The history of the main religions in Japan and the view of Japanese people towards religion

The history of the main religions in Japan and the view of Japanese people towards religion

Update: 17 January 2017

Japan's religions are characterized by their tolerance towards other religions. Here, we will explain about Japan's mysterious religions.

The origin of Shinto

The first religion to nestle in Japan was "Shinto" (lit: the way of the gods). At that time, the Japanese mainly focused on agriculture and fishing as their livelihood. While being part of the grace of nature, there were a lot of people who put their lifes on the line due to that same nature. Before they noticed it, they came to believe that the grace and threat of natural phenomena was due to the actions of gods. They believed in the concept of animism which revolves around the belief that gods are enshrined in every thing from mountains to boulders and trees. This spontaneously spread all over Japan and started to espouse the belief in gods. Because of this, Shinto has no particular founder or sacred books.

Inherited Buddhism

Japan's traditional religion, Shinto, has not only one god but 8 million gods, which means that gods reside in every single thing. Shrines to worship these gods are established in various places, and festivals, which are basically worshipping rituals, are largely held. Even now, Japanese are still familiar with these festivals as annual events. Although Buddhism was introduced via the Korean Peninsula in the 6th century, it was not rejected by Shintoism and instead took form in Japan by fusing with it. With the emperor being the most powerful person in the background and being considered as the descendant of gods, Buddhism has been used in politics. Because of Buddhism's nature of protecting the country, several Japanese have come to subscribe to this religion.

The rise and fall of Buddhism

Because of the strong relationship between Buddhism and politics, at first the religion was not geared towards salvation of people but was rather more popular to be a tool for governing the country. However, through the efforts of the two priests named Saicho and Kukai, the Japanese came to openly accept both gods and Buddha. After that, during the time of impending chaos, when power was transferred from the aristocrats to the warrior class, natural calamities, famines and frequent wars have assaulted the masses. With the increasing social unrest, Sukhavati became popular as a belief of one's life after death in a utopia. Several new types of Buddhism were born which the Japanese currently subscribe to.

Inheritance of Christianity and Shintoism

Francis Xavier introduced Christianity to Japan in 1549. Although missionary work was tolerated at first, believers hid from the government due to severe prosecutions during the Edo period (1600 - 1868). During the Meiji period (1868 - 1912), the government's main leadership took out Buddhist components in Shintoism and clearly separated shrines and temples as a religious policy, and Shinto took on the form known as Kokka Shinto (State Shinto). In addition, during the same time, the propagation of the severely oppressed Christianity was allowed and has spread among the populace which has continued until this day.

Why are Japanese people polytheists?

There have been various opinions attempting to explain polytheism of Japanese people, and it's almost impossible to say which is correct. As explained earlier, historically, the Japanese people have openly accepted different religions. Buddhism has been fused with Shintoism which has been in existence from time immemorial in Japan. Christianity, which at first was largely suppressed, is nowadays being widely accepted thanks to the government's mitigation. It's very important to remember that Japanese's polytheism at its roots is animism or nature worship instead of polytheism.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.

Share this article.