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Japanese Religion: A tale of Buddhism and Shinto

In countries across the world, religion has often played a part in influencing the culture of a nation, and when it comes to Japanese religion, there are two that have been present for centuries; Buddhism and Shinto. Although the people of Japan follow a collection of different religions, Buddhism and Shinto are the most popular due to their intricate belief systems about the sanctity of human life and death.


Buddhism is a highly practised religion in Japanese religion that dates back to the 6th century from Baekje, Korea. When the Baekje King sent the Japanese Emperor an image of the Buddha and sutras, the religion was highly opposed, though eventually accepted into Japanese religion by the Court. The initial uptake of this religion was slow for many years until the Empress Suiko openly encouraged the acceptance of Buddhism among all Japanese people. As time progressed, so did the number of Buddhist clergy, temples and priests. By the Heian period, Japanese religion had seen a real shift with the power of Buddhism growing vastly; many monasteries become centres of power through the establishment of warrior-monks. Both Shinto and Buddhism soon became dominant in Japanese religion with both sharing certain traits and origins.
Buddhism has long been adopted by many countries due to its spiritual path. The religion focuses on achieving enlightenment through the consequences of karma. This Japanese religion focuses on the Buddha or ‘enlightened one’, and is particularly popular as it is seen more of a way of life that concentrates on the ways in which you act rather than following rules and scriptures. There are three main types of Buddhism that are practised; Theravada or foundational Buddhism, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Each form of this Japanese religion focuses on different spiritual ideals from salvation to spiritual release.
As a primarily Japanese religion, Buddhism is celebrated through a national holiday, ‘Obon’. During the holiday of this religion, it is believed that the spirits of the dead return to earth for three days to visit the family shrines and graves. For this holiday, it is custom to clean the graves of loved ones and hold family reunions.


The other most popular Japanese religion is the Shinto religion. Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan and is practiced by vast numbers of the population. Defined as an action-centred religion, Shinto focuses on ritual-like practices that create a connection between modern Japan and its ancient roots. This Japanese religion believes that every living thing in nature contains a God, which is why the religion cherishes nature from the turning of the seasons to the celebration of sakura, Japans national flower. Shinto may seem quite similar to Buddhism, but there are notable differences in this Japanese religion. In essence, Shintoism places focus on spiritualism relating to the world and life, whereas Buddhism is more concerned with the soul and afterlife. Shintoism originated around the 8th-century with the earliest writing of this Japanese religion referring to a collection of native beliefs and mythology, rather than a religion itself.
Shinto shrines have very specific rules in place to celebrate and practice this Japanese religion, as well as show respect and appreciation for the shrines themselves. In Shinto shrines, you will find a water fountain where a bamboo ladle is used to wash your hands and mouth to purify the spirit before you enter the shrine. Then, you must pray by ringing the shrine bell, throwing a coin before the altar and clapping three times to summon the Kami, a sacred essence that manifests in multiple forms. It is also customary in this Japanese religion to remove your shoes as a sign of respect before kneeling on a tatami-mat to pray.
When it comes to Japanese religion, Shinto and Buddhism share many common aspects whilst still being beautifully different ways of life, exemplifying just how Japanese religion truly celebrates spirit and sentiment. If you’re searching for something to add to your interior design that is symbolic of Japanese religion and culture, visit Atelier Japan to explore an exquisite collection of pottery and ornaments that have been handcrafted to hold sentiment and meaning, ready for you to welcome them into your home.