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Shinto and Buddhism

Meiji Jingu inTokyo (Shinto shrine)
Official Site English Japanese

Senso-ji in Tokyo (Buddhist temple)
Official Site English Chinese Korean Japanese

I introduce Japanese religious circumstances. However, it is often difficult for the Japanese to explain this religion, and, this is exactly Wonder Japan for the foreigner. Please read the following.

According to a recent survey, the number of Shinto followers in Japan was 107 million, there were 91 million Buddhists, and 2.6 million Christians. But the total number of people who belong to these three major religions is about 200.6 million, more than the entire population. This means most Japanese belong to both the Shinto and Buddhist religions. Shintoism and Buddhism have co-existed in Japan since the 6th century, when Buddhism was introduced from Korea, partly because of the tolerant nature of Shintoism. Shinto is an indigenous religion based on the worship of nature. It has no founder, no dogma, no scripture and it's most important concept is purity. The greatest Shinto impurity is death, and it's always considered taboo. On the contrary, Buddhism teaches how to escape the agonies of life and to reach nirvana, or enlightenment. Therefor, most Japanese go to Shinto shrines for occasions related to this life such as the christening of babies or weddings and go to Buddhist temples on occasions related to life after death, such as funerals.

Question 1
How can you distinguish Shinto shrines from Buddhist temples?

Answer 1
The easiest way to tell the difference is by looking at their gates. Shinto shrine gates are called Torii which consist of two upright pillars connected on top by two beams while Buddhist temples gates are more ornate and have Chinese-style roofs.

Torii at Meiji Jingu inTokyo (Shinto shrine)

Buddhist temples gate at Senso-ji in Tokyo

And clothes of Shinto priests and Buddhist monks are different.

Shinto priests
Their clothes are vivid. Moreover, they wear a peculiar hat to the head.

Buddhist monks
Their clothes are a subdued color, and no hat.

Question 2
Can Shinto priests and Buddhist monks marry?

Answer 2
A Shinto priest can marry because Shintoism doesn't deny human nature. According to Japan's oldest history book, the Kojiki, even Shinto gods fall in love and show their jealousy. Buddhist monks were only allowed to marry officially after 1872.

Question 3
Is it true that most Japanese don't have a strong faith in any religion?

Answer 3
Generally, yes. According to statistics, most Japanese have at least one religion, but when you ask them which religion they belive in, most will answer that they don't have one. That's because Shintoism and Buddhism are practiced in their daily customs instead of as their religion. Some of them even find it difficult to explain the difference between these two religions.

Miko no Mai (Miko's dance)
Miko is a girl in the service of Shinto shrine. Their dances are performed sometimes. You are very lucky if you saw this dance in your sightseeing.

Did you understand about Japanese religious circumstances? The religion is free also in Japan, Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, etc. And many Japanese have no interest in religion, so there are not opposition of religion in Japan, and we do not learn the religion. Of course, the religion is not studied in the school too. After I had grown up, I knew the word of Shinto though I often went to Shinto shrine in the festival at childhood. And, we go to temple only in the funeral or famous temple by sightseeing. Therefore, most Japanese cannot explain the religion of Japan. This might be mysterious for you. However, this is true.

Shinto shrine and Buddhist temple are good for sightseeing. A lot of these are in various regions in Japan. And Meiji Jingu and Senso-ji in Tokyo is one of famous, so please visit there if you have time in your travel.

Thank you.

Comment List

affesee 2010/11/21 (Sun) 03:47 Edit/Delete

You certainly have some agreeable opinions and views. Your blog provides a fresh look at the subject.

Kitapella E-Mail 2011/05/24 (Tue) 10:04 Edit/Delete

I’ve been visiting your blog for a while now and I always find a gem in your new posts. Thanks for sharing.