Hi there.I’m Naoemon.
The Meiji government aggressively pursued a policy of domestic modernization in order to catch up with the Western powers. In the process, a policy was implemented to make Shintoism the state religion and to separate Shintoism and Buddhism. The core of this policy was the “Shinto/Buddhism Separation Order,” which stipulated the removal of Buddhist-related objects from shrines and the acquisition of Buddhist temple lands by the state. This led to the movement to abolish Buddhism, which resulted in the stripping of Buddhist powers of their privileges, the destruction of temples, and the confiscation of land. The widespread breaking into temples and destroying valuable Buddhist statues and scriptures dealt a severe blow to Buddhist culture in Japan.
Similarly, during the Meiji period (1868-1912), the “Abolition of Castles Order” was issued, and many Japanese castles were demolished. These events drastically changed the religious landscape of Japan.
Furthermore, after World War II, Shintoism was also rejected by the victorious occupying powers, further diluting Japan’s religious identity. As a result, many modern Japanese have grown up without interest in religion and without knowledge of religious customs and teachings. For this reason, we Japanese are generally regarded as virtually non-religious.
Interestingly, however, the influence of Buddhist teachings and Shintoism has not disappeared. We Japanese may not learn much about these religious elements directly, but their influence is ingrained in Japanese culture and values. Even if we do not follow a religion, Japanese ethnicity fosters high ethical and moral standards, which are manifested in our daily lives.
For example, the importance of greetings, concern for others, expressions of empathy, and concern for the environment are values that permeate the daily lives of the Japanese people. These values may have their origins in Buddhism’s “consideration for others” and Shintoism’s “harmony with nature. Thus, although the Japanese may not be religious, moral values are deeply rooted in our culture.
Because of this background, we Japanese are generally considered non-religious, yet our values and morality are admired throughout the world. These characteristics are imprinted in the genes of the Japanese people and influence our personalities and behaviors. In other words, even as our religious framework fades, our uniqueness and moral values as Japanese people persist.
Finally, the fact that the Japanese are non-religious is supported by historical events and cultural transitions. While the influence of Buddhism and Shintoism may be only a formality in contemporary Japanese society, their values and morality are deeply ingrained in the Japanese mind and have a profound influence on our behavior and social life. Even if we are not religious, we Japanese have our own unique culture and values to be proud of.