Adapted and enhanced by Lisa Kemmerer
For RLST 170 online
Religions of Japan.
Difficult for Westerners to understand.
Japanese idea of religiosity is different than
◦ Don’t go to temple or church regularly.
◦ Mostly based on festivals.
◦ Maintain festivals for multiple religions.
New religions are common, often a mix of
contemporary practices: a bit of Buddhism, a
bit of Shinto, some Christianity...
Ancient myths and deities
Types of Shinto
◦ Imperial Household Shinto
◦ Folk Shinto
Shinto is the only indigenous religion of Japan
Picture of the
of Izanagi and
Myths held in two volumes:
• Kojiki (Record of ancient matters)
• Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan from 720)
They stand on the floating bridge of
heaven and thrust a Heavenly
Jeweled Spear into the brine below
The spear’s dripping forms Japan.
They build a pillar (phallus—Axis
Mundi) to walk around.
Izanami speaks, and they can’t mate
because the woman isn’t supposed
to speak first
They walk back around the pillar and
Izanagi speaks first
Then they mate, beginning the
• Child of Izanagi and Izanami
• “Born” from a drip when Izanagi
used water to purify his left eye
after a visit to the polluted
netherworld (where he had gone
to collect his wife, Izanami)
• Rules the High Celestial Plain of
• Her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto,
is the grandfather of the
• His great-grandson, Jimmu,
became first emperor, 711 BC
She squabbles with her
younger brother, Susanoo no
Mikoto, who is obnoxious.
As a result, she hides herself
in a cave.
She is the sun goddess, so the
world falls into chaos and
Other divinities gathered and danced to draw her
out, using mirror and jewels as enticements. She
emerges, bringing back light.
These 2 items (mirror and jewels), along with her
brother’s sword, constitute the Imperial Regalia of
Officially: 119 million Shinto adherents
Shinto stresses harmony with nature.
Gods are believed to be everywhere:
mountains, trees, rivers, as well as in
temple, torii , and roadside shrine
1. Shrine Shinto: Most common form
Entering into a shrine is entering sacred space—
the dwelling place of kami
Like most religions, Shinto emphasizes purity
Must purify self to enter shrine
You should not visit a shrine if one of your
relatives has died recently
The most well-recognized symbol of Shinto
The torii marks off sacred space
Enter through Toriis to reach sacred space
Kamidana – household altar. Purity: Wash hands,
then make an offering (bowl of rice or an orange) to gods
Visitors wash out their
mouths before they enter
• Ise built about 600 ad
• Amaterasu is worshiped
• Sacred mirror kept at Ise
• Presided over by high
priest/priestess of the
• Prime vacation
Ise rebuilt every 20 years:
transitory nature of life
Impermanence of all things
Shimenawa – braided rice straw rope that
wards off evil spirits.
printed on small
papers that are
tied near the
Visitors ring a bell (and offer
money) to awaken the god
at the temple, who resides
in the back.
Note the fox, guardian and
messenger of the powerful rice
Omikoshi, portable platform that transports a deity during
festivals and holidays
New Years: A big event, with breaking point right after
midnight. People toss in 5 yen for good luck.
Practiced only by the emperor and his posse
Omamori Himari –protective charms.
Pieces of wood where people write prayers.
What are common prayers in Japan? Entrance
into college! Hopeful students write the name of
the college they hope to enter on the wood.
Spring, new year’s festival
Throw soybeans to drive away demons of disease
Bring good luck to new year
Four Noble Truths
◦ Life is suffering
◦ Suffering is caused by ignorance/desire
◦ Suffering ends by ending desire (Liberation)
◦ Liberation comes through following the Buddha’s
The Eightfold Path
◦ Right view
◦ Right intention
◦ Right speech
◦ Right action
◦ Right livelihood
◦ Right effort
◦ Right mindfulness
◦ Right concentration
Huge impact on Japanese literature and art
Buddhism came to Japan from China, 552 AD.
Today about 91 million followers in Japan
As with Christianity, did not spread until adopted
by ruling class
Medieval period: 1200s to 1500s.
Rise of two important Japanese Buddhist
branches: Pure Land (Jodo Shu) and Rinzai (Zen).
Founded by Nichiren—buddhist monk in the
Focus on the Lotus Sutra (buddhist text).
Amitabha (Buddha of Infinite Light) as savior
Chant to be saved: ―Namu-myo-horen-
Evangelical and radical
38Pure Land temple
Built 1252 by Pure Land branch
One of Japan’s most famous
Image of Amitabha
44 feet high
Founded by Nichiren
One of 3 branches of Zen Buddhism
Goal is to see one’s true nature
Koan’s (puzzles) central (Requires thinking outside
Rinzai became extremely powerful.
Warring States period (1450-1600), the most
beautiful city, Kyoto, burned.
Nobunaga and Hideyoshi took power.
Nobunaga hated Buddhist monks because of their
power. He burned many temples to the ground,
breaking the power of Rinzai.
Icon of the Buddha
Pictures of patriarchs
Offerings of flowers or
Funeral rights generally performed by a Buddhist priest.
Sutras chanted at intervals after a death, noting the passage of
a deceased loved one to the next level of the afterlife.
Still have large, ornate temples, but more often, much
smaller neighborhood temples.
Almost everyone is registered with their local temple..
Ringing of the bell. Important on New Year’s Day
– ringing it 108 times for the 108 sins of mankind
Obon: Festival of the Dead (August)
Spirits of ancestors come home for a visit
Family reunions, businesses close.
Festival carnivals, dancing, then spirits go home
At the close of the festival, Lights represent spirits
returning to the land of the dead.
Shinto and Buddhism closely linked
Most people practice both (as well as other
Sometimes Shinto shrines are inside the
grounds of Buddhist temples.
From Meiji period on (1850s on), the state
supported Shinto and sought to separate
Buddhism and Shinto
Not a Japanese
religion, but has much
has dominated Japan
since the late first
shaped the social
hierarchy and daily
Created a Meritocracy
Appointments and responsibilities are assigned
based on an individual’s "merits," namely
intelligence, credentials, and education,
determined through evaluations or examinations.
Not important in Japan:
Less than 1% of Japanese
people are Christian.
Portuguese shipwrecked in
Japan in 1549.
Missionary Frances Xavier
technology and goods from
the west, including guns
There was soon an
economic advantage to
Toyotomi Hideyoshi disliked Christianity
Suspicious that Christians were eyeing Japan
Great Christian persecution, including many
1590s –26 Christians were crucified in
Christianity went underground
Tokugawa Leyasu closed Japan to foreigners
◦ drove out missionaries
limited foreign presence to one small island off the
coast of Nagasaki
In Japan, people had to renounce Christianity
or risk execution.
Kakure Christians (hidden Christians)
Continued to practice.
Japanese borders reopened in1853
State Shinto maintained control, forcing rigid
adherence to Emperor as supreme head of state
Christianity suppressed until after WWII.
New Years is the
Shinto style as
Valentines Day: Women give men chocolate.
White Day (March 14): Men give women chocolate.
often in Western style.
Rich and varied history
Nonexclusive: Overlap of four traditions
Eclectic: an assortment of beliefs and practices
Flexible: have accommodated modernization and
Adapting but holding a traditional core
Shinto and Buddhism as core of Japanese
Adapted and enhanced by Lisa Kemmerer
For RLST 170 online