1500 Rakan Statues of Mount Nokogiri

People sometimes ask me what religion Japanese people practice.  I usually end up saying that Japanese people aren’t very religious at all.  But paradoxically, if you go to Japan, you encounter huge shrines at tourists’ spots and there are numerous smaller ones across the country in many forms.  You visit a Japanese household, you might also find a shrine, a box shaped prayer spot, called butsudan.

There certainly are indications that Japanese society is bound together, to a certain extent, with beliefs, values and norms deriving from variations of Buddhism and Shintoism.

To me, who grew up in Japan, it is natural to perceive such a traditional framework as a cohesive layer that can be loosely described as sort of “religious”.  It guides traditional ceremonies and rituals of life, death and spiritual, and it contributes to world views of the Japanese people in varying degrees.

However, it should also be noted that this framework really does not address fundamental existential questions for the Japanese people today. In other words, people would go along with the customary rituals as long as they facilitate their social interactions and obligations; however, as soon as they impede their material necessity, they can be set aside. Japanese society is extremely secular and the grip of the socioeconomic hierarchy over its people is very firm.  After all, Japan has played a crucial role as an economic power in the western hegemony for generations after it…

Read more