Shinto and Buddhism are Japan’s two major religions. Shinto is as old as the Japanese culture, while Buddhism was imported from the mainland in the 6th century.
Since then, the two religions have been co-existing relatively harmoniously and have even conplemented each other to a certain degree.
Every so often, I get asked by friends overseas if Japanese people are religious. It’s not an easy question to answer.
The following is the number of believers or followers of religions based on reports of Japanese religious corporations.
- Shintoism・・・116 million
- Buddhism・・・87 million
- Christianity・・・1.5 million
- Others・・・10 million
Strangely enough, these numbers, when added up, amount to about 215 million, which is far greater than the Japanese population. It is partly because the religious corporations surveyed didn’t report the number of people who ceased to be followers.
When one asks the Japanese, “What’s your religion?” many of them, excluding Christians and followers of new religions, would answer “I have no religion.”
However, when asked “What is the religion of your family?” they might answer “Jodo sect of Buddhism,” or “Nichiren sect of Buddhism.” That means, the religion that each family has had since ancient times for the purpose of worshiping their ancestors has stayed with the household. Often times it has little to do with one’s religious faith.
My view is that Japanese people are spiritual rather than religious. Most Japanese I know say they do not believe in a deity or profess to follow any religion. Yet they go in droves to shrines during O-bon and New Year.
Prayers are written on votive tablets at shrines on the eve of important exams, Coming-of-Age Day, a job interview or in the quest for a suitable husband or wife. Furthermore, Shinto priests are always on hand to bless baseball teams before spring training begins, and at ground-breaking ceremonies for new buildings, or when machinery or vehicles that have been in use for a long time, are retired.🙂
While some Western observers would call these observances superstitious, I find them to be a very deep-rooted part of Japanese society. Shrine visits are a cultural tradition rather than a religious observance, especially when you consider that neighborhood shrines have been an important part of Japanese communities for centuries.
In many ways, Japanese people treat religions – domestic and foreign – in much the same way as they do with fads and traditions from overseas – borrow, adapt and use aspects when necessary or convenient. A good example of this is the popularity of “Christian-style” weddings in churches and hotel chapels.
Even though they may not be very knowledgeable about other religions, Japanese are very respectful of them.😄
Since the March 11, 2011 disaster, I’ve started to see a strong sense of spirituality among Japanese people, though I am sure it has always been there. I see it every time relatives gather at the scene of a disaster, an accident or murder to pray for the souls of victims.
In 2016, a stalker murdered an 18-year-old former girlfriend in Tokyo. A few days after the crime, the victim’s parents released a statement to the media in which they described their pain and suffering and how they were now sending their daughter to heaven. It was a very poignant expression of both their pain and a hope that one day they will be reunited with their daughter.😃
In times like that, I think Japanese are no different from anyone else in the world – we all look for answers in the face of tragedy. Whether people choose to call that religious, spiritual or superstitious doesn’t matter.
◉ Death has but one terror, that it has no tomorrow.
by Eric Hoffer （1902-1983）
◉ A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.
by Stewart Alsop
◉ He had lived ill that knows not how to die well.
by Thomas Fuller
◉ By my troth I care not; a man can die but once, we owe God a death.
by William Shakespeare （1564-1616）
◉ Every tiny part of us cries out against the idea of dying, and hopes to live forever.
by Ugo Betti（1892-1953）