Religion and mythology in Japan

Japan is an interesting country when it comes to religion and mythology. Before Buddhism arrived, Japanese people worshipped multitude different gods representing various aspects of the natural world, not unlike Greek or Northern mythologies. However, unlike in other countries, the old mythology didn’t disappear with the arrival of a new religion, it simply learned to coexist with others.

Different belief systems specialize in different aspects of Japanese society. Buddhism is the religion of choice for all aspects of death, and thus events such as funerals, burials and memorial services are Buddhist.

More recently Christianity has also become an important part of Japanese life, as many Japanese people celebrate Christian-style weddings, with pastors giving sermons and the bride dressed in white.

The original Japanese mythology is called Shinto, and its main impact on Japanese society is its multitude shrines. Japanese couple take their newborn babies to Shinto shrines, and people visit them for New Year’s, or simply to pray for good luck with certain aspect of life, like love or finance. If you’re confused about the difference between temples and shrines in Japan, temples are Buddhist, while shrines are Shinto.

That Japanese people follow so many belief systems doesn’t mean that they are deeply religious. On the contrary, religion in Japan is more about following traditions than believing in a higher power. That seems to be the main reason why different religions can coexist. While Christian weddings are more popular in Japan than in many traditionally Christian countries, few people actually follow the religion.

Out of the main three, the one I find the most interesting is Shinto. Unlike other animistic and polytheistic mythologies, it survived the arrival of new major religions and remains alive after almost 2,000 years of coexistence. Its different gods or kami represent different parts of the natural world. Thus, Amaterasu is the sun goddess, Tsukuyomi is the moon god, Susano is the storm god, and so on. Some gods also represent more abstract concept, with Ebisu being one of the gods of fortune or Inari Okami being the god of fertility and agriculture. Inari Okami is the most popular god, with about one third of shrines dedicated to him/her/them (this god is either male, female, or androgynous, depending on the shrine).

If you’re confused about what belief system Japanese people follow, don’t worry. Japanese people are often not too sure either. And that’s the beauty of it.

Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” “, by all means contact me about anything!


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