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Religion in Japan

The country has an area of 145,884 square miles and a population of 127.5 million. Since the government does not require religious groups to report their membership, it is difficult to accurately determine the number of adherents of different religious groups. The Agency for Cultural Affairs reported that membership claims by religious groups totaled 206 million as of December 2007. This number, which is nearly twice the country's population, reflects many citizens' affiliation with multiple religions. For example, it is common to practice both Buddhist and Shinto rites.

According to the agency's annual yearbook published in 2009 and carrying statistics of the calendar year of 2007, 105 million identified themselves as Shinto, 89 million as Buddhist, two million as Christian, and nine million follow "other" religions. There are no governmental statistics on the number of Muslims in the country. The Islamic Center estimates there are approximately 100,000 to 110,000 Muslims of whom 10,000 are citizens.

As of December 2007, under the 1951 Religious Juridical Persons Law, the government recognized 154 schools of Buddhism. The six major schools of Buddhism are Tendai, Shingon, Jodo, Zen (Soto and Rinzai sects), Nichiren, and Narabukkyo. In addition there are a number of Buddhist lay organizations, including Soka Gakkai, which reported a membership of eight million "households." The two main schools of Shintoism are Jinjahoncho and Kyohashinto.

The Japanese worldview is eclectic, contrasting with a Western view in which religion is exclusive and defines one's identity. Contemporary Japanese society is highly secular. Cause and effect relations are frequently based in scientific models, and illness and death are explained by modern medical theories. Yet the scientific view is but one of the options from which an individual may draw in interpreting life's experiences.

The Japanese worldview is characterized also by a pragmatic approach to problem solving, in which the technique may be less important than the results. Thus a Japanese who is ill may simultaneously or sequentially seek the assistance of a medical doctor, obtain medication from a person trained in the Chinese herbal tradition, and visit a local shrine. Each of these actions is based on a different belief in causation of the illness: the physician may say that the illness is caused by a bacterial infection; the herbalist regards the body as being out of balance; and the basis of the shrine visit is the belief that the mind must be cleansed to heal the body. In the West, these explanations might be viewed as mutually exclusive, but the Japanese patient may hold all of these views simultaneously without a sense of discord. Similarly, a student studying for university entrance examinations knows that without extraordinary hard work, admission is impossible. Yet the student will probably also visit a special shrine to ask for the help of the spiritual world in ensuring success.

The roots of the Japanese worldview can be traced to several traditions. Shinto, the only indigenous religion of Japan, provided the base. Confucianism, from China, provided concepts of hierarchy, loyalty, and the emperor as the son of heaven. Daoism, also from China, helped give order and sanction to the system of government implied in Shinto. Buddhism brought with it not only its contemplative religious aspects but also a developed culture of art and temples, which had a considerable role in public life. Christianity brought an infusion of Western ideas, particularly those involving social justice and reform.

A number of religious organizations are generally labeled "new religions" (shinko shukyo), although some date back to the early nineteenth century. The largest are Soka Gakkai (Value Creation Society), Rissho Koseikai (Society for the Establishment of Justice and Community for the Rise [of Buddhism]), and Tenrikyo (Religion of Divine Wisdom), with more than 17 million, 6 million, and about 2.5 million members, respectively, in the late 1980s. Both Soka Gakkai and Rissho Koseikai are offshoots of the Nichiren Shoshu sect of Buddhism. Tenrikyo was once considered an offshoot of Sect Shinto but is now regarded as independent of other divisions of Shinto. Some of the larger of these new religions are active internationally as well as in Japan.

No one category can be used to describe all of the new religions. What distinguishes them from popular or folk religions is their claim to an organizational status equivalent to Shinto or Buddhism. Their teachings are diverse, but most syncretize elements of Buddhist, Shinto, Christian, and other beliefs. Most emphasize the dependence of the living on kami, the Buddha or Buddhist figures, or ancestors. Some, such as Tenrikyo, are monotheistic and stress individual salvation. For example, Rissho Koseikai adherents gather in small groups to discuss religious issues and problems of daily life. Most of the new religions provide special support to their adherents through small group meetings and encourage solving problems through ritual and proper behavior. Many stress harmonious relations with others, hard work, and sincerity as the way to a better life.

Most of the new religions were founded by charismatic lay people, often women, who had experienced transforming spiritual episodes and felt called upon to convey these experiences to others. They stressed lay participation, involving small, local, face-to-face groups as well as national organizations. They encouraged direct contact with the supernatural, and some groups practiced faith healing and mutual support techniques. People who joined these groups often did so in response to personal problems, but many found continuing fulfillment through their emphasis on returning to traditional values.

Most Japanese participate in rituals and customs derived from several religious traditions. Life cycle events are often marked by visits to a Shinto 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 are also popular. In the early 1980s, more than 8 percent of weddings were held in a shrine or temple, and nearly 4 percent were held in a church. The most popular place for a wedding ceremony--chosen by 41 percent--was a wedding hall.

Funerals are most often 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. But there have also been changes in these practices, such as more personal and private ceremonies and women honoring their own as well as their husband's ancestors, that make them more meaningful to contemporary participants.

Daniel L. Alexander http://www.firstthings.com/article/1995/12/004-the-japanese-and-the-jewsnoted that "Given the lack of Jews in Japan, “Japanese anti-Semitism” and “Japanese philo-Semitism” may sound like the oxymorons in a koan ... But the Japanese seem to have developed a horror and fascination with the Jews on a par with the strongest European traditions, and a surprising number of Japanese seem to enter political, economic, and intellectual life with Jews on the brain."

Throughout Japan’s history, relatively few Jews settled in the country. Significant anti-Semitism first appeared in Japan after the Great War, part of the extreme anti-Communist reaction against the Bolsheviks that strongly emphasized the Jewish “nature” of the revolution. With the signing of the German-Japanese Anti-COMINTERN Pact in 1936, the Japanese public was exposed to a campaign of defamation that created a popular image known as the Yudayaka, or the "Jewish peril."

During the war years, the Jewish communities in the Far East living under the Japanese occupation lived under an administrative policy that was noteworthy for its generally neutral attitude. The Japanese views of Jews grew from the complicated mixture of racism, nationalism, and fear of foreign conspiracy and secret control of international events that dominated Japanese national attitudes towards all foreigners. Japanese anti-Semitism experienced a surge in the 1980s and 1990s, with several books alleging that the United States was controlled by Jews and was plotting to destroy Japan.

A tendency toward “millennial fantasy” among some Japanese frequently encourages paranoid thinking.

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Page last modified: 26-06-2016 20:21:27 ZULU