In the year 1542, the first Europeans from Portugal landed on Kyushu in
Western Japan. The two historically most important things they imported to
Japan were gunpowder and Christianity. The Japanese barons on Kyushu
welcomed foreign trade especially because of the new weapons, and,
therefore, tolerated the Jesuit missionaries. The missionaires were successful
in converting quite large numbers of people in Western Japan including
members of the ruling class. In 1550, Francis Xavier also undertook a mission
to the capital Kyoto.
Towards the end of the 16th century, the Jesuits lost their monopoly position
in Japan when Franciscan missionaries arrived in Kyoto despite a first banning
edict by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1597, Hideyoshi proclaimed a more serious
banning edict and executed 26 Christians in Nagasaki as a warning. Tokugawa
Ieyasu and his successors continued the persecution of Christianity in several
The main reason which led to the complete extinction of Christianity in Japan
by 1638 were the government's intentions to excert absolute control over its
people. This would not have been possible with the interference of an
aggressive and intolerant foreign religion like Christianity of that time.
In 1873 after the Meiji restoration, freedom of religion was promulgated, and
especially since World War II the number of Japanese Christians has been
slowly increasing again.
Monument for the 26 Christians in
Today, about one to two million Japanese are Christians (about 1% of
Japan's population). Many of them live inWestern Japan where the
missionaries' activities were greatest during the 16th century.
A few Christian customs have become quite popular also among the
non-Christian population. Such customs are the wearing of white
dresses at weddings or the celebration of St.Valentine's Day and, to a
certain grade, also Christmas
Buddhism originated in India in the 6th century BC. It consists of the teachings
of the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha. Of the main branches of Buddhism, it is
the Mahayana or "Greater Vehicle" Buddhism which found its way to Japan.
Buddhism was imported to Japan via China and Korea in the form of a present
from the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche) in the 6th century.
While Buddhism was welcomed by the ruling nobles as Japan's new state
religion, it did not initially spread among the common people due to its
There were also a few initial conflicts with Shinto, Japan's native religion. The
two religions were soon able to co-exist and even complement each other.
During the Nara Period, the great Buddhist monasteries in the capital Nara,
such as Todaiji, gained strong political influence and were one of the reasons
for the government to move the capital to Nagaoka in 784 and then to Kyoto
in 794. Nevertheless, the problem of politically ambitious and militant
monasteries remained a main issue for the governments over many centuries
of Japanese history.
During the early Heian Period, two new Buddhist sects were introduced from
China: the Tendai sect in 805 by Saicho and the Shingon sect in 806 by Kukai.
More sects later branched off the Tendai sect. Among these, the most
important ones are mentioned below:
Buddhism has had a major influence on the culture and development of Japan
over the centuries, and remains an important part of the culture. About 90
million people in Japan claim to be Buddhist practitioners and/or believers,
which accounts for about 70% of the population. Due to syncretism in Japan,
many Buddhists also profess adherence to Shinto – these are not exclusive,
and there is substantial overlap. In modern times, Japan's most popular
schools of Buddhism are Amidist (Pure Land), Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon
Buddhism and Zen Buddhism.
The root of the Japanese word for Buddhism, bukkyō (仏教?
) comes from 仏
(butsu, “buddha”) + 教 (kyō, “teaching”).
BUDDHIST INFLUENCES ON JAPANESE CULTURE
) Grace at Meals
b) Daily Greetings
c) The Game of Janken (Scissors, Paper, Rock)
d) Furoshiki (Japanese Wrapping Cloth)
e) Daruma Dolls
f) Origami (Folding Paper Figures)
g) Furo (The Japanese Bath)
Below is a list of the annual events held at most Buddhist temples in Japan,
followed by a short explanation of each event.
January 1st: Shusho Service (New Year’s Day)
February 3rd: Setsubun Service (The Heralding of Spring)
February 15th: Nehan Service (The Buddha’s Nirvana)
March 21st and September 23rd*:
Higan Service (Spring and Fall Equinox)
April 8th: Hana Matsuri (The Birth of the Buddha)
July 15th: O-Bon (Buddhist Memorial Day)
Summer: Segaki Service (Buddhist Thanksgiving)
December 8th: Jodo Service (The Buddha’s Enlightenment)
December 31st: Joya Service (New Year’s Eve)
(*Note: Spring and Fall Equinox Days vary from year to year according to the
revolution of the earth around the sun.)