This is an excellent paper not only because it deals with a very important issue for understanding the Japanese, but also because it flows very logically, includes only essential information for the main argument (which is finally articulated at the end, I believe), and academic information and statistics are used very well.
Note to all: Please read this paper if you are wondering about Japanese and their attitudes towards religion--I think it's very insightful. (This is also a good model for an academic paper that contributes well to the overall goal of this course).
Japan has been developing its own culture and history while it has been influenced by other countries. Religions are certainly one of them. According to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology 107 million people believe in Shintoism, 89 million people believe in Buddism, and 10 million people believe in Christianity in Japan. The objects of the survey were religious bodies, not a nation. It seems almost all of Japanese people believe in religions. On contrast, a survey byYomiuri Shinbun, a popular newspaper in Japan, shows that 75% of Japanese people claim that they do not believe in any religions, but 54% of them rely on some kinds of gods. The discrepancy between these two results appear very peculiar. This paper explores reasons why Japanese people claim that they do not believe in any religions while they practice some religious things in two ways: one is religions as custom, another is their fear of religions.
Most of all Japanese people are religious in some ways. For example, they listen to toll of bells from Buddism temples on new year's eve and go to Shinto shrines to pray for safety for a year on new year's days. Moreover, important events in one' life are related to religions, such as Shichigosan, a wedding, and a funeral.
Despite their behaviour, Japanese think that they are not religious. They may not think these events are totally irrelevant to religions, but still call themselves not religious. Toshihiro Ama (1996) insists that Japanese tend to consider these events not religious when events have become manners and customs, even though these events originate from religions.
A judgement on an issue about kenkoku-sai shows this tendency very well. Kenkoku-sai is an event that municipalities offer rice harvested in the year to the Imperial Household for a festival calledShinjo-sai, or Niiname-sai which takes place in the Imperial Palace. The issue was whether it was against the principle of separation of politics and religion to spend public money to hold Kenkoku-sai. A court judged it was not against the principle. That was because the festival was considered as a custom or following a precedent, not a religious activity, although it is conducted in a shintoism way.
Thus, Japanese people do not consider themselves religious even they practice lots of religious events. This attitude of theirs can also explain why Japanese can join many events from multiple religions such as Shintoism and Buddism. However, it does not simply mean that they are not religious. This is part of the reasons why Japanese people call themselves not religious.
Another reason why Japanese people claim that they are not religious is that they fear certain kinds of religions. Ama (1996) puts religions into two categories: one is Sosho-shukyo, another is Shizen-shukyo. Shosho-shukyo represents religions which have certain founders and doctrines such as Christianity and Islam. On contrast, Shizen-shukyo or ‘natural religion’ represents religions which origins and doctrines are not clear such as animism.
Japanese people fear Shosho-Shukyo in two ways. Firstly, Shosho-shukyo has negative connotations for them. The religions tend to be exclusive. People outside the religions somehow feel awkward when they have to join religious events even the religions themselves do not deny other religions. Besides, Japanese tend to associate the religions with cults or some strange spiritual organizations. Secondary, believing shosho-shukyo entails facing to unconquerable unfairness and contradictions in one’s life. Those religions were fundamentally established to confront these serious problems. Those who live without unconquerable issues do not face these issues, and thus, fear those religions.
Japanese people are afraid of saying that they believe in religions and claim that they are not religious since they fear those religions as discussed above. By claiming not being religious, they mean they do not believe in only one sosho-shukyo and they do not mean they are atheists. Being religious is believing only one sosho-shukyo for them.
In summary, Japanese people are religious in a sense that they practice some religious things. However, they are not ‘religious’ by their definition. Being religious for Japanese is believing only one sosho-shukyo. Participating in some religious events not only from sosho-shukyo but also shizen-shukyo is not religious if events are familiar enough to be called ‘manners and customs’. To understand idea behind being religious or not is very crucial to deal with the contradiction that Japanese regard themselves
as not religious.
日本人はなぜ無宗教なのか 阿満 利麿 筑摩書房 1996
鈴木 隆行, 足立 祥子 (2002, 4, June) 日本人はなぜ無宗教か Retrieved from http://philolaw.hp.infoseek.co.jp/resume/2002b/20020604.html
Christian today (2005, 2, September) 宗教信じない７５％ 神仏すがりたい５４％ 読売新聞が世論調査 Retrieved from http://www.christiantoday.co.jp/main/society-news-315.html
文部科学省 (2007, 31, December) 全国寺社教会等宗教団体・信者・信者数 Retrieved from http://www.mext.go.jp/component/b_menu/other/__icsFiles/afieldfile/...