The modern period of Japanese History has been characterized by three major religious trends. These trends have taken place as Japan moved from the Tokugawa era into the turbulent period of the Meiji and Imperial periods, as well as the post-war period. Japanese religiousness in the Meiji period was most notably Shinto-oriented, as the newly-formed Emperor-centric government sought to appear more modern and secular by emphasizing Shinto practices over other religious traditions present in Japan at the time. This emphasis of Shinto practice contributed largely to the nationalistic sense which allowed for Japan's entry into WWII.
After the constitution of Japan was re-written immediately following WWII, requiring a complete separation of religion and government. Tied into this fact, as well as the perceived abuse of religion by the Japanese government during the Meiji and Imperial periods, is a continuing decline in conscious religious affiliation. Perhaps as a result of this fact, there are also a groups termed “New Religions” which are becoming increasingly common in Japan. It is suggested that that these New Religions may be gaining popularity due to a distrust of the more established religious traditions which were used to justify and encourage WWII.
A watershed moment in the consideration of modern religiousness in Japan occurred in 1995 when the new religious movement Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas into a subway station in Tokyo. This act has caused a shift in perceptions of religion in Japan to which people now distrust organized religion almost as a rule (Susumu 225). For example, Robert Kisala reports that, from a study asking people if they trust certain institutions, "While respondents gave high marks to the police (69%), the legal system (63%), and the military (52%), religion came in dead last, with only thirteen percent finding it trustworthy (6)[.] " This fact does not, however, mean that the Japanese people do not practice religious activity as "...Japan is marked by almost universal participation in certain rites and customs (Kisala 3)." So, any individual beginning their study of Japanese religions must consider and begin to understand the complicated nature of religion in Japan, and take into account a wildly differing system of beliefs.
Written by: Ryan Murphy Edited by: Katie Parish & Tayln Cox
Bibliography: Hayashi , Makoto, 2006. "Religion in the Modern Period." In Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 202-219. Kisala, Robert, 2006. "Japanese Religion." In Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 3-13. Susumu, Shimazono, 2006. "Contemporary Japanese Religions." In Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i 220-229. Williams, Dunken, 2006. "Religion in Early Modern Japan." In Nanzan Guide to Japanese Religions. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2006. 184-201.