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Religion in Japan

Religions of Religion in JapanVery many Japanese count as both Buddhists (72 percent) and Shinto followers (95 percent). The traditional Buddhist sects (Jodo, Zen, Shingon) have the greatest support, although the "new religions" (shinko shukyo) have made great progress since 1945. Christians constitute a small minority (about 1.5 percent), but Christian writers and intellectuals have nevertheless played a not insignificant role throughout the 20th century. Japan's Constitution (1946) states that public funds cannot be allocated to religious groups.


Over the centuries, there has been a widespread belief that shinto is a common cultural heritage for all Japanese. This has been particularly expressed in the Japanese cosmogony (mythical creation story) in the work Kojiki (712), which tells of how the Japanese islands and the most important deities were created in the morning by the god Izanagi and the goddess Izanami. Among their offspring was also the goddess of the Sun Amaterasu Omikami, to whom the Japanese empire traces its ancestry. From 1868 to 1945, a nationalist version of Shintoism was state religion in Japan. Shinto was then not defined as a religion, but as a moral system emphasizing patriotism and the notion of the emperor as the descendant of the sun goddess, which all Japanese were obliged to follow.

Religions of Japan


According to Countryaah data, Buddhism was introduced from Korea in the 500s. In the following thousand years, Buddhism increasingly influenced Japanese society. Buddhism was first developed in the capital Nara (Nara schools). In the 800s, Tendai and Shingon schools were introduced from China. Both were attached to the Imperial House.

From the 1100s on and into the Kamakura period (1185–1333), other Buddhist schools were introduced from China, which appealed more widely to the broad strata of the people: the Pure Land schools (Jodo and Jodo-shinshu) and Zen. The Nichiren sect, with its peculiar lack of tolerance of other Buddhist directions, was formed in the 13th century. During this period, Buddhism and Shinto were subjected to strong mutual influence.

A number of monasteries developed into fortified cities and could mobilize armies of armed monks. The monasteries were eradicated during Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582), but Buddhism has since been used by state power to control the population. In 1638, a system was introduced which meant that each family had to be registered at a Buddhist temple, and only Buddhist priests were allowed to perform rituals in connection with death. After the restoration of the emperor's political power in 1868, the position of Buddhism was weakened in favor of Shinto.


Christianity was first brought to Japan by the Jesuit Francisco Xavier in 1549 and quickly gained considerable popularity. However, the Catholic missionaries were expelled in 1587, and Christians were subjected to constant persecution until Christianity was totally banned in 1637. However, underground churches continued to exist until the land was again opened for mission in 1859.

New religions

New religions are called shinko shukyo in Japan. From the beginning of the 19th century, a number of religious movements arose, partly with the preponderance of elements of Shinto and partly from Buddhism. Among movements with overweight shinto elements are Omoto; Buddhist directions, for example, are reiyukai, Soka Gakkai and Rissho Kosei Kai; and among directions that cannot naturally be classified in the two major main groups are tenrikyo, PL Kyodan (Perfect Liberty) and Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth).

For the Buddhist directions, the Tendai School in particular, with its emphasis that everyone can "become a living Buddha" and its strong focus on the Lotus Sutra as a writing authority, has been particularly influential. Common to many of the new religions is that they are founded by charismatic individuals, in many cases women, and that they often claim to convey a special, divine revelation. Ancestral cult is also often a prominent feature.


Many Japanese celebrations and traditions are celebrated by many Japanese. It is common for a home to have both a kami altar (kamidana) and a buddha altar (butsudan) where offerings in the form of flowers and food are made. Other rituals apply to the cycle of life (birth and wedding are often celebrated with Shinto rituals, while funerals are performed by Buddhist priests) or the various stages of the year: New Year's Eve, Midsummer's Day (Bon Fest) and the festivities of Spring and Autumn evenings. These feasts were originally linked to the cult of the ancestors and confirmation of the unity of the family, but have in recent times to a certain degree become more worldly.

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