Religion in Japan by Jim Sherard
The origin of the Shinto religion is for the most part uncertain, but some scholars ascertain it emerged thousands of years ago as a cultural extension of immigrants from China, who upon arriving introduced agricultural rites and shamanic ceremonies which invariably took on Japanese characteristics in the new environment. The word Shinto means "the way of the gods", and proclaims no specific founder or sacred scriptures. The basic premise of the religion is that sacred spirits known as Kami take the form of objects and concepts significant to life, such as mountains, trees, wind, rain, rivers, and fertility. Human beings are capable of becoming Kami after they die, and the Kami of extraordinary people are sometimes enshrined as a show of respect. In contrast to many of the worlds monotheist religions, Shintoism does not profess to a set form of beliefs. The world is seen as being composed of various shades of gray, with no absolute forms of right and wrong. Humans are regarded as being fundamentally good, and immoral behavior is believed to be caused by evil spirits which must be kept at bay by Shinto rituals, prayers, and offerings to the Kami. The arrival of Buddhism in the sixth century exerted profound influence on Japan's social, intellectual, artistic, and political life, and as a result Shinto temporarily fell out of favor. Fortunately the two religions were soon able to co-exist harmoniously, with many Buddhists viewing the Kami as manifestations of Buddhas.
In addition to Shinto and Buddhism, Japan was introduced to Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries with the arrival of European traders and Jesuit missionaries, resulting in the conversion of thousands of Japanese to Roman Catholicism. In 1549 a Jesuit priest by the name of John Fernandez arrived in Kagoshima from Spain with hopes of bringing Christianity to Japan. Thinking they would reduce the influence of the powerful Buddhist monks, the Shogunate initially supported the Christian movement, but as sentiment changed in the years to follow Christianity was banned by the government, and those who refused to abandon their new faith were killed. Christianity is currently practiced by approximately 1.3 million people in Japan. Although it represents only a small fraction of the population, Christmas is widely observed, though in a mainly secularized form. Christian organizations have also left their influence by founding well known educational institutions such as as Kwansei Gakuin University, International University, and Sophia University.
About the Author
Jim Sherard is the author of "Land of the Rising Sun, A Guide to Living and Working in Japan", which can be found at: http://www.escapeartist.com/e_Books/Living_and_Working_in_Japan/Living_and_Working_in_Japan.html