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Does Japan have Religion?

Ewa Nowogorski

 

Every country has religion. But what does religion even mean? Do you think of Buddhism or Christianity or Hinduism when you hear that word? Religion is something that is so controversial, so much so that many scholars have a hard time consenting on one single definition. Is it the worship of a superhuman controlling power? Or is it the practice of several traditions throughout the year, every year without fail? For some it is as simple as a personal philosophy, and that works as religion for them.

 

In Japan, the major religions are Shinto and Buddhism, but are the people themselves religious? From an outsider’s perspective one can certainly say they are, based on their actions at least. Some people have a traditional Japanese wedding, which is Shinto-style. The incredibly popular New Year’s shrine visit is also Shinto. Shrine visitations during the Bon Festival in Japan, another popular tradition, is Buddhist in nature. During the Bon period many people will return back to their families because it is believed that the spirits of the dead return to earth for three days and visit the family shrines or graves. It is customary for one to visit their ancestors’ graves, clean them well and pay respects. The same people who celebrate these traditions will also celebrate Christmas, a Pagan holiday, and Thanksgiving, a secular holiday.

 

But wait, aren’t they practicing too many religions at once? Can one be both Shintoist AND Buddhist? It turns out that the traditions that Japanese people practice do not reflect their personal beliefs. A survey done on Japanese people showed that over 50% do not believe that they belong to any religion, with about 36% leaning more toward Buddhism. Although people may practice Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian traditions, it does not necessarily mean that they believe in that religion.

 

Holidays here are practiced because they have always been. Some holidays are observed because they are fun and great periods of time to rest and be merry with friends. There is a distinction between ritualistic observance and religious observance here. They have been separated and mixed up so that one can stem from the other, but still have nothing religiously significant to do with it.

 

 

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