History of Religion in Japan
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Our digital history of religion in Japan deals primarily with Shintoism and Buddhism, and many Japanese people practice both simultaneously. As many as 80% of the populace practice Shinto rituals at least occasionally, worshiping ancestors and nature spirits at altars and shrines. About as many describe themselves as Buddhists. This unique Japanese genius for syncretism is manifest throughout Japanese religious practice.
As many as 80% of the populace follow Shinto rituals to some degree, worshiping ancestors and spirits at domestic altars and public shrines. An almost equally high number is reported as Buddhist. Syncretic combinations of both, known generally as shinbutsu-shūgō, are common. They represented Japan’s dominant religious practice before the rise of State Shinto in the 19th century.
Spirituality and worship are highly eclectic and personalized, and religious affiliation is an alien notion. While the vast majority of Japanese citizens follow Shinto, only some 3% identify as such, because the term is understood to imply membership of Shinto sects. While some people identify as “without religion”, this does not signify irreligion. The rhetoric of non-religiousness (mushūkyō) and its associations with Japanese identity have roots in the early modern Tokugawa state policy against Christianity. More than two-thirds of Japanese say they do not believe in any religion.
The most common attributes of religion in contemporary Japan are an emphasis on rites and practices over doctrines, as well as a concern for worldly benefits and well-being.
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