Religion in Japan
As religion and religious rituals in Japan are completely different to those Europe, here is a brief introduction.
I’m not going to give a lecture in theology (I’m not an expert on the subject), I just want to provide a simple explanation of the basic concepts and all unfamiliar terms relating to the two main religions in Japan.
This text is based on articles from the English version of Wikipedia. I can’t fully guarantee the veracity of the statements made here. The following is intended as an information sheet and not a religious education lesson! Links are provided at the end of this introduction for those who would like more information on the subject.
Shintoism (literally translated: “way of the gods”) is Japan’s oldest religion.
Unlike Buddhism, it is polytheistic and animistic.
In other words: there are many gods and nature is sacred.
Frequently used terms
Kami (god, deity)
There are many different kami that represent all aspects of nature. For example, a simple rock can be a kami.
The Shinto place of worship is called a “shrine”. It is a place of prayer, bliss and joy.
The architecture of a Shinto shrine is always plain and modest, unlike the Buddhist temples (especially those in China) which can be very ornate with lots of gold and garish colours.
Sacred gate, painted red, which always stands at the entrance of a Shinto shrine. It marks the entrance to a sacred space reserved for the kami and represents the boundary between the pure and impure.
Festival sponsored by the local shrine; takes place once a year or every two years.
Basins, placed at the entrance of all shrines, where the worshippers wash their hands and mouths using a kind of ladle. Only on completion of this purification ritual are they allowed to enter the realm of the kami.
Wooden plaques on which the worshippers write their wishes and prayers. These plaques are then hung on a frame near the main building so that the kami can read them.
Strips of paper on which fortunes are written.
Buddhism was founded in India in the 5th century BCE after the awakening of the first Buddha, Siddharta Gautama.
Every Buddhist strives to attain enlightenment (referred to as “nirvana”) by way of his deeds and lifestyle.
Buddhism was introduced in Japan in the 5th and 6th century CE. It came from China and Korea.
Throughout history, Japanese Buddhism has been influenced by various streams, which has led to the foundation of new schools of faith.
Today, there are 13 main schools of Japanese Buddhism. The most well known are: Zen, Nichiren and Shingon.
Frequently used termes
Tera or –ji (at the end of the word)
Word for a Buddhist temple.
The main gate of a temple.
The main building of a temple complex.
Three or five-storey pagoda. Not found in the schools of Zen Buddhism.
Title of a person who has attained enlightenment and achieved nirvana.
Title of a person who has attained enlightenment but has decided, motivated by great compassion, not to go to nirvana but instead to remain close to the living in order to teach them the word of Buddha. In some streams of Buddhism, the bodhisattvas are worshipped like deities.
Japanese name for the bodhisattva associated with compassion. It is always a woman and could be compared to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Christianity.