religious history has been a long process of mutual
influence between religions. Shinto has been a big
part of Japanese life ever since the beginning of Japan's
history and continues today.
Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the sixth century,
it started to have an effect on the Shinto beliefs, and
vise versa. An interesting example of this
interaction is honji suijaku, in which shinto kami were
seen as the incarnations of Buddhist deities.
other religions that were brought into Japan are
Confucianism and Taosim. For more than 1,000 years,
these religions have had significant impact on Japan's
society. The rules of Confucianism have had major
impact on the ethical and political philosophy by it's
influence during the sixth to ninth centuries and later
from 1600 to 1868. The use of the Chinese calendar,
fortune-tellers, among other things is a result of Taoism
in Japan. It is much harder to trace than
Confucianism, it's influences are still seen today.
word Shinto is comprised of two Chinese characters and is
often translated as "the way of the gods."
The first character, when used alone, is pronounced kami,
which means "god, deity" or "divine
power" and the second character means "way"
can be used to describe just one god or as a collective
term for the many gods that are a central part of worship
in Japan. A part of all aspects of life, kami appear
in may different forms. Nature kami live in sacred
stones, trees, mountains and other aspects of nature.
Clan kami, which are the guardian deities of specific
clans. Actually these are considered to be a deified
ancestor of the clan. Another kami is the ta no kami,
which is the god of the rice paddies. This kami is
worshipped at rice planting and harvest festivals.
The heavenly divinities who live on the Takamagahara (High
Celestial Plain) are those kami that are similar to gods
in the Western sense. These kami are led by
Amaterasu Omikami, the goddess who is worshipped at the
Ise Shrine, which is the central shrine of Shinto.
the introduction of Buddhism into Japan was partly
responsibly for Shinto to become more organized.
This was accomplished by structuring previously
unorganized native beliefs and rituals. Another
result, was the compilation of two books, Kojiki
(Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki
(Chronicles of Japan). These were part of an
effort to trace the imperial lineage and place it on a
mythological and religious foundation. The books
trace the imperial line back to the mythical age of gods
and tell how the jami Izanagi and Izanami made the
Japanese Islands and the central gods Amaterasu Omikami
(sun goddess), Tsukuyomi no Mikoto (moon god), and Susanoo
no Mikoto (god of storms). It is said that the
great-great-grandson of Amaterasu Omikami (sun goddess) is
Emperor Jimmu, the legendary first sovereign of Japan.
Shinto religion doesn't have any official sacred
scriptures. Instead of emphasizing moral
commandments, Shinto focuses on ritual purity and
cleanliness in dealing with the kami.
around the 5th century BC, Buddhism was started in India
and spread throughout China in the 2nd and 3rd centuries
AD. It was introduced to Japan after the king of
Paekche in Korea sent a Buddha statue and copies of sutras
to the Japanese emperor during the 6th century. It
spread rapidly through the upper class after anti-Buddhist
factions were defeated by the pro-Buddhist Soga family.
Prince Shotoku (574-622) is considered to be the true
founder of Buddhism though. It was through his
imperial support that major temples were built, such as
Horyuji (in present day Nara Prefecture).
Shomu (701-756) made Buddhism the official state religion
and built the temple Todaiji at Nara along with its huge
statue of Buddha. Six Nara sects, which were
predominate in Buddhism at this time, were responsible for
carrying out rituals to promote national welfare.
They were basically academic by nature and didn't have any
great influence on the general population. Priest
Saicho (767-822) introduced the Tendai sect to Japan in
the Heian period (794-1185), while the Shingon sect was
introduced by Kukai (774-835), who is also known as Kobo
Daishi. These last two esoteric sects became the
most important Buddhist sects at the imperial court.
major developments occurred in Japanese Buddhism during
the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Eisai (1141-1215),
who was the founder of the Rinzai sect, established the
Zen school. Dogen (1200-1253), the founder of the
Soto sect, later modified it. The warrior elite were
receptive to this because it emphasized self-discipline
and meditation, as well as its directness. To reach
enlightenment (satori), meditation (zazen) and irrational
riddles (koan) are used. A difference between the two
groups is that in the Rinzai Zen, there is much more
emphasis placed on the riddles than in the Soto Zen.
second major development was the the rapid growth of
popular Buddhist sects among the commoners. One of
these sects was called the Pure Land sect and taught that
chanting Buddha Amida's name was the idea way to achieve
rebirth in Amida's Western Paradise. Another sect
was the Nichiren sect. This sect emphasized the
chanting of the title of the Lotus Sutra.
Tokugawa shogunate, in the Edo period (1600-1868), wanted
to wipe out Christianity and control the population, so he
requested that everyone join or become a part of a
Buddhist temple. Although there was a large number
of members, the vitality of Buddhism as a living religion
was not greatly increased. As a result of
anti-Buddhism, encourage by the governments wishes to
eradicate Buddhism and uplift Shinto as the state
religion, the previous system was destroyed. With
the social environment changing and as a result of the
uprising against it, Buddhism has been working to improve
its stand in modern Japan.
Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, went to Kagoshime in August
1549. The Jesuit missionary work was concentrated on
Kyushu (the southernmost island of Japan) and by 1579 six
regional military lords were converted to Christianity.
There were about 100,000 Christians, but the efforts of
the Jesuits were initially not taken seriously by the
military leaders, Oda Nobunagaa and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
As the Christian influence began to spread in Kyushu,
Hideyoshi attempted to put a stop to it by having 26
Christians crucified at Nagasaki in 1597. In 1600,
Tokugasa Ieyasu became the de facto ruler of Japan and
allowed the missionaries to remain, but 14 years later the
government forbade Christianity and forced the
missionaries out of the country. At this point in
time, there were about 300,000 Japanese Christians and
many of them renounced Christianity as a result of
persecution. In addition, it is estimated that about
3,000 Christians were executed. In spite of the
persecution, many Christians remained strong in their
beliefs and worshipped in private.
1859, foreign missionaries returned to Japan after the
government lifted it's ban, but they couldn't hold
meetings openly until 1873. Groups of Christians who
had worshipped in secret came out during this time after
over 200 years of persecution, in all about 30,000
Christians came forward.
at this were both Catholic and Protestant missionaries,
but their labor resulted in just a few converts. In
spite of this, Christians were able to influence education
and the trade union movement. The 1930's was a
difficult time for Christians due to increasing
nationalism and the patriotic duty of attending Shinto
World War II
gains in the Christian faith were made after World War II,
in spite of support by Occupation authorities. By
1996, less than 2.5 percent of the Japanese population
were Christians though the numbers had greatly increased
to 3,170,000. Christian wedding ceremonies are
becoming more popular, and knowledge of and interest in
Christianity has increased, but it is probably still
felt to be a foreign religion by many Japanese. The
increase in interest has not added greatly to the
Christian base in Japan, probably due to the fact that the
belief is in one God, thus eliminating the relaxed
polytheism of Shinto and Japanese Buddhism.
IN JAPAN TODAY
Shinto and Buddhism
people in Japan today consider themselves Shintoist and
Buddhist, in spite of alienation from specific Buddhist
temples and Shinto shrines associated with their family.
According to a 1996 report, about 194,000,000 Japanese are
members of both religions, about 54% more than the total
population of Japan. Apparent by these numbers,
Shinto and Buddhism are not in conflict with each other
but exist peacefully together. What is not seen by
these numbers, is the number of regular worshipers and
attendees. A majority of the people go to shrines
and temples only for annual events and rituals. Some
examples of annual attendances would be the first shrine
or temple visit in the new year (hatsumode), and a visit
to the family grave during the Bon Festival. Some
rituals that are observed are those that involve the
different stages of a person's life, like a newborn's
first shrine visit (miyamairi), the Shichi-go-san Festival
shrine visit for 3 & 5 year old boys and for 3 &
7year old girls, a Shinto wedding ceremony and a Buddhist
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Information provided by
the Japanese Embassy