Japan's oldest religion, dating back to prehistoric times, is Shinto. Shinto means 'the way of the gods'. This religion is practised only in Japan. It is based on the worship of nature and the gods, and on myths that were passed on verbally. Once a writing system had come to Japan from China, the myths were recorded. Refer Image 1
Shinto, unlike Christianity which was introduced to Japan in 1549, has no prophets or scriptures. There is also no single founder of Shinto, like the religion of Buddhism, which is based on the teachings of Buddha, and arrived in Japan in 552 AD. Buddhism was introduced by monks from the Korean Peninsula to the Imperial Japanese Court. Buddhism involved some complex theories which meant it did not initially spread to the masses. The religion became more popular in the 13th century, with the increase in the number of Buddhist monks arriving in Japan from China and the exchange of Chinese and Japanese ambassadors. The interaction between Japan and China hugely influenced religion. Today around 75 percent of the population is Buddhist, alongside 90 percent of the population who practise Shinto or a combination of both religions. Refer Image 2
The Japanese accepted Buddhism because it did not replace the beliefs of Shinto. Shinto is concerned with life in this world. The teachings of Buddhism are more concerned with what happens to people when they die. The Japanese welcomed this new information, and the religions complemented each other, one about life and one about death. This often led to Buddhist shrines being built close to Shinto shrines. People now often have a Shinto wedding and a Buddhist funeral. Refer Image 3
The Shinto religion teaches that kami(guardian gods and spirits) are present everywhere; in mountains, trees and rice fields, in the home and in human beings, and that all natural objects should be respected. Followers of Shinto worship kami by living in harmony with their environment. Shinto teachings emphasise simple rituals, which cleanse people and their belongings of any impurities. There is no concept of sin in the Shinto religion. Impurities, instead, come from things such as mourning or being ill. Many of the rituals that are a part of the religion came about as a way of asking for help or protection, or to offer thanks. Refer Image 4
The Shinto religion originally had no buildings as places of worship. People worshipped things in nature that were sacred to them. These places were marked by straw ropes that were hung with strips of paper. Shinto shrines, made of wood, exist today in almost every city, town, village or suburb. These shrines often have only one room inside, and a peaceful garden.
The Shinto religion does not worship statues that represent gods, so these are not found in the shrines. People may visit a shrine to celebrate the eve of a new year, or to ask for help during a difficult time. They make offerings as part of the process of worship. Offerings include coins, sometimes food or drink, and occasionally a dance or a sumo contest. A part of the Shinto religion includes the worship of ancestors and national heroes who have become gods. Cleanliness is an important part of the Shinto religion, and when a person approaches a Shinto shrine he or she must participate in rituals such as washing the mouth and hands. Refer Image 5
The most holy Shinto shrine in Japan is the Ise shrine, in Nara. This shrine is sacred to the Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu, and was built approximately 1300 years ago. In 670 AD it was rebuilt after a fire. Interestingly, this shrine has been demolished and rebuilt every 20 years. Two sacred treasures, a jewel and a mirror, are thought to be kept there. The sun goddess is believed to have given these objects to the mythical Japanese emperor, Jimmu. The Buddhist temple Horyuji, the oldest building in Japan, is also found in Nara.
Buddhism is a religion and a philosophy. It is based on the teachings of Buddha, who was an Indian teacher called Siddhartha Gautama. Buddha means 'Enlightened One'. Buddhist teachings require trust, confidence and the belief that the teachings of Buddha can lead to spirituality and salvation. Buddhism believes in reincarnation, and that by leading a good life, followers can avoid being born again. This means escaping the pain and suffering that can come with life. There are different branches of Buddhism that have all developed from Buddha's original teachings. The branch of Buddhism that made its way to Japan is Mahayana Buddhism. Two schools of Buddhism that have developed within Japan are particularly popular. These are the school of Zen and the school of True Pure Land. Refer Image 6
Zen Buddhism developed in medieval times. It teaches that the way to inner peace is through meditation and self-control. Zen Buddhism was adopted by the samurai warriors. The samurai would mentally prepare for combat by meditating. The Zen Buddhists introduced meditation gardens and the tea ceremony to Japan. Refer Image 7
True Pure Land
Buddhists who follow the True Pure Land school of thought believe that salvation may be achieved through simple prayer. The monks of True Pure Land differ from other Buddhist monks in two distinct ways. The monks of True Pure Land are allowed to marry and to eat meat. Marriage and eating meat is forbidden to monks who follow other schools of Buddhism.
The Buddhist place of worship is the temple. Its architecture is much more complex than that of the Shinto temples, and Buddhist temples often have several structures. A temple may include a pagoda, large hall, lecture hall and living quarters for the monks or nuns. Refer Image 8