Religion in Japan

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There are many religions in Japan but most Japanese follow Shintō and Buddhism. Most Japanese people do not identify as exclusively belonging to just one religion, but incorporate features of both religions into their daily lives in a process known as syncretism. Shinto and Buddhism are even taken to as being interwoven in the country. Japanese streets are decorated on Tanabata, Obon and Christmas. Japan grants religious freedom to all sects of religious people, as evidenced by the fact they allow minority religions like Christianity, Islam and Sikhism to be practiced. According to the CIA World Fact Book 84% to 96% adhere to Shinto and Buddhism while 4% to 16% of the demographic population adhere to other religions or non-religious, atheist groups.[1]

The Nachi Shrine is an ancient site of Shinto worship. Shinto is the most popular form of religion adopted by the Japanese, far exceeding the Abrahamic religions and Dharmic religions in terms of numbers.


[edit] Shinto

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

Shintoism is one of Japan's largest religions and is the native religion. It originated in and is almost exclusive to Japan. Shinto 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 Shintō are known as kami, and Shinto, itself, means the way of the gods. 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 Shintō 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, practiced by the peasants; and Imperial Household Shinto, practiced by the imperial family. 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 Shintō 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 State Shintō. 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 Shinto became the official religion of those countries as well.

During World War II, the government forced every subject, regardless of his or her adherence or belief, to practice State Shinto and admit that the Emperor was divine. Religions were strongly controlled by the government and those against Imperial cult, notably Oomoto and Soka Gakkai, were persecuted. When the United States occupied Japan in 1945 the shrines were taken away from the government, and State Shinto was abolished. Shrine, Folk, and Imperial Shinto became separated. Sect Shinto distanced itself from mainstream Shinto.

[edit] Buddhism

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).[citation needed]

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. According to the Agency of Cultural Affairs, 91 million persons identify themselves as Buddhist. [2]

In the capital of Nara, six Buddhist sects were created. These six are today quite small and called together "Nara Buddhism". Some were Theravada influenced. 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.

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. 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.

The Toshodaiji was an early Buddhist temple in Nara.

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 monasticism.

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, was also a progressive thinker, for he was the first Japanese thinker to declare, that women could also gain enlightenment. Nichiren Buddhism is the second largest form, and split off into Nichiren-shu, Nichiren Sho-shu, a more radical form, and Soka Gakkai, a controversial Nichiren denomination, whose political wing forms the conservative New Komeito Party, Japan's third largest political party.

Today, many 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.

[edit] New religions

From left, Shin Hirata, Katsuya Takahashi, and Naoko Kikuchi, were perpetrators in attacks in the Tokyo Subway and belonged to the new religion Aum Shinrikyo renamed to Aleph.

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 largest new religion is Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect, founded in 1930. Its declared motto is peace, culture and education. It has about 10 million members in Japan. The New Komeito Party was founded by the Soka Gakkai in 1964, but they broke all financial or any other ties, in 1970, to respect the Japanese constitution. 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 party's connections with the religion is often criticized.

Many of these new religions actually arose as part of Shintō, and some still have Shinto in their teachings. Some, not all, of the new religions are also known as Sect Shinto. Other new religions include Aum Shinrikyo, Kiriyama Mikkyo, Kofuku no Kagaku, Konkokyo, Oomoto, Pana-wave laboratory, PL Kyodan, Seicho no Ie, Sekai Mahikari Bunmei Kyodan, Sekai kyūsei kyō, Shinreikyo, Sukyo Mahikari, Tenrikyo, and Zenrinkyo.[citation needed]

[edit] Minorities

[edit] Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith in Japan begins after a few mentions of the country by `Abdu'l-Bahá first in 1875.[3] Japanese contact with the religion came from the West when Kanichi Yamamoto was living in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1902 converted - the second being Saichiro Fujita. The first Bahá'í convert on Japanese soil was Kikutaro Fukuta in 1915.[4] `Abdu'l-Bahá undertook several trips 1911-1912 and met Japanese travelers in Western cities - in Paris,[5] London[6] and New York.[7] Fujita would serve between the World Wars first in the household of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and then of Shoghi Effendi.[8] In 1932 the first Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly was elected in Tokyo.[9] In all of Japan there were 19 Bahá'ís.[10] Bahá'í Americans associated with the American Occupation Forces reconnected the Japanese Bahá'í community - Michael Jamir found Fujita by 1946[11] and Robert Imagire helped re-elect the assembly in Tokyo in 1948.[11] In 1963 the statistics of Bahá'í communities showed 13 assemblies and other smaller groups.[12] In 1968 Japanese Bahá'ís began to travel outside Japan.[13] In 1971 the first residents of Okinawa converted to the religion.[14] In 1991 the community organized an affiliate of the Association for Bahá'í Studies in Japan which has since held annual conferences,[15] published newsletters, and published and coordinated academic work across affiliates.[16] The CIA World Factbook estimates about 12000 Japanese Bahá'ís in 2006.[17]

[edit] Christianity

Christianity, in the form of Roman Catholicism, arrived with St Francis Xavier, and was spread by missionaries. However, it was soon persecuted and banned until the Meiji era. Sustained Protestant missionary work began in the late 19th century. Today, there are around 1 - 3 million Christian adherents of various denominations.[18][19]

[edit] Hinduism

Hinduism is a small minority religion in Japan. 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 with immigrants seeking to participate in the textile importing and exporting industry.

[edit] Islam

Japan's very first traditional Muslim Mosque. It was built in the city of Kobe and is known throughout Japan as Kobe Mosque.

The Islamic conquests, lead by Arab Muslims during the Middle Ages, did not affect Japan when expansion had ceased in 732 owing to the geographical differences. This was primarily because the Arab Muslims wanted to expand towards the northern and western regions. By the Islamic Empire's end the most easternly contact made was India, and not any further. The first contact with Islamic civilisation was when the Ottoman Turkish Empire established relations with Japan. On a state visit, the country got it's very first flavour of Islamic culture from the Ottomans. Islam was thought to have first come to Japan however, in the early 1900s when Muslim Tartars were escaping Russian expansionism.[20]

The Muslim community in Japan has a history of over 100 years, although some sources contest more than this amount.[20][21][22] In 1909, as documented by historian Caeser E. Farah, Abdul-Rashid Ibrahim was the first Muslim who successfully converted the first ethnic Japanese, and in 1935 Kobe Mosque—Japan's first Islamic building—was constructed.[20][23]

Some sources have stated that in 1982 the Muslims numbered 30,000 (half were speculated to be native).[20] Some several thousand ethnic Japanese during the economic boom of the 1980s are accredited of having converted when the media drew attention to the oil rich Middle East; as well as when large swathes of immigrants from Asia came searching for work.[24] The majority of estimates put the Muslim population at 100,000–120,000.[19][20][25][26] Although still a minority religion in Japan, recent evidence suggests Islam is growing,[20][22] and is especially prominent among young women who have Muslim husbands, as documented by the Japan Times.[24] Furthermore, in 2000, Keiko Sakurai estimated the number of ethnic Japanese Muslims in Japan at 63,552, adding that around 70,000–100,000 foreign Muslims residing in the country.[21] However, while essayist Michael Penn as well as the United States Department of State follow that 90% of Muslims are foreign and about 10% are ethnic,[19] the true figure is unknown and this is just another speculative estimate.[25] In Japan the government does not take religion into account as part of the demographic concern under religious freedom. As Penn states, "The Japanese government does not keep any statistics on the number of Muslims in Japan. Neither foreign residents nor ethnic Japanese are ever asked about their religion by official government agencies".[25] Although Penn has noted that Islam and the culture of the Japanese people are similar in a way, large proportions of Japanese are ignorant of what Islam actually is. However in the recent geo-political climate it has been suggested Islam is making new ground in Japan both politically and culturally in the country.[25]

Judging that in 2007 there were only 22 complaints of religious discrimination and most of these were against the Unification Church in the period of 2007, Muslims are not so far as evidenced to being discriminated against in Japan. Neither by governmental authorities or the public do so. Religious discrimination is rare in the region, unlike countries such as Australia, the United States of America or the United Kingdom when Japan is compared to the level of discrimination faced by religious/ethnic minorities.[26][27][28]News reports, such as those by Al Jazeera, have shed light the suspicion Japanese people have regarding Muslims. Increasingly after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq and subsequent Iraq War, Muslims have been placed in a negative limelight.[29] Since Japan is one of the most homogenous countries in the world, the majority of Japanese base their perceptions more on looks as there is nationalistic sentiment and the views are still widely held in society.[25] If for example darker skinned Muslims are regarded more suspecious while fairer skinned Muslims are less likely to be regarded with such suspicion.[25] This can be attributed as a factor for the Japanese racial views and suspicions regarding Muslims.

Two incidents in 2008 had occured which caused considerable controversy regarding Islam. The first was the desecration of the Qu'ran. The holy book was found in a car retailers with several pages torn out.[30][31] The second was the depiction of the Qu'ran in the anime series JoJo's Bizarre Adventure as being evil - which most Muslims worldwide condemned.[32] The officials in charge of the anime series later apologised saying it was a "simple mistake".[32] The Government of Japan formally apologised for the incident calling it "regretable".[33] The government pledged to avoid further incidents of a similar fashion from occurring in Japan.[33] They had called the incident dishonourable to Japan, and an official later acknowledged "it is important to prevent a recurrence by fostering understanding and respect for other religions and cultures".[33]

[edit] Judaism

Judaism is practiced by a few foreigners in Japan.[34] Currently it is estimated by the US Department of State 2,000 Jews live in Japan.[19]

[edit] Ryukyuan

Ryukyuan are the beliefs of Ryukyuans, the people of Okinawa and the other Ryukyu Islands.[citation needed]

[edit] Sikhism

Sikhism is also a very small minority religion in Japan. Sikhs came to Japan from India. Sikhs live mainly in Kobe and Tokyo.

[edit] Religious practice

Most Japanese participate in rituals and customs derived from several religious traditions. Life cycle events are often marked by visits to a Shintō 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. These days most Japanese weddings are Christian style, using liturgy but not always with an authorized priest.

Japanese Funerals are usually 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 husbands' 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 nenjyuu gyouji (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 Shintō 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 Shintō 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 Shintō shrines.

[edit] Religion and law

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". 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.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ [1], [2][3]
  2. ^ Japan
  3. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1990) [1875]. The Secret of Divine Civilization. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. p. 111. ISBN 0-87743-008. 
  4. ^ Alexander 1977, pp. 12-4, 21
  5. ^ Lady Blomfield (1967). The Chosen Highway. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 229. ISBN 9780853985099. 
  6. ^ Sims 1989, pp. 24(trans. by Mirza Ahmad Sohrab.)
  7. ^ Alexander 1977, pp. 4-5
  8. ^ Sims 1989, pp. 1-2
  9. ^ Sims 1998, pp. 20
  10. ^ Sims 1989, pp. 64
  11. ^ a b Sims 1989, pp. 115-6
  12. ^ Compiled by Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land. "The Bahá'í Faith: 1844-1963: Information Statistical and Comparative, Including the Achievements of the Ten Year International Bahá'í Teaching & Consolidation Plan 1953-1963". pp. 94. 
  13. ^ Sims 1989, pp. 214
  14. ^ Sims 1989, pp. 2126
  15. ^ "Annual Conferences". Official Webpage of the Japanese affiliate of the Association of Bahá'í Studies. Japanese affiliate of the Association of Bahá'í Studies. 2008. Retrieved on 2008-01-26. 
  16. ^ Yerrinbool Report on Scholarship 1999 Affiliate Associations for Bahá'í Studies-Japan
  17. ^ "Japan Profile". About Asia. Overseas Missionary Fellowship International. 2006. Retrieved on 2008-02-20. 
  18. ^ "CIA World Factbook". Retrieved on 2008-12-29. 
  19. ^ a b c d "International Religious Freedom Report 2007 (Japan)". US Department of State. US Department of State. 14 September 2007. Retrieved on 2008-12-29. 
  20. ^ a b c d e f E. Farah, Caesar (25 April 2003). Islam: Beliefs and Observations. Barron's Educational Series; 7th Revised edition edition. ISBN 978-0764122262.,M1. 
  21. ^ a b Yasunori, Kawakami; (May 4, 2007 (The Asia Shimbun), May 30, 2007 ( "Local Mosques and the Lives of Muslims in Japan" (in English). Retrieved on 2008-12-27. 
  22. ^ a b "Islam in Japan". Mission Retrieved on 2008-12-27. 
  23. ^ Penn, M. "Islam in Japan," Harvard Asia Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 2006., retrieved February 26, 2007
  24. ^ a b Y. Nakano, Lynne; Japan Times Newspaper (November 19 1992). "Marriages lead women into Islam in Japan" (in English). Japan Times. Retrieved on 2008-12-27. 
  25. ^ a b c d e f Penn, Michael. "Islami in Japan" (in English). Harvard Asia Quarterly. Retrieved on 2008-12-28. 
  26. ^ a b "International Religious Freedom Report 2008 (Japan)" (in American English). U.S. Department of State. 19 September 2008. Retrieved on 2008-12-29. 
  27. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report 2008 (Australia)" (in American English). U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. 19 September 2008. Retrieved on 2008-12-29. 
  28. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report 2008 (United Kingdom)" (in American English). US Department of State. US Department of State. 19 September 2008. Retrieved on 2008-12-29. 
  29. ^ Ryall, Julian; "Japanese Muslims Face Fear and Doubt" (in English). Al,. Retrieved on 2008-12-30. 
  30. ^ "Japan investigates Koran desecration" (in British English). From the newsroom of the BBC World Service (BBC). Retrieved on 2008-12-30. 
  31. ^ "Pakistani protest over defiled Koran" (in British English). BBC World Service News (BBC). 25 May, 2001,. Retrieved on 2008-12-30. 
  32. ^ a b "'Anime' stokes ire of Muslims". The Japan Times Online (The Japan Times Online). Friday, May 23, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-12-30. 
  33. ^ a b c "Muslim-riling cartoon 'regrettable' Shueisha freezes sales as critics slam 'JoJo's Bizarre' Quran scene Cairo" (in English). The Japan Times Online (The Japan Times Online). Saturday, May 24, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-12-30. 
  34. ^ "The Jews of Japan" by Daniel Ari Kapner and Stephen Levine

[edit] External links

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