Gods and religions in Japan


Like much of Europe, Japan is essentially secular when it comes to religion. The country is home to Confucianism, Buddhism and Shinto. The last of these is, in a sense, the national religion. It is uniquely Japanese and I spent some time trying to work out what it's all about. I began by asking questions and got nowhere. At first, I thought my Japanese friends were reticent about discussing personal beliefs. Then I realised they knew as much about Shinto as I know about, mistletoe, Christmas trees, wishing wells and Easter eggs. I would ask a question like: 

Why do you hang out lanterns on a certain day? And I would get an answer like: That's what we do. I guess that if I were asked: Why do you kiss under mistletoe? I would answer in much the same way. My friend Tim McHugh, who is a science fiction writer, put me right on the subject. He got to know the local Shinto priests in the district where he lives. In doing so he became an enthusiast for Shinto. Tim explained that it is one of those ancient religions that sees all parts of the cosmos as connected. We are part of the cosmos and must harmonise with it: not just on the physical plane but on a wider spiritual plane. That's what Shinto helps us to do. Okay. I take the point. I guess that some of us have that sort of feeling when we decorate trees at Christmas and paint eggs at Easter. 

There are two sorts of temples in Japan: Buddhist and Shinto. Very occasionally you find Buddhist shrines in Shinto temples and vice versa. You will see images of gods and devils in both. I get conflicting views on whether they are meant to exist and have heard similar arguments about saints and angels when religion is discussed in Christian countries.

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