A first time visitor to India not knowing about Hinduism is like a visitor to Disneyland not knowing about Mickey Mouse. Sounds impossible, right? In the same manner, it would be wise to learn about any country’s religious beliefs before setting foot there.
The two major religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. While Shinto is as old as the Japanese culture, Buddhism found its way into Japan in the 6th century. Buddhism was imported from the mainland and ever since its foothold, both Shinto and Buddhism have co-existed harmoniously in the country. In fact, the two religions even complement each other to a certain extent.
Most locals or Japan origin people consider or identify themselves Buddhist or Shintoist, and sometimes both. Here’s a brief look and understanding at these two religions that exist in Japan.
Unlike other popular religions, Shinto has no founder and neither does it have sacred scriptures like the Bible or sutras. In this religion, the gods are the kami that are sacred spirits taking form of things as well as concepts important to life like wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility.
Humans, too, become kami after death and are revered by their family as ancestral kami, in fact extraordinary people’s kamis are even enshrined. The most important kami is considered to be the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. Shinto rituals are mostly observed to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the kami. Shinto shrines, besides being places of worship are also the dwelling place of kami. These shrines celebrate festivals regularly.
Shinto rituals are performed by Shinto priests who generally reside on the shrine grounds. These priests are aided by younger women called miko during these rituals and other shrine tasks. Though the priests are allowed to marry and have children, miko must be unmarried, and are often the priests’ daughters.
Cultivation and preservation of ancient art forms such as Noh theater, calligraphy and court music, and shrine architecture are important features of Shinto art. Similar to Hindu myths and beliefs, a whole lot of talismans are available at Shinto shrines for purposes ranging from traffic safety to good health, and success in business to safe childbirth, good exam performance and much more.
Wedding ceremonies in Japan are mostly conducted through the Shinto style. But death is considered as an impurity, hence is left to Buddhism to deal with. Because of this reason, you’ll hardly find any Shinto cemeteries, and most funerals in Japan are held in the Buddhist style.
Buddhism originated in India and was imported to Japan in the 6th Century via China and Korea. It got imported in the form of a present from the Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche).
Though, initially, there were conflicts between the Shinto and Buddhism in Japan, today the two religions co-exist peacefully and even complement each other.
In the beginning, the Shinto were divided into only two sects, namely the Tendai sect and the Shingon sect. But later the Tendai sect branched off into many other sects which are known today as the following:
Jodo sect (Pure Land sect)
Jodo-Shin sect (True Pure Land sect)
Zen sect and
Approximately 90 million people in Japan consider themselves as Buddhists today. Both the religions however, do not directly affect the everyday life of the average Japanese very strongly.
The other religions found in Japan, though in a much smaller capacity are Confucianism, Christianity and Islam. The beliefs and practices of these religions in Japan are similar to those observed across the world.
We hope you have a spiritual and religiously fulfilling experience in Japan after this brief understanding of Japan and its religion(s).