Japan's Multiple Religious Belief Systems

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Japan has a religious tradition with the central being the canon Japanese religion Shinto and the greatly flourished imported religion Buddhism. These two main religions are further influenced be ideas and values from Confucianism. This incorporation between multiple concepts allows Japanese people to be more acceptances toward the approach of multiple religious beliefs.

Japanese in general, see many religious principles as traditional ways, and participate in religious events and practices as cultural routines without distinguishing which events or practices belong to which religions. Furthermore, within Shinto and Buddhist principles themselves, there is no demand in absolute dedication to single or limited deities. In fact both of these backbone religions give room for innovation, which resulted in the growth of many ‘new religion’ from the fundamental traditional values.

Therefore, the system of multiple religious beliefs can be argued as the system of absorbing and interpreting values from the long history as well as modern globalization world.

Contemporary Japan is influenced by many traditions and practices that can be well considered as religions. Furthermore they are incorporated and greatly involved in Japanese social activities as well as cultural activities with or without clear distinctions, therefore, the statement where ‘Japan has multiple religious belief systems’ can be well argued. Among the great numbers of ‘religions’ and ‘sects’ (‘new religion’) however, the Japanese native religion, Shinto and Buddhism, which will be further discussed, are by far, Japan’s main religions. The two named religions, together with approaches and values from Taoism and Confucianism are ‘coexisted’ and can be argued as ‘one religion’ that is practiced by the majority of Japanese without contradicting each other.

Between the two main religions, Shinto is the earlier practice that exists back to prehistoric Japan as a wide conglomeration of religious-like practices. Picken (2002, pg18) states that Shinto “in its simplest form …was broadly animist” where people “believing that a supernatural living force resided in natural objects such as mountains, trees and animals”. Historically, Shinto had a central position in relation the imperial household from Yamato period (around fourth to seventh century). Later on, during World War II, was enforced as the national religion till 1945 (Hendry, 2003). Nevertheless, Shinto remains a popular practice and most likely an important representation of Japanese.

On the other hand, Japanese Buddhism roots in the early sixth century when the belief along with images and Buddhist scriptures arrived from Korea. Buddhism was later, together with Confucian ideals, was established as the national religion during Prince Shotoku’s regent. With its rapid growth, the religion introduced with multiple sects and sub-sects as well as Japanese interpretation and innovation of Buddhism (Teeuwen, 2002).

According to Hendry (2003, pg127), many Japanese, especially the younger generations, as Nelson (2000) further points out, “claim to be non-religious” while being unaware that many of their daily activities are within Shinto and Buddhism teachings. In his book, Nelson (2000) even concludes that many Japanese are using a system along the line of syn-cretism to incorporate the principles of both religions and even aspects adopted from the West in their daily lives. The people themselves give minimal attention to the distinction between these practices. This multiple belief system can be seen as contradicting to foreigner, however never pose any problem for local people. First of all, the approach for practicing of Shinto is not a ‘group’ practice, but mainly only for individual purposes (Nelson, 2000). For example, people commonly visit Shinto shrines for specific blessings, such as safety on trips, success in examination…, or even asking general blessings such as health, happiness when...
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