Religious Beliefs In Japan

Shintoism and combined Shintoism-Buddhism are the main religions in Japan.


Folk Shintoism

Shintoism is a unique indigenous religion of the nation of Japan. Shinto is a very old religion in Japan, with it being unknown when it first started as early Japanese writings do not give reference to a unified Shinto religion, but rather a collection of native mythologies and beliefs instead. It was not until the second half of the 6th Century that the word Shindo (now Shinto) was used and now until the 8th Century that the practices of the religion were first known to be recorded in the historical record of the Nihon Shoki and the Kojiki. Shintoism is a religion focused on ritual practices, and the worship of many kami (gods) that manifests in various forms to try and established a connection between current Japan and its ancient past. Shinto is the largest religion in Japan and actually practiced by a majority of the population, however a lot of people do not identify themselves as Shintoists. This is do to the fact that the religion has different meaning to different people, so it is seen by some a not being a religion. Most who practice Shintoism worship at shrines and to kami without belonging to a actual organized Shinto organization. Folk or unorganized Shintoism as no formal rituals to becoming a member. Currently there are around 100,000 Shinto shrines and 79,000 priests in the country.


Buddhism arrived in Japan at some point around the middle of the 16th Century, having come to Japan from the Kingdom of Baekje (18 BC-660 AD) on the Korean Peninsula. Within a few decades, the religion was increasingly accepted in Japan after overcoming violent opposition from conservative forces in the country. It was also around this time that Japan experienced immigration from Korea, as well as cultural influence from China, which influenced Buddhism in Japan since it was a important religion in both those countries. It was due to these reasons that the Yamato state of Japan (~250-710 AD) started to construct Buddhist temples at the capital of Nara which led to what is known today as Nara Buddhism in Japan. In 794 the capital had moved to the city of Helan, now known as Kyoto, and it was during this time that more branches of Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism and Tendai Buddhism, came to Japan.

During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when the capital moved to the city near the start of the rule of the shogunate (1185-1868), Zen Buddhism arrived in the country and two schools of the religion were established, namely Rinzai and Sōtō. In 1661, a third school of Zen, Ōbaku, was established and during this time Zen Buddhism was the most popular form of the religion. It was also during the Kamakura period that Pure Land Buddhism and Nichiren Buddhism arrived in the country. During the Meiji Restoration of 1868, imperial power was centralized, Japan started on the road to modernization and Shinto was made the official state religion. Unfortunately for Buddhism shinbutsu bunri was enacted to separate Shinto and Buddhism as over the past centuries they had blended into Shinbutsu-shūgō, which was Japan only organized religion before the Meiji Restoration. After the elimination of shared worship and temples this was taken a step farther when haibutsu kishaku was enacted to try to eradicated Buddhism altogether. Following these events Buddhism was pushed to the edges of Japanese society and declined during most of the 20th Century. Since the 1980's however there has been a uptick in Buddhism in the country and as of 2014 there are around 377,000 Buddhist leaders, monks, and priests in the country.


In most world surveys of country by irreligion, atheism, and agnosticism, Japan almost always ranks as one of the most highly irreligious countries in the world. This, however, is difficult to quantify in cultures in East Asia, including Japan, due to the fact that they tend to define religion differently, have a history of more syncretic mixing of various religious beliefs and the fact that some see there beliefs as more of custom and culture then religion. In Japan it is also harder to classify due to the fact that a lot of the people incorporate practices from multiple religions into their lives and are religious without belonging to any religious organization. Similar to many developed first world nations, a decline of religion in Japan has been seen in recent decades, particularly among its young people.

Structured Shintoism

Structured Shintoism is relatively new to Japan, as for most of its history Shintoism was an unorganized folk religion. Starting in the 1890's the designation of local organizes religious communities was made as sect Shinto to differentiate them from government-owned shrines after government influence to link Shintoism with nationalism began in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration. Sect Shinto then developed and grew and is structured since it has a identifiable founder, a formal set of teachings, sacred scriptures, rules and rituals. There are thirteen different sects of Sect Shinto that are organized into the different groups of pure Shinto sects, Confucian sects, mountain worship sects, purification sects and faith healing sects. Currently structured Shintoism makes up a small minority of overall Shintoism in Japan.


Christianity first came to Japan in 1549, six years after Portuguese traders had become active in the country, That year three Jesuit Catholic missionaries, Francis Xavier, Cosme de Torres and Juan Fernández, landed in the city of Kagoshima. These missions succeeded in converting many people and over the next few decades the number of Christians grew rapidly, with churches being built and local lords who had accepted the religion forcing other to adopt it. Towards the end of the 16th Century, Toyotomi Hideyohsi (1536/37-1598) banned the religion and in 1597 executed 26 Franciscans as a warning to take his new more serious edict on banning the religion seriously. Shortly after Hideyoshi's death his Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) would seize power in Japan and become Shogun and he and his successors kept the ban on Christianity in place. In 1873 shortly after the Meiji Restoration the ban was dismissed and today around 2.3% of Japan's population is Christian, with most living in the western area of the country where the religion originally started in the country.

What is the Major Religion in Japan?

Shintoism and combined Shintoism-Buddhism are the main religions in Japan. Minority religions include Buddhism, Atheism, and Christianity.

Religious Beliefs In Japan

RankBelief SystemShare of Japanese Population
1Folk or Unorganized Shintoism41.5%
2Buddhism or Combined Buddhism-Shintoism34.9%
3Atheist or Agnostic13.3%
4Structured Shintoism4.0%
Folk Religion, Hinduism, Jainism, and Other Beliefs4.0%


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