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 Different Approaches, Religions in Japan

     

        There are various approaches to analyze Japanese religion. In my

 presentation, I will examine Japanese religion using several approaches;

 anthropological approaches, feminist approaches, sociological approaches and

 historical approaches.

Before discussing Japanese religion, I will talk about the general idea of what Japanese religion is. Unlike other world religions, there is no single definition of Japanese religion. Japanese religion is understood as the combination of multiple religious beliefs including Confucianism, Taoism Shinto, Buddhism and Folk religion. Therefore, at first I will introduce Confucianism, Taoism Shinto, Buddhism and Folk religion and their influence on Japanese traditions. Second, I will examine Japanese religion by using different approaches.

Confucianism was created by Confucius in 551-479 BC in China. He emphasized a return to virtue and an overall social harmony based upon proper relationships among people in terms of their social roles. Two of the most important teachings of hierarchical relationships are father-son and ruler-citizen (the father and ruler should be benevolent, the son and citizen should be obedient (Earhart, 19). Han Confucianism was brought from Korea to Japan about 404 AD.  Confucian ethical codes and political principles were understood and utilized in Japan. Prince Shotoku (572-621) promulgated the famous Seventeen Article Constitution in 604 AD. The main emphasis of the Seven Article Constitution was on the duties of people towards their sovereign and the need for harmony among inferiors and superiors. (Werrn, 7).

Even now, we can see the influences from this teaching in Japanese society. ‘Jouge Kankei’ which means the proper relationship between superiors and inferiors is a good example of the influence of Confucianism. Japanese people are taught to show high respect to elders, superiors as well as their own parents from their childhoods. It seems to me that in contemporary Japan, ‘Jouge Kankei’ has become more than a religious teaching and it is part of the culture in general. The teaching for social institutions, political organization and the systematization of moral precepts in Japan are also influenced by Confucianism, For example, early Shinto did not have a clear conception of loyalty, filial piety or virtues that were very important for Japanese people’s moral life. Therefore, the very names for these were supplied by Confucianism and gave a systematic teaching of morality and supplied the methods of instruction (Anesaki, 7). Before the introduction of Confucianism, there were no rules that could quite organize Japanese society so well.

 Although Taoism never existed as a separate religious tradition in Japan, by the eighth century a bureau of divination was patterned on a similar bureau at the Chinese court. In general, the Chinese notions of interpreting work with nature and harmonizing human life with nature came to be linked with the Japanese notions about the Kami, nature, and rituals. For example, ideas of luck and fortune telling are examples of the influence of Taoism (Earhart, 18). Most Japanese people tend to choose a ‘good day’ from the calendar for their wedding. Although no one teaches Japanese people that there is good luck and bad luck in our lives, it is just an unwritten rule that everyone learns and applies. For example, if I win the lottery, people will tell me that I have good ‘Un’, which means good luck in Japanese. Another example is that many people say encountering a black cat is a symbol of bad luck. Fortune tellers are very popular and they seem to be accepted among various age groups of Japanese people. Through my experiences, it seems that the palm reading by a fortune teller is the most popular request.

            Shinto (the ways of the gods) is the indigenous religion in Japan. It was formed as a result of the outcomes of the lives of people and their temperament, and it was closely connected with national traditions and social institutions. It is thought that all humans are fundamentally good, and that evil spirits cause all evil. The purpose of most Shinto rituals is to avoid evil spirits by purification, offerings and prayers (Anesaki, 7).

The kami are the objects of worship in Shinto. They are sacred spirits and can take various forms such as natural elements like the sun, mountains, trees, rocks, and the wind, or abstract things like fertility as well as ancestors, national heroes and protectors of family clans (Kodansha, 29).After the Meiji restoration, the Meiji rulers made Shinto their state religion and used Japan's creation myths, showing a direct link between the Sun goddess and the emperors family, to foster national feelings and to justify the emperor's absolute position. Shinto priests became state officials and the government funded important shrines. There were also efforts to separate and emancipate Shinto from Buddhism completely. After World War II, Shinto was completely separated from the state and was classified as a normal religion. Today, most of the shrines belong to the Association of Shinto Shrines (Kodansha, 37).

I found that a large percentage of Japanese people, who do not think of themselves as Shintoists, participate in occasional rituals. For example, many Japanese people tend to have traditional weddings at shrines and infants are dedicated at the shrines. The Seven Five Three Festival (Shichi Go San Matsuri), an autumnal rite, features the presentation of children of these ages at the shrines. The coming of age ceremony (Seijin Shiki), held on January 15, officially recognizes the adulthood of those who will reach the age of twenty during the calendar year. The New Year (Shogatu) is the time when many Japanese people make the year's first visit (Hatsumode) to a Shinto shrine, and often to a Buddhist temple as well, to seek purification from the defilements of the past year and good fortune for the coming year. This season also features many other customs such as displays of symbolic decorations, the preparation and consumption of special foods, game playing, kite flying, calligraphy practice and fortune telling (Neill, pp.14-19). I think, however, that the biggest ritual that is influenced by Shinto is the purification.  It is amazing to see how many Japanese people take the purification seriously. Going to the Shrine and having purifications at least one time a year seems to be part of the Japanese people’s way of life.

            Buddhism originated in India in the six century. It consists of the teaching of the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha, and its theories are that human life is full of suffering due to worldly desires, illness, death and the loss of loved ones. By getting rid of desires and attachments, we can achieve the state of enlightenment (Nirvana) and escape suffering and the circle of reincarnations (Kodansya, 47).

 Buddhism was imported to Japan in 538 AD or 552 AD in form of a present from the king of the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche). The ruling nobles welcomed the teaching of Buddhism while the common people did not understand its complex theories. After a few conflicts with the native religion Shinto, the two religions were soon able to coexist harmoniously  and even complemented each other. Therefore, still now, there are no conflicts for most people whether we go to a temple or a shrine as long as we participate in religious rituals (Kodansya, 48).

During the Heian period, two new Buddhist sects were founded. The Tendai sect and the Shingon sect were imported from China in 805 AD and 806 A.D. They were gradually interpreted in a Japanese way so that they could fit into Japanese society, and later they developed into further branches. In 1175, the Judo sect (Pure Land sect) was founded which allowed beliefs to be spread to different social classes of people because its theories were very simple and based on the principle that everybody can achieve salvation by strongly believing in the Buddha Amida.

The Zen sect was introduced from China in 1191 and is one of the most popular branches of Buddhism in contemporary Japan. Its complicated theories were popular, particularly among the members of the military class. According to Zen teachings, one can achieve self-enlightenment through meditation and self-discipline (Kodansya, 40)

            One of the most important rituals, influenced by Buddhism is a family centred rite called Bon festival. It is the time when the spirits of the deceased are welcomed home for a visit with special food offerings and other signs of respectful attentiveness. Bon is known as the festival of the Dead, and it occurs between August 13 and 15.  During that time, Japanese people make

offerings and have prayers on behalf of the spirit of the dead. (Earhart, 17). Every summer for Bon, my family goes to my grandmother’s house and cleans my grandfather’s grave. My grandmother gives him water, tea and food every morning, but for Bon, my grandmother and my mother make my grandfather’s favorite food for him. Although he has been dead for a long time, we spend time remembering him as a family. Sometime in the afternoon, the monk from the temple that my grandfather rests at comes and says a special prayer for him.

Folk religion can be described as the religious beliefs and practices that occur outside of institutionalized religion. It can be the oral tradition that was handed down in families and carried by villages in seasonal observance and villages festivals (Earhart, 20). I found that it is hard to define what the folk religion is. From the Japanese point of view, a good example of folk religion is the local festivals.  Hori who is well known for the study of Japanese folk religion states that, “Folk religion means a group of rites and beliefs which have been deeply felt by the common people, and supported and transmitted by them from generation”(Hori, 2).

Many rituals of folk religion are connected with growing rice. Before the seeding, there are several praying services for good crops, ceremonies for transplanting, praying for rain, for stopping storms or long rains, for driving away injurious birds and noxious insects, the offering of the new harvest and  harvest festivals (Hori, 21). As he discuses in his book, due to Japanese history, many local festivals are related to growing rice. I found that there are different types of festivals related to growing festivals based on the locations. For example, how my friend’s family celebrates the harvest festivals is quite different from how my grandmother celebrates.

As I demonstrated above, Japanese religions are combination of multiple religions (Earhart, 4). For example, their influences allow Japanese people to go to temple, which is the Buddhist influence yet they go to shrines, which is the Shinto influence. I found a good quote describing Japanese people and religion.

“Shinto is the root embedded in the soil of the people’s character and national traditions; Confucianism is seen in the stem and branches of legal institutions, ethical codes, and educational systems; Buddhism made the follower of religious sentiment bloom and gave the fruit of spiritual life”(Anesaki 8)

 

There are various approaches to study Japanese religion. For my presentation, I will apply anthropological approaches, feminist approaches, sociological approaches and historical approaches. I will also discuss the strengths and the weakness of each approach as well as investigations of the author’s methods and their choices of sources.

 Earhart uses multiple approaches that include anthropological and historical approaches. This is because he examines Japanese religion from

 

Japanese contexts. For example, he explains the meaning of religious practices for Japanese people. Meanwhile, he emphasizes the importance of using religious history to understand Japanese religion.

For example, Earhrt states that:

 

“The saying that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its part is very appropriate to the study of Japanese religion. We must view it as a unified whole because the individual strands did not exist in isolation, either in the course of history or in the dynamics of religious life. Thorough Japanese history each strands was influenced by one or more of the others”(Earhart, 3).

 

I think that this illustrates one of the principal characteristics of anthropological approaches. David who discusses anthropological approaches in our assigned reading introduces the idea of holism which is the idea that “[s]ocial practices must be investigated in context and seen as essentially connected to others within the society in question. Anthropology must consider religion and agricultural practices. kinship and politics, music and medicine together”(David, 22). I found that Earhart connects his topics one to another rather than examining each topic separately.

            When Earhart discusses the kami, which are the spirits and deities of nature and the sprit of ancestors (Earhart, 12), he analyzes them with the context of Kojiki whish is the oldest recorded document of Japanese mythology. Earhart tries to understand the meaning of kami from the Kojiki

 

 

because he believes that it helps us recognize early Japanese religious notions that have had a lasting influence. He states that:

“Although the Kojiki reflects some borrowing from China, it establishes the origin and distinctiveness of the Japanese tradition. The story depicts the creation of the world and the appearance of the mythological deities who created the Japanese islands and the Japanese people”(Earhart, 14). 

It is easy to discuss what kami are and the role of kami; however, Earhart examines the Kojiki trying to understand kami from the Japanese recorded document, which reflects the Japanese historical tradition and people. I found that this approach also makes me think that he takes an anthropological approach.

            Earhart also emphasizes the importance of religious history to understand Japanese religion. His books are in chorological ordered starting from the prehistoric heritage to present. For example, he makes categories such as the formation of Japanese religion, the development and elaboration of Japanese religion and formalism and renew in Japanese religion. In each category, the historical events or different religions that are introduced to Japan were discussed in chorological order. Also, Earhart states that:

“In order to understand Japanese religion, we must comprehend it within its own context, in its own historical setting, and though its own activities. The materials in this book are selected and organized to aid this understanding and at the same time to cover aspects of Japanese religion as possible: the content of the various traditions the basic characteristics of the religious heritage as a whole, the changes and ambiguities through the passage of time”(Earhart, 3)

Another example that illustrates the importance of understanding Japanese history is:

“During the first four decades of the twentieth century, Japan’s energies were heavily concentrated on the strengthening of nationalism and militarism; and religion, especially Shinto, was used to further these aims. However, proper historical perspective is crucial if we are to understand Shinto. We must see shrine Shinto as a modern development within a tradition with a long history”(Earhart, 158). 

He often emphasizes religious history. In this case, he explains that if we want to understand Shinto, we should avoid the temptation to see the whole history of Shinto in terms of its modern nationalistic form. The history of Shinto includes not only nationalism and militarism, but also religious life of the shrine. In the other words, we have to examine numerous aspects of Shinto throughout history in order for us to understand Shinto.

To conclude Earhart’s approaches, I found that he constructs his books in the order that he fist introduces the topic, explains it and discusses it from the Japanese point of view using chronological order.  He also intensively uses Japanese authors books to support his books and it seems to me that he is trying to understand what and how Japanese people view Japanese religion.

The strength of using an anthropological approach is that it accepts the differences as they are without criticizing. This approach also respects people who are in the culture. I found that Earhart’s anthropological approach examines Japanese religion from Japanese people’s perspectives. For example, when Earhart explains rituals, he discusses meanings, histories and the importance of ritual for Japanese people. He does not however, add his own opinions into it or compare it to his beliefs or his society. I think that this is because as Earhart said, in order for him to discuss Japanese religion, he had to understand his bias and how it affects his understanding of the world.

On the other hand, anthropology approaches raise some questions. For example, if we analyze every culture from the own point of view, do we have any way to evaluate whether cultural practices are potentially harmful? For example, there is a question that if a culture treats women poorly, do we have to accept it because that is their culture.

The strength of using historical approaches that I found from Earhart’s books is that we can find the relationship between former events and current events. For example, because Earhart organizes his book chronologically, as we read we can easily understand and make a connection between how Christianity was introduced, accepted, flourished and prohibited throughout history.

The weakness of using historical approaches can be that sometimes people can dismiss some information. For example, if I am writing about the introduction of Christianity in Japan focusing too much on what happened in a particular year, I may be dismissing the information about religious history of Christianity in Japan as a whole and what was happening in the society in general. Another weakness of this approach that Clive discusses in her article is that the historical approach can focus too much on leaders and great events and ignore the situation of normal life, everyday activities and normal people (Clive, 91). I think that this is the problem. If we examine an event from one way, we can dismiss many other aspects of the event.     

Davis uses the sociological approach for his book. This is because he uses quantitative research and focuses on the relationship between Japanese religion and society. In his introduction, he states that:

“Wile this book is about Japanese religion, my goal is to frame the discussion in such a way that when readers put the book down, they will have a deeper knowledge of Japanese society and culture in general, and possibly even deeper insight into the nature of religion itself. The book deals with the relationship between Japanese religion, culture, and values on the one hand, and society, social change, and economic development on the other”(Davis, 1) 

While he emphasizes the importance of his method, he criticizes the anthropological approach. He thinks that if anthropology is the process of trying to get a story out of a snapshot, it usually does not work. He believes that the synchrony and diachrony of the snapshot must be woven together, not just rhetorically, but as a fundamental strategy for understanding and explaining what the snapshot is all about (Davis, 2). I think I can see his point. For example, there is the issue about who the insider and the outsider are. Because I am Japanese person, is it appropriate to say that I know Japanese religion? How about the scholars who study Japanese religion? They also know about Japanese religion. Davis’s main point is that we are all insiders not only people who are in a particular culture. Davis states that:

“Native has direct access to the meanings of his or her own culture, whereas the scholar, as an outsider, can only infer or speculate about these meanings indirectly. The natives, however, presumably have not read Shutz or any other phenomenological sociologists and therefore do not realize that their own cultural insights are also interpretations, i.e., meaning they (or other members of the tribe) have created after stopping and thinking. This is to say, at some point in time someone has removed himself, or herself from the immediate flow of events and has creatively for the tribe. While one must always listen respectfully to what natives have to say-after all, it is their story that we are trying to tell-their interpretive structures are not necessarily the only, or the best explanations available (Davis, 7) 

It is true that using only stories from people who are in the culture can be unbalanced. Perhaps, it is appropriate to say that there are different types of insiders. For example, since I am Japanese person who grew up in Japan, I can be an insider with experiences in terms of Japanese religion, but also the scholar who studies Japanese religion can be an insider with academic knowledge. 

Davis’s interest is how religion has passively enabled Japanese society to industrialize and spend less time discussing the direct impact of religious ideas on social and economic change (Davis, 9). Therefore in his book, he speculates on Japanese religion from big frame choosing topics such as the structure of religious groups, the dynamics of social conflict, the dynamics of social and economic change, secularization and national identity.

            The Northcott article that is assigned reading explains the principal characteristics of sociological approaches. One of their characteristics is “ the patterns of social organization including politics, economic production and exchange system and bureaucracy” (Northcott, 201). I think this illustrates what Davis was explaining in Chapter 4 called the Weber thesis and the economic development of Japan. For example, he makes diagram of traditional society, the development and accommodation and the post- confusions industrial society. Davis compares them in terms of society, religion and economy. From these diagrams, we can view how the importance among them has changed as economy has changed.           

I found that the strength of using a sociological approach is that it allows us to examine the relationship between society and religion. For example, with this approach, we can speculate how Japanese religions affect various types of social and economic systems that were used throughout Japanese history.  The weakness of this is that if the author is using a theory from some famous sociologists who speak from the context of Christianity, it does not work out well when we are examining a topic that is outside of the context of Christianity. For example, I found that Davis seems to dismiss Japanese voices and points of view. He explains and discusses the topic by using only Western sociologists but not using Japanese sociologists. I found that his book shows how Western people understand the relationship between Japanese religion and society not how Japanese people understand the relationship between Japanese religion and society.

Okano uses a feminist approach to discuss women’s image and place in Japanese Buddhism. She focuses on Buddhism as the most influential factor shaping the image and role of women and supporting sexism in Japanese society. She does not however, emphasize only the oppression of Japanese women. One of the reasons is that from her point of view, sexual discrimination cannot be measured simply by the extent to which women are excluded from various spheres of life; more often, discrimination is hidden and, therefore, difficult to assess (Okano, 15). Another reason is that she views the issue of sexism in Japanese society not only due to patriarchy but also due to the focus on harmonization in Japanese society. According to

Okano, there is a tendency that we accept and try to harmonize both the good and the bad rater than seek to make clear the difference (Okano, 27).

Okano analyzes how women are portrayed in the context of Buddhism in her book. She compares the difference between the principles of Buddhist teaching and people’s interpretations. For example, although Buddha’s entity is sexless and anyone who achieved enlightenment could be buddha, some Buddhism sects such as the Jodo shin sect interpret it differently and make a statement that the husband is the lord and the wife is the servant (Okano, 16). Okano analyzes how and why those interpretations are created and how they are accepted to the society.

            I found that one of the statements that Morgan makes in her article reflects the Okano’s point of view: “Feminism, like religion, addresses the meaning of human identity and wholeness at the very deepest levels, drawing upon a wide range of interdisciplinary insights from anthropology, theology, sociology, and philosophy”(Morgan, 42). Okano does not make statements that women need to have more power in the society. Moreover, although it is important for Japanese society to have harmony, she encourages people especially women to be aware and think about inequality.

            The strength of using a feminist approach is that it helps women to be aware of their place in society. In this case, I found that examining Buddhism from feminist approach helps us to realize how much Buddhism affects to the place of women. The feminist approach is effective because it can articulate the problem. In the case of Japan from Okano’s view, the problem is that Japanese culture often emphasizes harmony, we tend not to discuss or make social change regarding the treatment of women in Japan. On the other hand, the weakness of the feminist approach is that if we only look at society from women’s point of view ignoring men’s point of view, it is not really examining the whole society. I think that it is very important for us to have both stories and to try to solve the problems together.

            As I demonstrated above, there are numerous ways to understand Japanese religion. In my opinion, the best way to understand Japanese religion is to apply as many approaches as possible so that we can examine it from different perspectives. I also believe that it is vital for us to realize that each approach has strengths and weaknesses. By understating strengths and weaknesses, we know what kind of information and topic are covered and not covered by different approaches 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Anesaki Masaharu, History of Japanese Religion. London, 1930.

 

Davis Winston, Japanese Religion and Society. New York, 1992.

 

Earhart Byron H,  Religion of  Japan. San Francisco, 1984.

 

Earhart Byron H, Religion in The Japanese Experience. Belmont, 1974.

 

Fujimura-Fanselow Kumiko, Japanese women: New Feminist Perspectibes on the Past, Present, and Future. New York, 1995.

 

Hori Ichirou, Folk religion in Japan. Chicago, 1968.

 

Kodansya edited by Hori Ishirou, Japanese Religion. Tokyo, 1972.

 

Warren W Smith, Jr., Confucianism in Modern Japan – A study of conservatism in Japanese intellectual history. Tokyo, 1959.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

There are various approaches to analyze Japanese religion. In my presentation, I will examine Japanese religion using several approaches; anthropological approaches, feminist approaches, sociological approaches and historical approaches.

Before discussing Japanese religion, I will talk about the general idea of what Japanese religion is. Unlike other world religions, there is no single definition of Japanese religion. Japanese religion is understood as the combination of multiple religious beliefs including Confucianism, Taoism Shinto, Buddhism and Folk religion. Therefore, at first I will introduce Confucianism, Taoism Shinto, Buddhism and Folk religion and their influence on Japanese traditions. Second, I will examine Japanese religion by using different approaches.

Confucianism was created by Confucius in 551-479 BC in China. He emphasized a return to virtue and an overall social harmony based upon proper relationships among people in terms of their social roles. Two of the most important teachings of hierarchical relationships are father-son and ruler-citizen (the father and ruler should be benevolent, the son and citizen should be obedient (Earhart, 19). Han Confucianism was brought from Korea to Japan about 404 AD.  Confucian ethical codes and political principles were

 

understood and utilized in Japan. Prince Shotoku (572-621) promulgated the famous Seventeen Article Constitution in 604 AD. The main emphasis of the Seven Article Constitution was on the duties of people towards their sovereign and the need for harmony among inferiors and superiors. (Werrn, 7).

Even now, we can see the influences from this teaching in Japanese society. ‘Jouge Kankei’ which means the proper relationship between superiors and inferiors is a good example of the influence of Confucianism. Japanese people are taught to show high respect to elders, superiors as well as their own parents from their childhoods. It seems to me that in contemporary Japan, ‘Jouge Kankei’ has become more than a religious teaching and it is part of the culture in general. The teaching for social institutions, political organization and the systematization of moral precepts in Japan are also influenced by Confucianism, For example, early Shinto did not have a clear conception of loyalty, filial piety or virtues that were very important for Japanese people’s moral life. Therefore, the very names for these were supplied by Confucianism and gave a systematic teaching of morality and supplied the methods of instruction (Anesaki, 7). Before the introduction of Confucianism, there were no rules that could quite organize Japanese society so well.

 

 

Although Taoism never existed as a separate religious tradition in Japan, by the eighth century a bureau of divination was patterned on a similar bureau at the Chinese court. In general, the Chinese notions of interpreting work with nature and harmonizing human life with nature came to be linked with the Japanese notions about the Kami, nature, and rituals. For example, ideas of luck and fortune telling are examples of the influence of Taoism (Earhart, 18). Most Japanese people tend to choose a ‘good day’ from the calendar for their wedding. Although no one teaches Japanese people that there is good luck and bad luck in our lives, it is just an unwritten rule that everyone learns and applies. For example, if I win the lottery, people will tell me that I have good ‘Un’, which means good luck in Japanese. Another example is that many people say encountering a black cat is a symbol of bad luck. Fortune tellers are very popular and they seem to be accepted among various age groups of Japanese people. Through my experiences, it seems that the palm reading by a fortune teller is the most popular request.

            Shinto (the ways of the gods) is the indigenous religion in Japan. It was formed as a result of the outcomes of the lives of people and their temperament, and it was closely connected with national traditions and social institutions. It is thought that all humans are fundamentally good, and that evil spirits cause all evil. The purpose of most Shinto rituals is to avoid evil spirits by purification, offerings and prayers (Anesaki, 7).

 

The kami are the objects of worship in Shinto. They are sacred spirits and can take various forms such as natural elements like the sun, mountains, trees, rocks, and the wind, or abstract things like fertility as well as ancestors, national heroes and protectors of family clans (Kodansha, 29).

After the Meiji restoration, the Meiji rulers made Shinto their state religion and used Japan's creation myths, showing a direct link between the Sun goddess and the emperors family, to foster national feelings and to justify the emperor's absolute position. Shinto priests became state officials and the government funded important shrines. There were also efforts to separate and emancipate Shinto from Buddhism completely. After World War II, Shinto was completely separated from the state and was classified as a normal religion. Today, most of the shrines belong to the Association of Shinto Shrines (Kodansha, 37).

I found that a large percentage of Japanese people, who do not think of themselves as Shintoists, participate in occasional rituals. For example, many Japanese people tend to have traditional weddings at shrines and infants are dedicated at the shrines. The Seven Five Three Festival (Shichi Go San Matsuri), an autumnal rite, features the presentation of children of these ages at the shrines. The coming of age ceremony (Seijin Shiki), held on January 15, officially recognizes the adulthood of those who will reach the age of twenty during the calendar year. The New Year (Shogatu) is the time

 

when many Japanese people make the year's first visit (Hatsumode) to a Shinto shrine, and often to a Buddhist temple as well, to seek purification from the defilements of the past year and good fortune for the coming year. This season also features many other customs such as displays of symbolic decorations, the preparation and consumption of special foods, game playing, kite flying, calligraphy practice and fortune telling (Neill, pp.14-19). I think, however, that the biggest ritual that is influenced by Shinto is the purification.  It is amazing to see how many Japanese people take the purification seriously. Going to the Shrine and having purifications at least one time a year seems to be part of the Japanese people’s way of life.

            Buddhism originated in India in the six century. It consists of the teaching of the Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha, and its theories are that human life is full of suffering due to worldly desires, illness, death and the loss of loved ones. By getting rid of desires and attachments, we can achieve the state of enlightenment (Nirvana) and escape suffering and the circle of reincarnations (Kodansya, 47).

 Buddhism was imported to Japan in 538 AD or 552 AD in form of a present from the king of the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche). The ruling nobles welcomed the teaching of Buddhism while the common people did not understand its complex theories. After a few conflicts with the native religion Shinto, the two religions were soon able to coexist

 

harmoniously  and even complemented each other. Therefore, still now, there are no conflicts for most people whether we go to a temple or a shrine as long as we participate in religious rituals (Kodansya, 48).

During the Heian period, two new Buddhist sects were founded. The Tendai sect and the Shingon sect were imported from China in 805 AD and 806 A.D. They were gradually interpreted in a Japanese way so that they could fit into Japanese society, and later they developed into further branches. In 1175, the Judo sect (Pure Land sect) was founded which allowed beliefs to be spread to different social classes of people because its theories were very simple and based on the principle that everybody can achieve salvation by strongly believing in the Buddha Amida.

The Zen sect was introduced from China in 1191 and is one of the most popular branches of Buddhism in contemporary Japan. Its complicated theories were popular, particularly among the members of the military class. According to Zen teachings, one can achieve self-enlightenment through meditation and self-discipline (Kodansya, 40)

            One of the most important rituals, influenced by Buddhism is a family centred rite called Bon festival. It is the time when the spirits of the deceased are welcomed home for a visit with special food offerings and other signs of respectful attentiveness. Bon is known as the festival of the Dead, and it occurs between August 13 and 15.  During that time, Japanese people make

 

offerings and have prayers on behalf of the spirit of the dead. (Earhart, 17). Every summer for Bon, my family goes to my grandmother’s house and cleans my grandfather’s grave. My grandmother gives him water, tea and food every morning, but for Bon, my grandmother and my mother make my grandfather’s favorite food for him. Although he has been dead for a long time, we spend time remembering him as a family. Sometime in the afternoon, the monk from the temple that my grandfather rests at comes and says a special prayer for him.

Folk religion can be described as the religious beliefs and practices that occur outside of institutionalized religion. It can be the oral tradition that was handed down in families and carried by villages in seasonal observance and villages festivals (Earhart, 20). I found that it is hard to define what the folk religion is. From the Japanese point of view, a good example of folk religion is the local festivals.  Hori who is well known for the study of Japanese folk religion states that, “Folk religion means a group of rites and beliefs which have been deeply felt by the common people, and supported and transmitted by them from generation”(Hori, 2).

Many rituals of folk religion are connected with growing rice. Before the seeding, there are several praying services for good crops, ceremonies for transplanting, praying for rain, for stopping storms or long rains, for driving away injurious birds and noxious insects, the offering of the new harvest and

 

harvest festivals (Hori, 21). As he discuses in his book, due to Japanese history, many local festivals are related to growing rice. I found that there are different types of festivals related to growing festivals based on the locations. For example, how my friend’s family celebrates the harvest festivals is quite different from how my grandmother celebrates.

As I demonstrated above, Japanese religions are combination of multiple religions (Earhart, 4). For example, their influences allow Japanese people to go to temple, which is the Buddhist influence yet they go to shrines, which is the Shinto influence. I found a good quote describing Japanese people and religion.

“Shinto is the root embedded in the soil of the people’s character and national traditions; Confucianism is seen in the stem and branches of legal institutions, ethical codes, and educational systems; Buddhism made the follower of religious sentiment bloom and gave the fruit of spiritual life”(Anesaki 8)

 

There are various approaches to study Japanese religion. For my presentation, I will apply anthropological approaches, feminist approaches, sociological approaches and historical approaches. I will also discuss the strengths and the weakness of each approach as well as investigations of the author’s methods and their choices of sources.

 Earhart uses multiple approaches that include anthropological and historical approaches. This is because he examines Japanese religion from

 

Japanese contexts. For example, he explains the meaning of religious practices for Japanese people. Meanwhile, he emphasizes the importance of using religious history to understand Japanese religion.

For example, Earhrt states that:

 

“The saying that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its part is very appropriate to the study of Japanese religion. We must view it as a unified whole because the individual strands did not exist in isolation, either in the course of history or in the dynamics of religious life. Thorough Japanese history each strands was influenced by one or more of the others”(Earhart, 3).

 

I think that this illustrates one of the principal characteristics of anthropological approaches. David who discusses anthropological approaches in our assigned reading introduces the idea of holism which is the idea that “[s]ocial practices must be investigated in context and seen as essentially connected to others within the society in question. Anthropology must consider religion and agricultural practices. kinship and politics, music and medicine together”(David, 22). I found that Earhart connects his topics one to another rather than examining each topic separately.

            When Earhart discusses the kami, which are the spirits and deities of nature and the sprit of ancestors (Earhart, 12), he analyzes them with the context of Kojiki whish is the oldest recorded document of Japanese mythology. Earhart tries to understand the meaning of kami from the Kojiki

 

 

because he believes that it helps us recognize early Japanese religious notions that have had a lasting influence. He states that:

“Although the Kojiki reflects some borrowing from China, it establishes the origin and distinctiveness of the Japanese tradition. The story depicts the creation of the world and the appearance of the mythological deities who created the Japanese islands and the Japanese people”(Earhart, 14).

 

It is easy to discuss what kami are and the role of kami; however, Earhart examines the Kojiki trying to understand kami from the Japanese recorded document, which reflects the Japanese historical tradition and people. I found that this approach also makes me think that he takes an anthropological approach.

            Earhart also emphasizes the importance of religious history to understand Japanese religion. His books are in chorological ordered starting from the prehistoric heritage to present. For example, he makes categories such as the formation of Japanese religion, the development and elaboration of Japanese religion and formalism and renew in Japanese religion. In each category, the historical events or different religions that are introduced to Japan were discussed in chorological order. Also, Earhart states that:

“In order to understand Japanese religion, we must comprehend it within its own context, in its own historical setting, and though its own activities. The materials in this book are selected and organized to aid this understanding and at the same time to cover aspects of Japanese religion as possible: the content of the various traditions the

 

 

basic characteristics of the religious heritage as a whole, the changes and ambiguities through the passage of time”(Earhart, 3)

 

Another example that illustrates the importance of understanding Japanese history is:

“During the first four decades of the twentieth century, Japan’s energies were heavily concentrated on the strengthening of nationalism and militarism; and religion, especially Shinto, was used to further these aims. However, proper historical perspective is crucial if we are to understand Shinto. We must see shrine Shinto as a modern development within a tradition with a long history”(Earhart, 158).

 

He often emphasizes religious history. In this case, he explains that if we want to understand Shinto, we should avoid the temptation to see the whole history of Shinto in terms of its modern nationalistic form. The history of Shinto includes not only nationalism and militarism, but also religious life of the shrine. In the other words, we have to examine numerous aspects of Shinto throughout history in order for us to understand Shinto.

To conclude Earhart’s approaches, I found that he constructs his books in the order that he fist introduces the topic, explains it and discusses it from the Japanese point of view using chronological order.  He also intensively uses Japanese authors books to support his books and it seems to me that he is trying to understand what and how Japanese people view Japanese religion.

 

The strength of using an anthropological approach is that it accepts the differences as they are without criticizing. This approach also respects people who are in the culture. I found that Earhart’s anthropological approach examines Japanese religion from Japanese people’s perspectives. For example, when Earhart explains rituals, he discusses meanings, histories and the importance of ritual for Japanese people. He does not however, add his own opinions into it or compare it to his beliefs or his society. I think that this is because as Earhart said, in order for him to discuss Japanese religion, he had to understand his bias and how it affects his understanding of the world.

On the other hand, anthropology approaches raise some questions. For example, if we analyze every culture from the own point of view, do we have any way to evaluate whether cultural practices are potentially harmful? For example, there is a question that if a culture treats women poorly, do we have to accept it because that is their culture.

The strength of using historical approaches that I found from Earhart’s books is that we can find the relationship between former events and current events. For example, because Earhart organizes his book chronologically, as we read we can easily understand and make a connection between how Christianity was introduced, accepted, flourished and prohibited throughout history.

 

The weakness of using historical approaches can be that sometimes people can dismiss some information. For example, if I am writing about the introduction of Christianity in Japan focusing too much on what happened in a particular year, I may be dismissing the information about religious history of Christianity in Japan as a whole and what was happening in the society in general. Another weakness of this approach that Clive discusses in her article is that the historical approach can focus too much on leaders and great events and ignore the situation of normal life, everyday activities and normal people (Clive, 91). I think that this is the problem. If we examine an event from one way, we can dismiss many other aspects of the event.     

Davis uses the sociological approach for his book. This is because he uses quantitative research and focuses on the relationship between Japanese religion and society. In his introduction, he states that:

“Wile this book is about Japanese religion, my goal is to frame the discussion in such a way that when readers put the book down, they will have a deeper knowledge of Japanese society and culture in general, and possibly even deeper insight into the nature of religion itself. The book deals with the relationship between Japanese religion, culture, and values on the one hand, and society, social change, and economic development on the other”(Davis, 1)

 

While he emphasizes the importance of his method, he criticizes the anthropological approach. He thinks that if anthropology is the process of trying to get a story out of a snapshot, it usually does not work. He believes

 

that the synchrony and diachrony of the snapshot must be woven together, not just rhetorically, but as a fundamental strategy for understanding and explaining what the snapshot is all about (Davis, 2). I think I can see his point. For example, there is the issue about who the insider and the outsider are. Because I am Japanese person, is it appropriate to say that I know Japanese religion? How about the scholars who study Japanese religion? They also know about Japanese religion. Davis’s main point is that we are all insiders not only people who are in a particular culture. Davis states that:

“Native has direct access to the meanings of his or her own culture, whereas the scholar, as an outsider, can only infer or speculate about these meanings indirectly. The natives, however, presumably have not read Shutz or any other phenomenological sociologists and therefore do not realize that their own cultural insights are also interpretations, i.e., meaning they (or other members of the tribe) have created after stopping and thinking. This is to say, at some point in time someone has removed himself, or herself from the immediate flow of events and has creatively for the tribe. While one must always listen respectfully to what natives have to say-after all, it is their story that we are trying to tell-their interpretive structures are not necessarily the only, or the best explanations available (Davis, 7)

 

It is true that using only stories from people who are in the culture can be unbalanced. Perhaps, it is appropriate to say that there are different types of insiders. For example, since I am Japanese person who grew up in Japan, I can be an insider with experiences in terms of Japanese religion, but also the

 

scholar who studies Japanese religion can be an insider with academic knowledge. 

Davis’s interest is how religion has passively enabled Japanese society to industrialize and spend less time discussing the direct impact of religious ideas on social and economic change (Davis, 9). Therefore in his book, he speculates on Japanese religion from big frame choosing topics such as the structure of religious groups, the dynamics of social conflict, the dynamics of social and economic change, secularization and national identity.

            The Northcott article that is assigned reading explains the principal characteristics of sociological approaches. One of their characteristics is

“ the patterns of social organization including politics, economic production and exchange system and bureaucracy” (Northcott, 201). I think this illustrates what Davis was explaining in Chapter 4 called the Weber thesis and the economic development of Japan. For example, he makes diagram of traditional society, the development and accommodation and the post- confusions industrial society. Davis compares them in terms of society, religion and economy. From these diagrams, we can view how the importance among them has changed as economy has changed.           

I found that the strength of using a sociological approach is that it allows us to examine the relationship between society and religion. For example, with this approach, we can speculate how Japanese religions affect

 

various types of social and economic systems that were used throughout Japanese history.  The weakness of this is that if the author is using a theory from some famous sociologists who speak from the context of Christianity, it does not work out well when we are examining a topic that is outside of the context of Christianity. For example, I found that Davis seems to dismiss Japanese voices and points of view. He explains and discusses the topic by using only Western sociologists but not using Japanese sociologists. I found that his book shows how Western people understand the relationship between Japanese religion and society not how Japanese people understand the relationship between Japanese religion and society.

Okano uses a feminist approach to discuss women’s image and place in Japanese Buddhism. She focuses on Buddhism as the most influential factor shaping the image and role of women and supporting sexism in Japanese society. She does not however, emphasize only the oppression of Japanese women. One of the reasons is that from her point of view, sexual discrimination cannot be measured simply by the extent to which women are excluded from various spheres of life; more often, discrimination is hidden and, therefore, difficult to assess (Okano, 15). Another reason is that she views the issue of sexism in Japanese society not only due to patriarchy but also due to the focus on harmonization in Japanese society. According to

 

 

Okano, there is a tendency that we accept and try to harmonize both the good and the bad rater than seek to make clear the difference (Okano, 27).

Okano analyzes how women are portrayed in the context of Buddhism in her book. She compares the difference between the principles of Buddhist teaching and people’s interpretations. For example, although Buddha’s entity is sexless and anyone who achieved enlightenment could be buddha, some Buddhism sects such as the Jodo shin sect interpret it differently and make a statement that the husband is the lord and the wife is the servant (Okano, 16). Okano analyzes how and why those interpretations are created and how they are accepted to the society.

            I found that one of the statements that Morgan makes in her article reflects the Okano’s point of view: “Feminism, like religion, addresses the meaning of human identity and wholeness at the very deepest levels, drawing upon a wide range of interdisciplinary insights from anthropology, theology, sociology, and philosophy”(Morgan, 42). Okano does not make statements that women need to have more power in the society. Moreover, although it is important for Japanese society to have harmony, she encourages people especially women to be aware and think about inequality.

            The strength of using a feminist approach is that it helps women to be aware of their place in society. In this case, I found that examining Buddhism from feminist approach helps us to realize how much Buddhism affects to the

 

place of women. The feminist approach is effective because it can articulate the problem. In the case of Japan from Okano’s view, the problem is that Japanese culture often emphasizes harmony, we tend not to discuss or make social change regarding the treatment of women in Japan. On the other hand, the weakness of the feminist approach is that if we only look at society from women’s point of view ignoring men’s point of view, it is not really examining the whole society. I think that it is very important for us to have both stories and to try to solve the problems together.

            As I demonstrated above, there are numerous ways to understand Japanese religion. In my opinion, the best way to understand Japanese religion is to apply as many approaches as possible so that we can examine it from different perspectives. I also believe that it is vital for us to realize that each approach has strengths and weaknesses. By understating strengths and weaknesses, we know what kind of information and topic are covered and not covered by different approaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Anesaki Masaharu, History of Japanese Religion. London, 1930.

 

Davis Winston, Japanese Religion and Society. New York, 1992.

 

Earhart Byron H,  Religion of  Japan. San Francisco, 1984.

 

Earhart Byron H, Religion in The Japanese Experience. Belmont, 1974.

 

Fujimura-Fanselow Kumiko, Japanese women: New Feminist Perspectibes on the Past, Present, and Future. New York, 1995.

 

Hori Ichirou, Folk religion in Japan. Chicago, 1968.

 

Kodansya edited by Hori Ishirou, Japanese Religion. Tokyo, 1972.

 

Warren W Smith, Jr., Confucianism in Modern Japan – A study of conservatism in Japanese intellectual history. Tokyo, 1959.