Buddhism and Shinto are by far the dominant religions of Japan.
Buddhism; founded by the Indian prince Siddhartha seeks to overcome suffering by finding peace and reaching enlightenment. Buddhism Spread from India and South East Asia into China then Korea and Japan. There are 3 main branches of Buddhism. Theravada, found mostly in South East Asia. Vajrayana in Tibet, Bhutan, and Mongolia. And, Mahayana being more common in East Asia (China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan). Buddhism does not have any gods. The statues you see are statues of The Buddha, or other Bodhisattvas (people on the path to buddhahood, usually they are personifications of buddhist virtues; compassion, protection, etc).
Shinto is an ancient native pantheistic religion tracing its roots back to Japanese pre-history. In Shinto people show respect, honor, and pray to “Kami”. While Kami is often translated to god/gods in English, the idea of Kami is more like spirits. It is believed that every thing (trees, rivers, mountains) has spirits (Kami) and should be respected. Special places or objects are said to have more or important Kami are particularly reviered. Kami is similar to the Chinese concept of Qi or the Polynesian Mana.
Etiquette for visiting a shrine:
- Usually when entering the shrine grounds you will see a basin/fountain with ladles. Scoop up some water with the ladle and pour some water in your left hand, then your right, pour some more water into your left hand and wet your lips. Do not drink from the ladle. Pour the remains water out and return the ladle. This is purification, Shinto places a lot of importance on purification.
- When approaching the main shrine you can throw a monetary offering into the coin chest, usually people throw a ¥5 coin as ¥5 “go-en” also sounds like the word for harmony.
- Ring the bell a couple of times.
- clap twice
- bow twice
- Pray/make your request.
- bow once more
This is the general order of visiting a shrine, some people may skip parts or all, some regions may do things different, no worries, any attempt is a sign of respect; for the most part just be respectful of your surroundings.
In the west where people sometimes set day aside to worship in a holy place, Eastern religions do not have such a requirements. Eastern religions are generally more philosophical. In Japan, Buddhism and Shinto have blended together; with most people participating in activities of both. They are so blended into Japanese culture that most people do not even realize it. its just the way of being “Japanese”. It is said that in Japan, you are born Shinto and die Buddhist. Shinto takes care of your physical well being, nature and the earth. Buddhism takes care of your spiritual needs.
For centuries Japan secluded itself from the rest of the world. During the age of imperialism, priests were sent to Japan to convert the population. they gained some success in gathering followers but were eventually deemed a threat and became persecuted. This created a group of Kakure Kirishitan (hidden christians) They disguised christian iconography into buddhist figures or other designs. Some would polish mirrors just so, so that when light reflected onto it images of Jesus Christ would appear.
Now there are no restrictions on which religion you choose to follow in Japan. In the 1960’s to the early 19907’s new religious movements became fashionable. Some were modern takes on Shintoism or Buddhism, some blended them, others mixed in Christianity or Hinduism, or just something different all together. Many quickly faded from popularity after the 1995 sarin gas attack by the terrorist new religious cult Aum Shinrikyo. Now many Japanese will profess not to be religious.
Throughout Japan you can find numerous Temples (Buddhist) and Shrines (Shinto). Shikoku is home to the famous 88 temple pilgrimage with 26 of the temples in Ehime. But if you look hard enough you can find some churches and mosques as well. Many churches here look more discreet than you may be used to, Several buildings that you see that look like churches you are used to, are actually only used for wedding ceremonies.
- ⛩ Tsubaki Shrine (Matsuyama)
- ⛩ Gokoku Jinja (Matsuyama)
- ⛩ Isaniwa Shrine (Matsuyama)
- 卍 Ishiteji Temple (Matsuyama)
- ✝️ Dogo Catholic Church (Matsuyama)
- ✝️ Catholic Church, Sanbancho (Matsuyama)
- ✝️ Praise Fellowship Matsuyama – Protestant Christian Worship Group
- ☪️ Matsuyama Islamic Cultural Centre (MICC)
- ⛩ Taga Jinja (Uwajima)
- ✝️ Uwajima Alliance Church
- ✝️ Daiichi Puraza Kyoukai Catholic Church (Yawatahama)
- ✝️ Saint Maria Catholic Church (Saijo)
- ✝️ Saijo Alliance Christian Church
- ✝️ United Church of Christ in Japan – Niihama Church
- ☪️ Niihama Mosque