The Tao of the Japanese

Traveling is the greatest way to understand people and cultures. Connecting with foreigners in their own country gives you the ability to understand how the local religion affects people differently than the religion of your own hometown, state or country.

I recently visited Japan for the first time. It is a land of ancient beliefs. According to ReligionFacts in Japan, 71% of Japanese are Buddhists while 84% are Shinto. Now, in the western world, that adds up to 155% of the population, which is impossible. What it tells us is that much of the population identifies with both Buddhism and Shintoism.

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The Sanjusangendo Buddhist Temple in Kyoto, Japan

That seems so counterintuitive to westerners who grew up in one religion, believing that those who practice another religion are infidels or heretics and will be damned for eternity.

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The Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shinto Shrine, also in Kyoto, Japan

The Japanese, on the other hand, embraced their native Shinto heritage, an animistic religion, and Zen Buddhism, which entered Japan from China in the 12th century.

Also, a large number of Japanese consider themselves to be atheist. In 2013, The Washington Post published an article, outlining where the world’s atheists lived. Japan is second only to China–31% to 47%.

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Courtesy, The Washington Post, WIN/Gallop International Poll, 2013

On my trip to Japan, we were told that the Japanese people enjoy ceremony, pomp and circumstance. As the saying goes, the Japanese want to be born Shinto, married Christian and buried Buddhist. This is because the Japanese don’t believe in a personal god who rules over their lives and dictates whether they are each good enough to enter a heavenly kingdom after death. Much of this worship has to do with the Imperial family through Shinto and the Zen Buddhism of the samurai. It’s very complicated, but encompasses the oldest form of worship–giving spiritual significance to everything that is around you, then meditating, clearing your mind of the insignificant, everyday drama that permeates all societies. So who needs a god to tell you what to do? The Japanese don’t. Besides, the god is going to tell you different things based on from whom you take guidance. The Pope and his saints will certainly give you a different direction than the head of the Southern Baptist Convention. True to form, the Baptists think the Catholics are going to hell anyway, because they aren’t playing by the Baptist’s rules–rules which continue to change over time, based on society and norms.

The Japanese don’t need this extraneous dogma in their lives. Neither do I. Get out there and discover how the rest of humanity views spirituality. Leave your safe church and venture out into someone else’s world. You will find that we have the same hopes and dreams. Our judgement of who they wish to worship or not worship is just that–judgement.

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