Japan, although influenced by other Asian countries like China, still maintains a culture and religion that are uniquely Japanese. Throughout the centuries, the Japanese have developed their own writing, myths, and religion which form a big part of what Japan is today. Their culture is also very influential on how they exercise their beliefs and what they believed in. It is not unusual for a Japanese to have more than one religion. But lack of belief in a specific religion does not mean a rejection of religious practices or of participation in religious rituals. (Reader, et. al. 33)
Modern Japanese are not eager to declare themselves as religious but religion in Japan has always been more a matter of participation in religious rituals (Reader, et. al. 34) Japan has two major religions: Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto Before the coming of Buddhism in the 6th century, the original religious cult was the “Early Shinto”. This kind of religion was found in the chronicles called the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, which outline the myths centering around the Imperial House, and the Engishiki which contains detailed descriptions of the Early Shinto prayers and rituals.
There were other cults belonging to the masses which were only orally transmitted and never written down, so the term Early Shinto usually refers to the religion of the Imperial Court. (Reader, et. al. 34) The term Shinto is associated with the Japanese Imperial family, and the system of government that they represented. Indeed, the term for the religious ritual, matsuri-goto, was the same term used to denote government in early Japan. (Hawkins 293). Shinto was originally a religion aimed at propitiating the spirits or gaining their aid.
(Hawkins 290) The Japanese during the Early Shinto believed that the universe has three levels: the High Plain of Heaven (Takamagahara) where the gods (kami) dwell, the world known to man, and yomi, a polluted nether world. The kami are the spiritual powers or gods who could be benevolent to man but could also punish man in the form of illness, fire and other accidents. There was no full-grown ethical system but the Great Purification ritual (o-harai) in the Engishiki lists a number of earthly offenses to be avoided. (34) Buddhism
Buddhism came to Japan during the arrival of a Korean monk in 552 A. D. , as told in the chronicles of Nihonshoki. The korean monk arrived in Japan from the kingdom of Paekche with Buddhist scriptures and a gilded image of the Buddha. (Hawkins 295) Buddhism changed the outlook on life of the Japanese which taught them to reject our world full of suffering. However, they did not fully embrace the Buddhist doctrines of suffering and reincarnation but they only concentrated on two functions of Buddhism. The first has to do with death and the pacifying of evil spirits.
The second function was to offer magical spells for various benefits such as prosperity, health and peace—a function, like the death ceremonies, which continues today. (Reader,et. al. 35) Buddhism was the religion of the nobility and the upper classes. The coming of the religion created a feud among the aristocratic families who struggled between Shinto and Buddhism. Eventually, those seeking to venerate the Buddhas overcame those who supported the Shinto. (Reader, et. al. 35). Japan’s emperor, Emperor Yomei, formally converted to the new faith in 586 A. D. It was also in 586 A.
D, when the Emperor Yomei’s son, the renowned statesman, Prince Shotoku Taishi, firmly established Buddhism in Japan. (Hawkins 296). Prince Shotoku’s 17 article constitution of 604 A. D, with its foundations on Buddhist ethics, set out the principles for governing the country. (Reader, et. al 36) However, Buddhism of this early period was continued to be viewed as magic. The images of the Buddha were viewed as a talisman and not as a revered teacher. (Hawkins 297) By 730 A. D, it was becoming evident to the Japanese government that Buddhism was a necessary prop to their rule.
Thus, under Emperor Shomu, a new system of national temples—the kanbunji system—was inaugurated in 741. This system mandated the maintenance of official temples in all the provincial capitals. (Hawkins 300). Buddhism flourished at the old capital of Nara in the 8th century, developing six schools of thought: Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusha, Ritsu and Kegon. However, none of these classical schools of Nara Buddhism have a large following today. (Reader at. al 36) The next Buddhist wave saw the growth of two sects, Tendai and Shingon, which are of importance today.
They belong to the Heian (Kyoto) Period (794-1185) and were competitors, each with a mountain stronghold, Hiei-san and Koya-san. Tendai gave priority to the Lotus Sutra, one of the most important Mahayana Buddhist texts and probably the most important in Japan, whereas Shingon reveres two mandalas (sacred depictions of the Buddhist universe) which provide the adherents with mystic ensight into Buddhist doctrines. (Reader, at. al 36). Towards the end of the Heian Period and in the beginning of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), Buddhism became a truly popular religion, due to the Amidist schools.
These schools, of which Jodo and Jodo-shin are the biggest today, turned Buddhism into a religion of salvation, in which the believers rely on salvation through the benevolence of Amida Buddha. It is believed that the world is considered evil and man is helpless, and only through the complete faith in Amida Buddha and by repeating the invocation, Namu Amida Buddha (Praised by Amida Buddha), can salvation occur, with Amida welcoming man into his paradise, ‘The Pure Land’. (Reader, at. al. 36)
There were other religions that were developed during Kamakura period. The two zen sects emphasize self-help, either through zazen (sitting meditation), as in Soto Zen, or through koan (meditation puzzles), as in Rinzai Zen. One of the Zen schools, the Nichiren sect, founded and named after Nichiren, preached a terrestrial paradise in a future Japan and for this reason he is popular to this day among nationalists. One of its offshoots is the new religion called Soka Gakkai, which has a large following today.
(Reader, at. al 37) The Revival of Shinto The Shinto revival in the 18th century was a movement to rediscover Shinto in its purity. At the same time, two ideas were developed: the notion of a Japanese golden age in the past before Japan got corrupted and flooded by Chinese thought, and the belief in the superiority of the Japanese race because of the special act of divine creation related in the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki myths. The Japanese have always thought of their race as superior than that of other races.
(Reader,et. al 39) It was during the movement known as the Kokugako or “National Learning”, when various intellectuals, like Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), paved the way for the nationalism of the Meiji period. He underlined the authority of the Kojiki as the scriptural basis for a reanimated Shinto. He and his colleagues rejected the artificialities of Confucian and Buddhist thought, and drew on the naturalistic themes of Chuang-tzu to defend obedience to the kami.
The reinforcement by the Kokugaku school of reverence for the imperial tradition helped to stimulate the restoration of the emperor’s rule under the Meiji revolution. (Smart 233). From the middle of the 19th century, the combination of the Confucian ethics and Shinto myths became a powerful force as seen in such documents of the time as the Imperial Rescript on Education (1890). Shinto was separated from Buddhism and with help from the new Meiji government, Buddhist temples were for a brief period forcibly converted into Shinto shrines or torn down.
(Reader, et. al. 39) Shinto became a state religion. They made all Japanese observe the rituals of official Shinto. In nominating Shinto as the necessary part of the ethos of Japan, the Meiji government was giving formal expression to the importance of the nation over other values. (Smart 234) The fatal connection between Shinto and Confucianism is well known. It had great success in the 1930s, through the kokutai philosophy, which preached belief in Japan as the country chosen by the Shinto gods and Japan as one body with the Emperor as the father-figure head.
However, it ended in a disaster with total military defeat at the end of the Second World War, which forced the renunciation of the Emperor’s divinity and the instigation of real religious freedom under the new constitution. (Reader, et. al. 39) Other religions There are other religions in Japan. The Taoism, which was an early chinese influence and was absorbed into Buddhism and Shinto; Confucianism, also a chinese influence but did not become a proper religion in Japan, only ruled the ethics of the country; Christianity, which became a religion in Japan, especially after the Second World War; and other new religions.But among these religions, it is the Shinto and the Buddhism which are mainly practiced by the Japanese people.
Hawkins, Bradley K. Introduction to Asian Religions Laurence King Publishing (2004) Reader, Ian; Esben Andreasen and Finn Stefanson Japanese Religions Past & Present, published by Japan Library (1993) Smart, Ninian Religions of AsiaSample Essay of PaperDon.com