる日本人〜ISSP国際比較調査(宗教)から〜(in Japanese)""". NHK 放送文化研究所 (NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute). Retrieved 5 January 2013. 
  12. ^ John Breen, Mark Teeuwen. Shinto in History. Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey, England, 2000. p. 3
  13. ^ Stuart D. B. Picken, 1994. p. xxiv
  14. ^ Williams, 2004. p. 4
  15. ^ Williams, 2004. p. 6
  16. ^ John Nelson. A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine. 1996. pp. 7–8
  17. ^ "The True Religion Acceptable by God", p. 23, by St. Godbe Ajuzie
  18. ^ a b c d Richard Pilgrim, Robert Ellwood (1985). Japanese Religion (1st ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc. pp. 18–19.  
  19. ^ a b c Breen, Teeuwen. 2010. p 1
  20. ^ a b Stuart D. B. Picken, 1994. p. xxi
  21. ^ a b Sokyo, Ono (1962). Shinto: The Kami Way (1st ed.).  
  22. ^ a b Stuart D. B. Picken, 1994. p. xxii
  23. ^ "Association of Shinto Shrines | 設立". Jinja Honcho. Retrieved 2013-05-05. 
  24. ^ Engler, Price. 2005. p. 95
  25. ^ Williams, 2004. pp. 4-5
  26. ^ Hoffman, Michael (14 March 2010). "Buddhism's arrival, Shinto's endurance". Japan Times. p. 7. 
  27. ^ Nakamaki, Hirochika (2003). Japanese Religions at Home and Abroad. New York: Routledge/Curzon. ISBN 0-7007-1617-3; pp. 24-25
  28. ^ Shimazono, Susumu (2004): From Salvation to Spirituality: Popular Religious Movements in Modern Japan. Trans Pacific Press. pp. 234-235
  29. ^ Christianity is popular in Japan today
  30. ^ Mitsumori, Haruo (1997). Operation Japan. Tokyo: New Life Mission, Japan and Japan Evangelical Missionary Association. 
  31. ^ 5, January 2008Asia PolicyEmile A. Nakhleh, Keiko Sakurai and Michael Penn; "Islam in Japan: A Cause for Concern?",
  32. ^ Yasunori Kawakami, "Local Mosques and the Lives of Muslims in Japan", Japan Focus, May 2007
  33. ^  
  34. ^  
  35. ^ "Most Baha'i Nations (2005)". QuickLists. The Association of Religion Data Archives. 2005. Retrieved 2009-07-04. 
  36. ^ "Japan Profile". About Asia. Overseas Missionary Fellowship International. 2006. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  37. ^ Golub, Jennifer (August 1992). "Japanese Attitudes Toward Jews". Pacific Rim Institute of the American Jewish Committee. 
  38. ^ "Jewish Community of Japan". 
  39. ^ "Jewish Community of Kansai". 
  40. ^ "Chabad Japan". Chabad Jewish Center of Japan. 
  41. ^ "Chabad Tokyo Japan". 
  42. ^ "2009 Jain Diaspora Conference". Los Angeles, USA: JAINA: Federation of Jain Associations in North America. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  43. ^ Isomae Jun'ichi 磯前順一. 2003. 近代日本の宗教言說とその系譜. Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten. Josephson, Jason Ānanda. 2012. The Invention of Religion in Japan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  44. ^ Shichihei, Yamamoto (1992). The spirit of Japanese capitalism and selected essays. Lanham: Madison Books.  
  45. ^ a b Matsubara, Hiroshi (1 January 2001). "Western eyes blind to spirituality in Japan". The Japan Times. 
  46. ^ Reader, Ian (1991). Religion in contemporary Japan (2nd print ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 6.  
  47. ^ a b Hays, Jeffrey (July 2011). "Religion, Christianity and Hidden Christians in Japan and the Irreligious Japanese". 
  48. ^ Heine, Steven. Sacred high city, sacred low city: a tale of religious sites in two Tokyo neighborhoods. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 54.  
  49. ^ Brown, Arthur Judson (2005). The Mastery of the Far East: The Story of Korea's Transformation and Japan's Rise to Supremacy (Reprint ed.). Kessinger Publishing. p. 653.  
  50. ^ Furuya, Yasuo (1997). A history of Japanese theology. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 94.  
  51. ^ a b Gulic, Sidney L. (1997). Evolution of the Japanese, Social and Psychic. BiblioBazaar. p. 198.  
  52. ^ Nakamura, Hajime (1992). A comparative history of ideas (1st Indian ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 519.  
  53. ^ Thelle, Notto R. (1987). Buddhism and Christianity in Japan: from conflict to dialogue, 1854-1899. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.  
  54. ^ Robertson, J.M. (2010). A Short History of Freethought Ancient and Modern 2. Forgotten Books. p. 425.  
  55. ^ a b Ives, Christopher (2009). Imperial-Way Zen: Ichikawa Hakugen's critique and lingering questions for Buddhist ethics. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.  


  1. ^ Both mean the "way of the divine" or "of the gods". Other names are:[13]
    • kannagara-no-michi, "way of the divine transmitted from time immemorial";
    • Kodo, the "ancient way";
    • Daido, the "great way";
    • Teido, the "imperial way".
  2. ^ During the history of China, at the time of the spread of Buddhism to the country, the name Shendao was used to identify what is currently known as "Shenism", the Chinese indigenous religion, distinguishing it from the new Buddhist religion. (Brian Bocking. A Popular Dictionary of Shinto. Routledge, 2005. ASIN: B00ID5TQZY p. 129)


See also

Two months later, in November 1931, socialist Toshihiko Sakai and communist Takatsu Seido created the Japan Anti-religion Alliance (Nihon Hanshukyo Domei). They opposed "contributions to religious organizations, prayers for practical benefits (kito), preaching in factories, and the religious organizations of all stripes" and viewed religion as a tool used by the upper class to suppress laborers and farmers.[55]

The Japan Militant Atheists Alliance (Nihon Sentoteki Mushinronsha Domei, also known as Senmu) was founded in September 1931 by a group of anti-religionists. The Alliance opposed the idea of kokutai, the nation's founding myth, the presence of religion in public education, and the practice of State Shinto. Their greatest opposition was towards the imperial system of Japan.[55]


  • Shin'ichi Hisamatsu, philosopher and scholar who rejected theism, claimed that God or Buddha, as objective beings, are mere illusions[50]
  • Prince Ito Hirobumi, four-time Prime Minister of Japan, who reportedly said, "I regard religion itself as quite unnecessary for a nation's life; science is far above superstition, and what is religion – Buddhism or Christianity – but superstition, and therefore a possible source of weakness to a nation? I do not regret the tendency to free thought and atheism, which is almost universal in Japan because I do not regard it as a source of danger to the community."[51]
  • Hiroyuki Kato, who headed the Imperial Academy from 1905–1909 and said, "Religion depends on fear."[51]
  • Haruki Murakami, a Japanese novelist who wrote, "God only exists in people’s minds. Especially in Japan, God's always has been a kind of flexible concept. Look at what happened to the war. Douglas MacArthur ordered the divine emperor to quit being a God, and he did, making a speech saying he was just an ordinary person."[47]
  • Ando Shoeki, who denounced Confucian scholars and Buddhist clergy as spiritual oppressors of his age, though he still venerated the gods of old Japan as a pantheist would, equating them with the nature[52]
  • Fukuzawa Yukichi, who was regarded as one of the founders of modern Japan and found it impossible to combine modern learning with belief in gods,[53] openly declaring, "It goes without saying that the maintenance of peace and security in society requires a religion. For this purpose any religion will do. I lack a religious nature, and have never believed in any religion. I am thus open to the charge that I am advising others to be religious while I am not so. Yet my conscience does not permit me to clothe myself with religion when I have it not at heart...Of religions there are several kinds – Buddhism, Christianity, and what not. From my standpoint there is no more difference between those than between green tea and black...See that the stock is well selected and the prices cheap."[54]

Comments on religious belief/non-belief by notable figures

The 1919 book "The Mastery of the Far East: The Story of Korea's Transformation and Japan's Rise to Supremacy", avowedly partial to a then hoped Christianization of Japan, reports of a census of 409 students in three schools showed that only 21 acknowledged any faith; of these, there were 15 Buddhists, 4 Christians, 1 Confucian, and 1 Shintoist. It reports also that young men at the Imperial University in Tokyo were asked to indicate their religions; out of those surveyed, 50 were Buddhist, 60 were Christian, 1500 were atheist, and 3000 were agnostic.[49]

A 1952 survey by Yomiuri Shimbun found that 64.7% of Japanese believed in a specific religion.[45] That number fell to 35% in 1958 and continued to fall to 31% in 1963 and 1968 and 25% in 1973 before climbing back up to 34% in 1978. In 1983 it again slipped, this time to 32%.[46] The 2000 survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun found that 76.6% of Japanese do not believe in a specific religion.[45] The number fell to 72% by 2005, with only 25% believing in religion and 20% practicing faith.[47] According to Steve Heine in 2011, less than 15% of Japanese believe in gods.[48]

Demographics on religious belief for the 20th century

Shichihei Yamamoto argues that Japan has shown greater tolerance towards irreligion and science, saying, "Japan had nothing like the trial of Galileo or the 'monkey trial' about evolution. No Japanese Giordano Bruno was ever burned at the stake for atheism."[44]


Article 20 of the Restrictions on the relationship between the government and religion was mandated by the United States during the occupation of Japan because of the role State Shinto played in encouraging the rapid territorial and economic expansion of the Empire of Japan significant enlargement of the Empire's geopolitical sphere of influence by endorsing and promoting the right of conquest in the years just before and during World War II.

In early Tokugawa government required each family to be registered as a member of a Buddhist temple for purposes of social control. In the late 19th 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.

Religion and law

Scholars Isomae Jun'ichi and Jason Ānanda Josephson have challenged the usefulness of the term "religion" in regard to Japanese traditions. They have shown in different ways how the process of formulating a Japanese term for "religion" (shūkyō, 宗教) in the 19th century led to fundamental shifts in the Japanese cultural landscape.[43]

Social construction of the category "Religion"

Most holidays are secular in nature, but the two most significant for the majority of Japanese – New Year's Day and Obon – involve visits to Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples, respectively. The New Year's holiday (January 1–3) is marked by the practice of numerous customs and the consumption of special foods. Visiting Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples to pray for family blessings in the coming year, dressing in a kimono, hanging special decorations, eating noodles on New Year's Eve, and playing a poetry card game are among these practices. During Obon, 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. People living away from their family homes return for visits with relatives. Celebrations include folk dancing and prayers at Buddhist temples as well as family rituals in the home.

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 nenjyū gyōji (annual events), which are largely of Chinese or Buddhist origin. During the Heian period, the matsuri were organized into a formal calendar, and other festivals were added. 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 and follow local traditions. They may be sponsored by schools, towns, or other groups but are most often associated with Shinto shrines.

Japanese funerals are usually performed by Buddhist priests, and Buddhist rites are also common on death day anniversaries of deceased family members. 91% of Japanese funerals take place according to Buddhist traditions.

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 (Shichi-Go-San) and the official beginning of adulthood at age twenty (Seijin shiki). Wedding ceremonies are often performed by Shinto priests, but Christian wedding ceremonies, called howaito uedingu ("white wedding"), are also popular. These use liturgy but are not always presided over by an ordained priest.

Religious practice

Taoism is believed to be the inspiration for spiritual concepts in Japanese culture. Taoism is similar to Shinto in that it also started as an indigenous religion in China, although it is more hermetic than shamanistic. Taoism's influence can be seen throughout the culture but to a lesser extent than jukyō. Institutional Taoism is present in the country in the form of some temples; the Seitenkyū was founded in 1995.

Seitenkyū (Seiten Temple) in Sakado, Saitama.


At present, there are 3 Jain temples in Japan,[42] with the Kobe Jain temple being the most famous one.

Jainism, unlike the closely related Buddhism, is a minority religion in Japan.


The Ryukyuan religion is the indigenous belief system of the people of Okinawa and the other Ryukyu Islands. It has been influenced by Japanese Shinto and various Chinese religions.

Ryukyuan religion


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