Religion In Japan – Why Japanese People Say They Are Irreligion

Many people might have heard Japanese people saying they are atheist. That’s true, and not true at the same time.


About this, it’s a really complicated matter to explain. I will have to do it to make you understand.


“So-sho Religion” And “Shizen Religion”

There are two kinds of religion in the first place. It is “So-sho religion” and “Shizen(nature) religion”.


So-sho religion means religion where a certain person advocates a specific doctrine and some people believe it. Just like Christianity, Buddhism, and Muslims.


On the other hand, nature religion is a religion that has occurred naturally, has been inherited by our ancestors unconsciously.


I have to clarify the relationship between Shinto and nature religion. Shinto is a religion born based on natural religion and not itself.



“New Year’s visit to a shrine” – Even young people who do not visit the shrine daily go to the shrine when the New Year ‘s visit. This is to give thanks for the year, to pray for safety and peace of the New Year.


“Bon vacation” – There is a holiday called “Bon” in Japan, and everyone goes back to their own hometown no matter how much transportation is crowded during that period. It is because the deceased ancestors are still staying in their hometown and watching their descendants, so it’s basically for visiting the graves for their ancestors.



These two examples are common doings in Japan. There are way more other things.


As you can see, according to the fact that Japanese people are unconsciously doing these things, and yet, saying they are atheist, it means they believe in natural religion.


But wait, it doesn’t make sense that they don’t believe in God but nature religion. The question is “if they believe in any kind of God or not”.


The answer is NO. As you can see they say they don’t believe in god(most people).


Then why do they do these things looking like nothing but religion?


Because when religion penetrates so deeply into their lives and when it develops into habit, it is no longer a religion in Japan.


Religion, in particular, “So-sho religion” is trying to fundamentally solve various contradictions and absurdities of life. So if there is no big doubt about life or if you are not suffering from it, you do not need to rely on religions in the first place. Skepticism or denial of life leads you to the So-sho religion.


People also believed religion such as Buddhism in Japan in the first half of the Middle Ages. But then Confucianism came into Japan. Since it was originally based on the treatment method in China, it taught to turn consciousness to “now” rather than “after death”.


At the same time, people’s real-life was also getting better and better(16~17th century) so that they started to have confidence. In simple terms, they didn’t need to rely on the religion anymore to live happily.



Shogyo-Mujo(諸行無常) – Life Comes And Goes

It’s often translated as “life comes and goes” but I’m not quite satisfied… lol


Shogyo-Mujo means everything that exists never stay there and disappear or change the shape. Just everything with no exception. That’s why it’s beautiful. It’s so connected to the Japanese Wabi-Sabi spirit.


The Buddhism taught people to look at this Shogyo-Mujo as a pain, so it was about to be free from this pain. But people, to have more confident, started to see it as a “fun thing” to enjoy, to focus on the beauty of the world.


Even though Japanese people at that time got more confident, death was something terrifying.  So they got a relief for the world after death in the form of “Buddhism funeral” that still remains now. (it takes time to explain about it so I won’t write it here)


After a long time, as I wrote, they are not even aware of what they used to believe but there are still things they unconsciously do in their everyday life now.


It actually represents how people in Japan had a happier life since then until recent than those countries where it was necessary for people had to strongly rely on religions.


This was so complicated to write, therefore, I wrote it as simple as I could.



Thank you for reading.





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