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Religion in Japan

Religion in Japan does not play as important a roll in the lives of the people who live there as it used to. Although this is the case today, there have been many religions that have played major roles I the lives of Japanese people for centuries. Shinto and Buddhism are the two major religions in Japan. These two religions have coexisted for thousands of years and continue to be the main religions practiced in Japan.

Shinto

The word Shinto translates to “the way of the gods.” This religion is practiced by approximately 93 percent of the population in Japan. Unlike many other religions, Shinto does not require you to profess your faith to be considered a part of it; instead, if you practice some of the aspects, it is considered enough. There were three main forms of Shinto prior to 1868: Folk Shinto, Shrine Shinto and Imperial Household Shinto. They were then merged into the form of State Shinto, but separated again after 1945 when the United States occupied Japan.

  • Shinto in Japan: This page is provided by Columbia University and discusses the Shinto religion.
  • Shinto (Shintoism): Brief overview of Shintoism, mainly consisting of helpful facts.
  • Shinto: This page provides you with a range of categories for a deeper look into Shinto, some of which include the history, rituals and ethics.
  • Shintoism: This page from Queensborough Community College provides you with a comprehensive overview of the Shinto religion.

Buddhism: Nara and Heian Periods

There are three branches of Buddhism that exist: Mahayana, Vajrayana and Theravada Buddhism. Mahayana means “Greater Vehicle”, and originated in India. Todai-ji is one of the great Buddhist monasteries that gained a political influence during the Nara period, which was between 710 and 794 A.D.

Buddhism: Pure Land and Nichiren

Pure Land Buddhism originated in China and is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism. The Kamakura period was the period that rearranged Buddhism making it available to the commoner. In addition to the spread of Buddhism throughout different classes, there was also a new focus on realism in religious imagery.

Nichiren Buddhism was another form of Buddhism that was geared towards providing the common person with salvation. Before this period, Buddhism was a religion that was only practiced by monastic orders, the upper classes and imperial court. Nichiren was a monk during the Japanese Kamakura period. This sect of Buddhism is named after him.

Buddhism: Zen

Zen Buddhism is another form of Mahayana Buddhism that spread to Japan during the Kamakura period. It is a type of Buddhism that is also geared towards providing salvation to commoners. This particular form of Buddhism had a major impact on Japanese art.

Tokugawa Period: Confucianism, Christianity and Bushido

The Tokugawa period took place between 1615 and 1868, and is also referred to as the Edo period. During this period society was divided into four groups: merchants, artisans, peasants and samurai. All Japanese families were required to register with Buddhist parishes in order to stop and prevent the spread of foreign religions. Many Japanese Christians went into hiding and hid their faith by registering as Buddhists.

Bushido, while not what would be considered a religion by most, describes a strict code of conduct for samurai warriors. People started to use the word “bushido” to describe this code during the 17th century.

Another form of ethical teaching which originated in China but made its way to Japan is Confucianism. Confucianism was developed based on the teachings of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who lived from 551 to 478 BC.

Meiji Period: Religion and the State

The Meiji period took place between 1868 and 1912. During this time period, a new government made Shinto the official state religion. In addition to making it the official state religion, there were also policies that restricted the practice of other religions such as Buddhism and Christianity.