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Thread: Beyond Buddhism and Shintoism, Japan appears to be first Confucian but also Taoist

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Jul 17, 2002

    Beyond Buddhism and Shintoism, Japan appears to be first Confucian but also Taoist

    If we look at the statistics or in any guidebook of Japan, it is commonly accepted that Japan has 2 religions, Shintoism and Buddhism, and each is followed by about 40% of the population. This is also what most Japanese people will tell you, although they may not know the percentages.

    It is widely considered that Shinto is not just a religion, but a set of Japanese traditions that almost all Japanese people follow (shichigosan, coming of age ceremony, etc.).

    What I hardly ever hear nonetheless is that the Japanese are Taoist and Confucianist, although the terms are almost always used to describe the mixture of beliefs held by the Chinese along with Buddhism.

    This is very surspinsing, as modern Japanese people are much more influenced by Confucianism than Buddhism. Among the hundreds of Japanese people I have met, I can say that very few people under 50 years old know anything substanstial about Buddhism. Usually their knowledge of Buddhism is inferior to the one of a foreign visitor who has read the "religion" section of their (Lonely Planet) guidebook in the aeroplane before first coming to Japan. Most people cannot even name the 7 major Buddhist sects in Japan (Jodo, Jodoshin, Nichiren, Rinzai, Soto, Shingon, Tendai), although these names appear on any temple in Japan.

    Notwithstanding their ignorance of Buddhist things, I found that the way of thinking of most Japanese people, even the younger generations, was thoroughly imbibed with Confucian ideas, such as the seniority system, respect for the elder, sempai/kohai system, etc.

    As for Taoism ( in Japanese), it is also partly present in Japanese culture. I am not sure why ancestor worship (e.g. "o-bon" festival) is associated with Buddhism in Japan, as to the best of my knowledge, it doesn't exist in the original Indian Buddhism. It probably comes from Taoism, and became so popular in China that it was imported along with Buddhist ideas, and assimilated as "Buddhist". Does anyone have more information about that ?

    Looking at movies related to the Heian period, there is usually magic and other Taoist elements included.

    Wikipedia says that Taoism directly influenced Chinese Chan Buddhism, which became Zen Buddhism in Japan. I suppose that we could say that the Japanese are somewhat Taoist too then.

    So the Japanese believe in a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Shintoism. I wonder why only the two latter are usually mentioned as "the religions of Japan", while the three former are always inicated as "the religions of China".
    Last edited by Maciamo; Apr 17, 2005 at 18:27.

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  2. #2
    Regular Member
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    May 9, 2005
    Interesting post, thanks, Maciamo.

    I wondered about one small detail though:
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    it is commonly accepted that Japan has 2 religions, Shintoism and Buddhism, and each is followed by about 40% of the population.
    I had heard that most Japanese consider themselves as BOTH shintoist and buddhist, although they may often practice it only in a formalistic way. Is this incorrect?

  3. #3
    Samurai Retainer Mizuiro's Avatar
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    Jul 30, 2005
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    When I visited Japan in July of 2005, I visited Miyajima, the island off of Hiroshima that is home to a gorgeous, ancient shrine. (Those who don't know it, you must have at least seen the floating O-torii?)

    Anyway, the tour guide said that she believed in both Buddhism and Shintoism. She said that Buddhism was for ensuring happiness in the afterlife,while Shintoism was for pursuing happiness during life. So, wanting happiness in both lives, she believes in both.

    Just thought I'd mention. ^_^

  4. #4
    okonomiyaki=bliss duff_o_josh's Avatar
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    Apr 2, 2004
    British Columbia
    in the hagakure tsunetomo yamamoto often made refrenceces towards confucianism.

  5. #5
    Junior Member
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    Dec 30, 2010
    Any Taoist elements must be really ancient, though. I mean prehistoric.
    I read once, in a book promoting the theory that the sorceror Xu Fu was the first Yayoi-jin, that one of the signs that Xu Fu influenced ancient Japan is the presence of Ki cleansing rooms in Shinto shrines. Its amazing how religions form over time.

  6. #6
    Junior Member
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    Jan 30, 2013
    Exactly!! I was being sarcastic about it too. I just can't get over people or organizations that have a problem with suicide, especially when many people who contemplate suicide do so as a way of avoiding further pain and agony. I used to have an 80-year-old neighbor who has dying from colon cancer, and he was contemplating suicide at times, as opposed to surgery, which would have saved his life. His philosophy was that it was "quality" of life vs. "quantity" of life. And I never questioned his beliefs because (1) he made a very good argument, and (2) it was his life to live any way he wished as long as he wasn't hurting anyone else. I certainly respected his right to make that choice. But for some crazy reason, others have a serious problem with an individual's right to ease--or even eliminate--their suffering. I just don't understand that. I'm completely in favor of euthanasia, and I seriously don't see why others have a problem with it. Must be just a control thing.

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