Religion and Faith

Most Japanese do not exclusively identify themselves as adherents to a single religion; rather, they incorporate different and seemingly contradictory elements of various religions in a fashion known as “Shinbutsu shūgō” (神仏習合, an amalgamation of kami and buddhas). “Shinbutsu shūgō” officially ended with the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order of 1886 but continues in practice. Shinto and Japanese Buddhism are therefore best understood not as two completely separate and competing faiths but rather as a single, rather complex religious system.

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Japan enjoys full religious freedom, and minority religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism are practiced. Figures stating that 84% to 96% of Japanese adhere to Shinto and Buddhism are not based on self-identification but come primarily from birth records, following a longstanding practice of officially associating a family line with a local Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. About 70% of Japanese profess no religious membership, and 84% claim no personal religion. In census questionnaires, less than 15% reported any formal religious affiliation by 2000.

Despite the general attitude towards religion and faith in Japan, the Japanese celebrate Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween annually with a commercial bonanza. Easter is yet to be recognized, even commercially, in Japan.

As a foreigner living in Japan, you shouldn’t find it too hard, if you wish, to connect with a religious or faith-based community. It may be more difficult if you are living in an isolated area, but if you are flexible and willing to travel, you are likely to find something that matches your needs.