Religion Wiki

A Japanese Buddhist monk in Kyoto.

Many different religions are practiced in Japan but most people follow Shinto or Buddhism. Many 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.. Japanese streets are decorated on Tanabata, Obon and Christmas. Japan grants religious freedom to all religious sects, as evidenced by the fact that minority religions like Christianity, Islam and Sikhism are practiced. According to the CIA World Factbook 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] However, such high numbers come primarily from birth records, following a longstanding practice of family lines being officially associated with a local Buddhist temple and not the people truly following the religion[2]


Shintoism is one of Japan's largest religions and is the indigenous religion. Japan is one of the only major countries that have many Shinto people. 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.

There are a variety of denominations within Shinto. It's said that Shrine Shinto has no founder and no canon. Shinto sects have their own unique dogma or leader like Tenrikyo and Konkokyo. 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 Restoration 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.


Buddhism first arrived to Japan in the sixth century, from the Southern part of the 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).

Buddhism is divided into three forms, the more orthodox and impersonal Theravada Buddhism, which is prevalent in India and most of Southeast Asia, and the more personal Mahayana Buddhism, which spread to North India, China, Tibet, Vietnam, 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.[3]

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.

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.

New religions

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 Shinto, 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, Gedatsu-kai, Kiriyama Mikkyo, Kofuku no Kagaku, Konkokyo, Oomoto, Pana-wave laboratory, PL Kyodan, Seicho no Ie, Sekai Mahikairi, Bunmei Kyodan, Sekai kyūsei kyō, Shinreikyo, Sukyo Mahikari, Tenrikyo, and Zenrinkyo.


Bahá'í Faith

The Baha'i Faith in Japan began after a few references to the country by `Abdu'l-Bahá, beginning in 1875.[4]


Today, there are around 1 - 3 million Christian adherents of various denominations in Japan[5][6](about 1% of Japan's population). Most of them live in Western Japan where the missionaries' activities were greatest during the 16th century.A few Christian customs have become quite popular also among the non-Christian population. Such customs are the wearing of white dresses at weddings or the celebration of St.Valentine's Day and, to a certain degree, also Christmas.

In the year 1542, the first Europeans from Portugal landed on Kyushu in Western Japan. The two historically most important things they imported to Japan were gunpowder and Christianity in the form of Roman Catholicism. The Japanese daimyo on Kyushu welcomed foreign trade especially because of the new weapons, and, therefore, tolerated the Jesuit missionaries. The missionaries were successful in converting quite large numbers of people in Western Japan including members of the ruling class. In 1550, Francis Xavier also undertook a mission to the capital Kyoto.

Towards the end of the 16th century, the Jesuits lost their monopoly position in Japan when Franciscan missionaries arrived in Kyoto despite a banning edict by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1597, Hideyoshi proclaimed a more serious edict and executed 26 Franciscans in Nagasaki as a warning. Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors continued the persecution of Christianity with several further edicts.

In 1873 after the Meiji restoration,freedom of religion was promulgated, although State Shinto was enforced in the period before World War II. After WWII the number of Japanese Christians has been slowly increasing.


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 from India seeking to participate in the textile importing and exporting industry.


The Islamic conquests lead by Arab Muslims during the Middle Ages, did not affect Japan when expansion had ceased owing to the geographical differences. As Japan had no resources a lack of trade with Muslims also meant little, or no contact between Muslims and Japanese, unlike the geographically distant Indonesia. Also Japan tended to have an isolationist attitude in regard to foreigners and this may have hampered possible contact between the Islamic civilisation and the Japanese people during the early days of Islam.

Islam tended to expand towards the north-western and south-eastern regions, owing to their desire to vanquish the established empires of the Persian Sassanid Empire, and the Byzantine Empire (and eventually succeeding in doing both). By the Islamic Empire's end the most generally established easternly contact made was with China. The first contact with Islamic civilisation was when the Ottoman Empire established diplomatic relations with Japan.

The Muslim community in Japan has a history of over one hundred years, although some sources state it was established earlier .[7][8][9] 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.[7][10]

Some sources have stated that in 1982 the Muslims numbered 30,000 (half were speculated to be native).[7] 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 work. The majority of estimates put the Muslim population at 100,000–120,000.[6][7][11][12] Although still a minority religion in Japan, recent evidence suggests Islam is growing,[7][9] and is especially prominent among young women who have Muslim husbands, as documented by the Japan Times. 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.[8] However, essayist Michael Penn as well as the United States Department of State contest that 90% of Muslims are foreign and about 10% are ethnic Japanese,[6] the true figure is unknown and this is just another speculative estimate.[11] In Japan the government does not take religion into account as part of census taking due to religious freedom laws. 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".[11] 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.[11]

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 England when Japan is compared to the level of discrimination faced by religious/ethnic minorities.[12][13][14] News reports, such as those by Al Jazeera, have shed light on 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.[15] 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.[11] If for example darker skinned Muslims are regarded more suspecious while fairer skinned Muslims are less likely to be regarded with such suspicion.[11] This can be attributed as a factor for the Japanese racial views and suspicions regarding Muslims.

Two incidents in 2008 had occurred which caused considerable controversy regarding Islam. The first was the desecration of the Qur'an. The holy book was found in a car retailers with several pages torn out.[16][17] 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.[18] The officials in charge of the anime series later apologised saying it was a "simple mistake".[18] The Government of Japan formally apologised for the incident calling it "regretable".[19] The government pledged to avoid further incidents of a similar fashion from occurring in Japan.[19] 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".[19]


Judaism is practiced by a small community in Japan.[20] Currently it is estimated by the US Department of State that 2,000 Jews live in Japan.[6]


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

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 ordained 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.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 Shinto shrines.

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.


  1. [1], [2][3]
  2. Reischauer, Edwin O. The Japanese Today: Change and Continuity; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (1988), pg. 215.
  3. Japan
  4. `Abdu'l-Bahá (1990) [1875]. The Secret of Divine Civilization. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. p. 111. ISBN 0-87743-008. 
  5. "CIA World Factbook". Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 "International Religious Freedom Report 2007 (Japan)". US Department of State. US Department of State. 14 September 2007. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 E. Farah, Caesar (25 April 2003). Islam: Beliefs and Observations. Barron's Educational Series; 7th Revised edition edition. ISBN 978-0764122262.,M1. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Yasunori, Kawakami; (May 4, 2007 (The Asia Shimbun), May 30, 2007 ( "Local Mosques and the Lives of Muslims in Japan". Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Islam in Japan". Mission Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  10. Penn, M. "Islam in Japan," Harvard Asia Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 2006., retrieved February 26, 2007
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Penn, Michael. "Islami in Japan". Harvard Asia Quarterly. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "International Religious Freedom Report 2008 (Japan)" (in American English). U.S. Department of State. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  13. "International Religious Freedom Report 2008 (Australia)" (in American English). U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  14. "International Religious Freedom Report 2008 (United Kingdom)" (in American English). US Department of State. US Department of State. 19 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  15. Ryall, Julian; "Japanese Muslims Face Fear and Doubt". Al,. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  16. "Japan investigates Koran desecration" (in British English). From the newsroom of the BBC World Service (BBC). Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  17. "Pakistani protest over defiled Koran" (in British English). BBC World Service News (BBC). 25 May 2001,. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "'Anime' stokes ire of Muslims". The Japan Times Online (The Japan Times Online). Friday, May 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "Muslim-riling cartoon 'regrettable' Shueisha freezes sales as critics slam 'JoJo's Bizarre' Quran scene Cairo". The Japan Times Online (The Japan Times Online). Saturday, May 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-30. 
  20. "The Jews of Japan" by Daniel Ari Kapner and Stephen Levine

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Religion in Japan. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.