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Religion in Japan Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 7th, 2021


Japan is a civilization with many unique cultural and religious aspects which has dictated its people’s behavior for many centuries. Unlike in different European and American nations, the citizens of this country uphold unique ideas informed by the concepts of Buddhism and Shintoism. Analyzing the nature of these attributes and insights can make it easier for many scholars and historians to learn more about this region’s belief system. The purpose of this research paper is to give a detailed description of these three major Japanese religions: Buddhism, Shintoism, and Daoism.

Background Information

For hundreds of years, the selected society has followed a unique belief system characterized by different ideologies and faiths. The most unusual observation is that followers of such religions do not contradict or challenge each other. Instead, they coexist and focus on concepts that can support their goals and expectations in life. Before the end of the Second World War, the leading religions in Japan supported the notion of powerful emperors (Hardcare 22). These leaders were seen as gods, respected, and even followed. The end of this global upheaval triggered a new model whereby many citizens began to separate issues of faith from those of existence. However, they continued to follow or support various rituals, practices, and ideas that had defined their culture for several centuries.

Today, the idea of religion in Japanese society exists as a mish-mash of ideologies and teachings from Buddhism and Shintoism. Another pertinent observation in this country is that worship is not organized as is the case in the West. This means that people treat religion as a source of inspiration and guidance that dictate the way they should pursue their goals in life (Hardcare 29). It is a moral code that forms the integral aspects of the people’s cultural and social values.

Ellwood goes further to reveal that Japanese religion remains a family or personal affair that lacks the influence of the state or community leaders (15). Many people do not claim to be religious or worship frequently. The major practices of spiritual ideas tend to occur during rituals, such as the ones for death, birth, and marriage. Such ceremonies are known as matsuri and take place throughout the year.

Religious Beliefs

After many centuries of cultural influence and transformation, several traditions and practices form an integral part of the Japanese religion today. Some of the leading faiths or belief systems include Shintoism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Confucianism is also a religion commonly found throughout Japanese society which has many followers all across the country. New religions that arose from the 19th century are becoming a common feature of life in Japanese society (Ellwood 11). The discussion below gives a detailed analysis of the leading belief systems in this country.


This remains a common religion in Japan since it is associated with the history, origin, and nature of all Japanese people. This aspect explains why many researchers and historians examine it as the country’s indigenous spirituality (Hardcare 17).

According to followers of this faith, all-natural and living things have some form of god or kami. These include animals, water, flowers, and trees. This kind of thought explains why the leading principles of Shinto are identifiable in every aspect of Japanese culture. For example, the Japanese consider the naturalness or order of things to the designing of their buildings and gardens (Ellwood 34). The annual celebration called sakura depicts the blossoming nature of flowers and plants.

The Japanese believe that Shintoism is what guides human beings to focus on the spirituality of life and that of the natural world. This religion encourages many people to celebrate marriage and birth (Ellwood 17). They also use its principles and teachings to engage in prayers whenever expecting good harvest seasons. Religion is associated with shrines that tend to have huge gates known as torii (Hardcare 51). Such places of worship usually have water troughs or fountains to symbolize life.

Historians acknowledge that the nature and originality of Shintoism explain why there are no sacred texts. This is true since it emerged from the people’s rituals and ideologies and has been inherited from one generation to the next.

The founders of this religion focused on the nature of the seasons and how people are connected to this (Baffelli 59). They went further to combine such notions with harvests, tree planting practices, offerings, and birth ceremonies. Members of the community engaged in all rituals in an attempt to transform their relationships with the kami (Hardcare 83). Even though many people considered the ideology of Shinto to legitimize the country’s involvement in the Second World War, it has always been a religion of communities, agriculture, and nature.


The ideologies and concepts of Buddhism became common in Japan around the 6th century. This religion is believed to have originated from India whereby its followers focused on the best approaches to get rid of suffering (Ellwood 20). According to the teachings of Buddha, all people at some point become sick or weak and eventually die. With this kind of understanding, religion explains how the idea of rebirth is possible.

Those who want to expel pain should, therefore, pursue a journey to a new form of reality or understanding. This achievement is usually known as nirvana (Baffelli 81). The religion indicated that all human beings and things on earth existed in an interdependent network. This meant that all people were required to pursue a new form of thinking and ignore the problem of self-centeredness. Such a practice would guide them to embrace the concepts of Buddhist morality, wisdom, and meditation.

By the 8th century, Japanese society managed to appreciate the teachings and ideas of Buddhism. The establishment of Nara city encouraged the Japanese court to take the idea of Buddhism seriously. During this time, many scholars supported the creation of different Buddhist sects, thereby fostering a strong foundation for this religion. Over the years, new ideologies and branches of Buddhism continued to emerge, including Mahayana, Zen, Nichiren, and Pure Land (Dessi 48).

Today, this religion has leaders, priests, and monks who guide their followers to meditate and achieve nirvana. Around 90 million citizens in this country consider themselves Buddhists and follow its ideology (Baffelli 102). This belief system does not influence or affect the life of its followers strongly. However, funerals are usually informed by the ideology and concepts of this faith. Many people also have altars or visit temples to pay respect or honor their ancestors.


Another religion many Japanese follow is that of Daoism. Having originated from China, this belief system inspires and guides people to engage in shamanistic practices. This means that believers focus on high states of consciousness in an attempt to interact with their gods and introduce the acquired ideas to the world (Dessi 29). This approach is what makes Daoism a superstitious religious practice. There are specific rituals that followers of this system take into consideration, such as uchi-soto and setsubun. Believers chant and repeat different phrases depending on the intended goals or outcomes.

Daoists engage in practices whereby they call upon ogamiyasan. These forms of consultation are essential to ensure that activities are completed efficiently or successfully, such as house construction. Followers of this religion also embrace the idea of fortune-telling or Tengenjutsu and are usually aware of the best actions or activities to consider. After the establishment of this religion, a practice called Shegundo was developed (Ellwood 57). This is a form of worship whereby followers visit mountains and engage in shamanistic practices. This religious model has also influenced different aspects of Shintoism, including Ise (Dessi 98). Daoists are also known to stay awake during the night and the day to perform specific rituals to achieve their objectives in life.


The above discussion has identified and described the nature of religious worship and practice in Japan. It has analyzed the three major belief systems that people in this country associate with. It is also evident that the aspects, norms, and concepts of the three religions appear to converge. Nonetheless, each ideology has continued to exist without affecting the survival or effectiveness of the other while guiding people to achieve their spiritual goals.

Works Cited

Baffelli, Erica. Media and New Religions in Japan. Routledge, 2016.

Dessi, Ugo. The Global Repositioning of Japanese Religions: An Integrated Approach. Routledge, 2017.

Ellwood, Robert. Introducing Japanese Religion. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2016.

Hardcare, Helen. Shinto: A History. Oxford University Press, 2017.

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