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SHINTOISM, BUDDHISM, CHRISTIANITY AND ZEN

Introduction:

There are many religions in Japan and also there are no religions at all. This is best explained in the Japanese openness to all religions, often only paying lip service to all of them. People may visit a Shinto shrine during the New Year celebrations, or a Buddhist temple. Visits a temple in the spring and fall to attend the family grave. The birth of a new child, may warrant a visit to a Shito shrine with the baby in a special ceremonial gown (see drawing  below). The Shichi-go-san (7-5-3) cerebration usually means a visit for the whole family to a shrine. Death is dealt with in the Buddhist fashion, while marriage is tackled quite often still, by Shintoism, or as is becoming increasingly fashionable a "Christian Chapel service".
The Japanese seek answers and relief from this world's problems and not for a the world hereafter.

This is easy to understand if you visit a shrine or temple. You will usually find Japanese throwing money into a large barred coffer and then praying. 

Praying for what? Success in business, passing exams, their future child's well-being, a safe home and on and on.
The religious organizations in Japan are by and large rich, visit Kyoto, see the Buddhist monks driving around in BMW's, maybe with a pretty girl at his side. A not unusual sight around Japan.

A visit to a Shinto shrine with a newborn child.

Shintoism:
Shinto derived from the Japanese worship of earthly and ancestral gods at the beginnings of history. Every clan had its own god (Ujigami). The Shinto gods are collectively known as the eight million deities (yaoyorozu no kami). Shrines were not erected until the 3rd or 4th centuries.
There are many Shinto sects around Japan, quite few Japanese people identify with Shinto as a religion, only on those special occasions, mentioned previously.

A typical dress for a Buddhist monk on a pilgrimage.

Buddhism:
Buddhism is thought to have been introduced in 538 from Korea, at a time when Japan started to become an unified country. The Japanese took Buddhism and molded it to their own beliefs and desires.
At the end of the 6th century Buddhism became the main faith of the Imperial court and other clans. Buddhism had a big impact on culture and philosophy in Japan with new Buddhist teachings coming from China, adding to Japanese culture, from the Heian to the Edo periods. Today there are many Buddhist sects, some of the largest are Soka Gakkai, Rissho Koseikai and Reiyukai.

Christianity:
Francis Xavier and his missionaries brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. He was welcomed by the rulers of that time, as they thought it would present new trading opportunities for them. This was a fairly brief honeymoon with the new religion, because in 1587 Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned Christianity and in 1637 under the Tokugawa regime a Christian rebellion was savagely put down. It was not until 1873
when religious freedom was granted by the Meiji government, that Christianity made its comeback. All through this period small groups of Christians kept their beliefs alive in secret.
Today Japanese Christians are quite small in number, especially when compared with other South East Asian countries. Many Japanese think that Christianity is an anathema, maybe because of Shintoism which has dominated from the earliest periods of Japanese history.
Although there are few true Christians in Japan, Christianity has made some impact on the culture, especially during Japan's modernization at the end of the 19th century. There are also quite many Christian schools, starting from kindergarten upwards. Some missionaries are still actively trying to convert Japanese people, perhaps the most dominant would be the Mormons. Many Japanese have told me that they would not trust them. One reason they give is that they all seem to dress alike, have the same haircut and so on.
Other Christian cults are active, you can sometimes see them outside stations in Tokyo trying to interest people with pamphlets. Even at very crowded times the Japanese tend to keep them at arms length as they rush past.
Christmas is celebrated in Japan, but without the religious trappings. It is a time for people to enjoy, giving Christmas presents has also become fashionable, pushed by businesses, it is a purely commercial occasion. December 25th is not a Public Holiday. 

Christian wedding chapels are enjoying good business in Japan. Christian style weddings are all the rage with young people, even though the couple may have no knowledge of Christianity, or care in the slightest about the religious aspects of the service.
An American acquaintance of mine took a job as a Christian priest at one of the chapels in Tokyo. The only qualification for the job was to read from a card in English and Japanese. In fact he is not even a Christian, he said it is easy money, so why not!

Zen:
A Buddhist meditative posture called zazen has always been a technique for attaining enlightenment. It was a Zen sect from China that taught that everything in life could be used for meditation, from sleeping to eating.
In the late 12th century a monk introduced the Rinzai sect of Buddhism from China and the monk Dogen introduced what was to become the Soto school of Buddhism in the early Kamakura period.
The Rinzai sect was popular with the nobility and upper class samurai. The sect stresses meditation, using zazen and koan, paradoxical riddles put by a master for use in meditation. The Soto sect use only the zazen method to attain enlightenment. Dogen was not interested in power, he therefore decided to build his temple in Fukui prefecture, in the mountains, which was for away from the seat of power in the capital,  He taught that everyone can seek enlightenment, he had many followers.


Zen had a strong influence on Japanese culture, The Rinzai monks introduced Chinese culture during the Muromachi period. Zen culture affected literature, influenced ink paintings and portraits, the tea ceremony has a strong Zen influence. Perhaps the most famous for foreigners is the Zen rock and sand gardens, considered to be typical Japanese.
Deshimaru Taisen(1914-1982) is responsible for popularizing Zen in Europe, he established 60 Zen centers in Europe and North Africa, for the Soto sect.

If you have a serious interest in Zen Buddhism, then I would suggest that you contact the Soto sect for advice.


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