Religion in Japan

Despite over sixty percent of Japanese people claim to be atheists, Buddhism plays an important part in Japanese society.
Despite over sixty percent of Japanese people claim to be atheists, Buddhism plays an important part in Japanese society.

Religion is an interesting topic for most Japanese people, and one that's approached in a different manner from most countries, not just in Asia but in the Western world. Despite records stating that almost all Japanese people are close adherents to Buddhism, the country is one of the most secular in East Asia, and is home to a wide variety of different religious and non-religious beliefs.

Buddhism is etched into Japan's society, not just in former laws but in the culture of the nation. In the late 19th century, a bill known as the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order split Japan's laws and legislature from being tied to Buddhism, at the time the country's religion, to being tied to the spirituality of Shinto – the native spiritual belief of Japan and of the Japanese people.

Of course, in real life, religion in Japan is a fairly complex subject, and one that can be confusing for visitors to the country. Is Japan religious? Technically, it's one of the least religious countries in the world. While most Japanese families align themselves with a community Buddhist temple and register the births of their children there, most profess no religion, nor do they believe in a god.

In most polls, between sixty and seventy percent of Japanese people claim to be atheists, although the culture of Buddhism plays an important part in Japanese society. Shinto, a spiritual belief in the rituals of old Japan, is reflected in beautiful shrines that dot the country. Over 100 million Japanese people take part in Shinto in some form, although most view it as cultural rather than religious.

Buddhism is the country's major secondary religion. Many of the same people that take part in the Shinto culture – considered an important part of Japanese ancient culture – are also involved in a form of Buddhist worship and religious life. Buddhist festivals are widely celebrated in Japan and are an important part of the country's calendar, with celebrations in most major cities.

Despite its somewhat complicated religious and spiritual views, Japan is an accepting place for all religious visitors, and is home to vibrant communities of Muslims, Christians, and other religions. Japan is home to almost three million Christians, and churches and other places of worship tend to be easy to find in major cities and large towns.

While Japan isn't an actively religious country, its history is very closely tied to the religions of its past. Shinto shrines are spread throughout the country, occupying some of the country's best views and hilltop areas. It's difficult to pass through Japan without feeling the influence of Shinto culture and Buddhism at least once, as temples and places of worship are easy to spot in all cities.

Bizarrely, perhaps in a nod to Japan's large cultural ties to the Western world and the United States in particular, Western-style Christian weddings are common in Japan, despite the country's limited history of Christianity. Traditional Shinto-style weddings are the second choice for most couples in the country, showing the influence of Western religion and religious traditions.

While Japan lacks a large base of religious people, it remains a nation whose identity is linked to its spirituality, whether it's Shinto, Buddhism, or one of many minor religions in the country. With one of the world's best scores from religious freedom indexes and a large community of residents from other countries, it's rare to enter Japan without some place of religious worship for you to visit.