Japanese Culture: The Beliefs of Shintoism and Buddhism

May 08, 2023


Religion is considered a moral code and way of life for the Japanese, yet it is separated from the rules and regulations of the state. It is rarely preached across the country. Nonetheless, it is expressed in Japan's social and cultural values and religious heritages such as temples and shrines.


Long ago, Japan’s religion revolved around the image of the Emperor as the living God, with his ability to mediate and lead the country. The end of World War II marked the collapse of religious belief as it paved the way for secularization. Today, Japan lives in harmony with various religions, with the most common ones being the teachings of Shintoism and Buddhism.


Shintoism is Japan’s ancient religion based around belief and respect for living things in nature that have kami or gods. On the other hand, Buddhism believes in meditation to achieve inner nature, compassion and wisdom which originated in China. As Shintoism believes in the value of life and its surroundings, Buddhism explains the essence of one’s soul. Both complementing religions have a major influence on Japan’s culture and way of life.

In Shintoism, many people visit shrines with the torii or the red entrance gate. To visit shrines, there are customs that you are expected to follow. Upon entering the Torii gate, you must walk through either a little to the left or right. As you enter, you will need to wash your hands and mouth to purify one’s spirit. Then, you can look for the long thick rope at the front of an altar and pray by ringing the bell, throwing a coin as an offering and then clapping and clasping your hands to pray.


Buddhism has a different practice of worship - the temple. Similar to the customs in shrines, visitors are to clean their hands and mouths before entering the altar. Next, they take their shoes off before entering and kneeling to pray. Additionally, many temples have osenko or incense, used in prayer to purify one's soul.


Kyoto is one of the popular places where temples and shrines reside. You can also visit Nara, the birthplace of Japan’s Buddhism, where you can experience the Buddha statue and some artefacts. There are many fascinating shrines and temples to visit. If you have an interest in Buddhism or Shinto now is the time to explore Japan’s religious heritages.


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