Some say that to truly understand Asia, you must be able to hold two conflicting ideas in your head at once.
This also seems to apply to religion – perhaps especially so in Japan.
I could be very mistaken, but I think that Japan is one of the few countries in the entire world where two major religions have existed side-by-side for a very long time, without it leading to wars.
Yes, there are issues with that argument if we go back to the ‘Christian century’ and Tokogawa’s persecution of Christians, but if we look at Shinto and Buddhism, by far the biggest religions in the country today, it still remains true to the best of my knowledge.
I think the main reason for this could be two-fold…and that that sentence might be a pun or play on words….
One is that neither religion is as dismissive of others as it has traditionally been the case with Western monotheistic religions. Hell, for a long time Shinto wasn’t really one religion as such – and the same can be said for the various branches of Buddhism present in Japan.
The other is how Japanese people have melded the two together. Like many things in Japan, religion is to a large degree a case of mix-and-match. Birth and death is mostly Buddhist, while marriages to a large degree belong to Shinto. New Year’s (a very important celebration in Japan) is split between the two, while Obon (probably he holiest holiday in the country) is Shinto.
Maybe it also has a lot to do with how the Japanese themselves view religion. A recent study asked Japanese people whether they considered themselves religious. Over half said no. However, further examination revealed that over 85% of people took part in Buddhist and Shinto ceremonies at least several times a year.
It’s been my experience that the ritual and taking part – to a degree because everybody else is doing it (here in a good way) – is as important to Japanese people as the religious aspects themselves.
And I think it’s a massive positive in relation to Japanese people being open to religious differences, and that there can be more than one true answer to a given existential question.
The monotheistic religions seem to be opposite in this regards, and more like this: