Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Religion of Japan

Ask a Japanese person what there religion is and you'll certainly get a puzzled look - Since the end of Word War II, Japanese culture has embraced all things Western (at least outwardly) and there is really no more religion of Japan.

One of the chief victims of this social revolution has been the religious life of the Japanese. And certainly if there is to be a future for Japanese culture, there must be a reconciliation with its rich and colorful past.

Prior to the second World War Japan had two major japanese religions/philosophies: Buddhism, which was an import to Japanese Culture from China and Korea, and then the native Shinto religion, which is a pagan religion not unlike the kind of seen in Classical Rome and Greece with multiple Gods.

Many in the west think of Japanese Buddhism and Zen, but there the number of people in Japan who practice japanese Buddhism is quite small.

During the War, the Japanese military establishment co-opted many of the Shinto leaders and shrines, turning them into vehicles for nationalism. These efforts, followed by the catastrophic end to the war, left many Japanese disillusioned with formal religion, and made a the religion of Japan a kind of "cafeteria" religion.

Today Japan is arguable one of the most secular (non-religious) countries in the world. And while the Japanese love all things Western, religious imports from the west - namely Christianity - has not fared so well. It's estimated that Christians make up just 1-5% of the population.

Yet buried in this reality is a tale of religious bravery from the first Christians in Japan - Catholics baptized by the efforts of the great St. Francis Xavier in the 1500s; many of these early Catholics were martyred for refusing to denounce their faith.

On Nov. 24 at a ceremony in Japan, the Roman Catholic Church declared 188 of these men and women "blessed" which is step on the way to sainthood. Here is an article on the martyrs and early Japanese Catholics: The Samurai with the Cross. From the Acts of the Martyrs of Japan.

These days only the outer forms of Japanese religion seem to have survived in Japanese culture. There is a famous saying in Japan that one is born Shinto, married Christian (i.e. a wedding in a chapel) and buried Buddhist.

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