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The Importance of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan

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Formerly an economics and humanities student at UCLA, Oe Kaori is now an intern for the United Nations.


The Importance of Two Religious Institutions in Japan

If you are interested in Buddhism and Shinto, Japan is full of fascinating places to visit. The Japanese see Buddha and many of the "Shinto-Kami" worshipped practically in the same breath. Japanese temples, often side by side with Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. A typical "Japanese temple" is carefully planned, masterfully built, lavishly decorated and often has both a Shinto and a Buddhist element.

This strange mix of Shinto and Buddhism has been present in Japan since the mid-nineteenth century, when the new government ordered the separation of "Shinto" from Buddhism. Buddhist institutions were attacked in the early years of the Meiji period, when the later government favored Shinta as the state religion and tried to separate and emancipate it from the Buddhists, Buddhism was attacked again, but eventually it was treated with respect. The attempt to suppress Buddhism by destroying Buddhist temples between 1868 and 1874 did not achieve its final goal.

Even more curious is the strong link between Shinto and Hinduism, but although the two major religions in Japan are both "Shinto" and "Buddhism," it is hard to find anyone who observes one of them completely unmixed with the other. Buddhism came from India to China and spread all over Asia, and in a strange way Buddhism is also separated from Japan and Thailand. It is only in the sense that they are connected, and vice versa, because of the strange way Buddhism separates Japan from Thailand. In a way, Shinto and Buddhism are very different, but both have arisen from a combination of two ancient religions, the ancient and the modern, both with their own traditions and traditions. The "Shinto" (prehistoric cults) were born and have only ever lived within Japan.

Although the indigenous practices of the Shinto never disappeared and many of its traditions merged with Buddhist, some became quite influential in the post-war period.

As Buddhism and Shintoism became more and more intertwined, Buddhist temples began to take their orientation from the shin shrines, and were thus very different from Buddhist temples. Buddhist monks could no longer double as Shinto priests, so the temples were built to help the Shinto gods become Buddha, as they recognized the lower Buddha and therefore needed to reach nirvana in the way humans do. They were accepted as guardian gods of the Buddhist temples and temples that were built on their premises, as well as guardians of their gods.

Esoteric Buddhism tried to include Shinto in its interpretation of the world by the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, arguing that the "Shinto-Kami" were Japanese manifestations of this kind. This was achieved by identifying them with the various "Buddhas" and "Bodhisatvas" who had grown up in Mahayana Buddhism.

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Japan's Modern Day Context on Buddhism and Shinto Religion

This syncretism with Buddhism lasted until the collapse of the Edo time system in the mid-19th century. The Edo period of this system collapsed due to a wave of anti-Buddhist sentiment that triggered a campaign to remove Buddhist influence from the Shinto shrines and to persuade the government to make Shinto the national religion.

Government data based on census data from temples and shrines show that Japan is roughly divided between Buddhist and Shinto followers, with people in both camps counted. Today, most visitors to Shinto Shrine are Buddhists, but there are also a large number of non-Buddhist followers. The State Shinto was once a national religion to which all citizens belonged, and there are many temples, shrines, and other religious institutions in the country, such as temples in Tokyo.

Although Shinto is extremely old and native to Japan, few Japanese are purely "Shinto" in the sense that it originates from Japan; in fact, most follow both its rituals and Buddhist practices. Many Buddhist temples in Japan are located in the same place as Shinto shrines, so no one has to try to distinguish between the two different Japanese religions. This symbolic syncretization of Shinasinism and Buddhism is illustrated by the presence of many Buddhist monasteries and temples in Japan and other parts of the world. Moreover, about 80% of Japanese in their twenties and thirties believe in Shinai, or "Shintoism," while only 10% practice Buddhism. Statistics show that 66.8% of Japanese are Buddhists, 1.5% Christians and 7.1% belong to another religion.



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