Japanese religion has been intensely social, providing people with a sense of community and identity, particularly on the local level. Yet, large numbers of Japanese today say that they have no religion, even though they visit shrines and temples and engage in activities usually considered religious. They don’t seem to consider them to be spiritual acts. This is in part a consequence of legal changes imposed during the American occupation, which contributed to undermining the communal spiritual basis of religious activities.
Historically, the most pervasive form of popular religion in Japan has been a blend of two traditions, Shintoism and Buddhism. In Shintoism, people worship gods of natural phenomena such as mountains, rivers and forests, as well as ancestors, in communal ceremonies. Families were protected by the ancestral and village gods. When Buddhism reached Japan, ancestor worship, added in China, helped make the new religion congenial to the Japanese. Over time, the religions began to merge, and many Japanese now embrace both without clearly distinguishing them. For the most part, religious practices in the blended tradition have been largely local, rooted in community festivals and ceremonies.
After WWII, the American occupation forces abolished state control of Shintoism and provided for separation of the state and religion in the new constitution. They also eliminated the Meiji household system, under which the house head looked after the family, including the ancestors. Separation of state and religion prevents local communities from providing financial support to shrines and temples. The elimination of the household system has left it unclear who would maintain the family tomb to show reverence to ancestors. Both provisions thus weakened the foundation of collective spirituality.
|Keywords:||Community Spirituality, Religious Community, Religion and Law|
Professor Emerita, Department of English, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA