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Majority of Japanese show scant interest in established religion

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Religion -- and one religion in particular -- has frequently been in the news since the slaying of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8.

But if a survey by Weekly Playboy (Aug 29) is to be believed, religion in Japan appears to have surprisingly little appeal. The nationwide survey of 1,000 men and women -- 100 males and 100 females respectively -- questioned adults in five age segments: 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60-69 years of age.

According to the most recent edition of the Yearbook on Religion issued by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, as of December 2020, the number of claimed adherents were, for Shinto-affiliated, 82,670,000; for Buddhist affiliated, 47,170,000; for Christian-affiliated, 930,000; and for the rest, 4,250,000.

The Cultural Agency's report also noted that compared with 20 or 30 years ago, the numbers of adherents of mainstream Shinto and Buddhism have undergone a considerable decline, a "drifting away from religion," so to speak.

The first question posed by Weekly Playboy to the 1,000 subjects was, do you belong to a specific religious group?

In addition to 68.2% who said they had no religion, a remarkable 79.8% responded either negatively or "don't know" to the question of if they had an affiliation with a religious organization, with the breakdown among the remaining 20.2% of respondents given as 11.8% Buddhist-affiliated; 2.2% Christian-affiliated, 1.5% Shinto-affiliated; and 1.6%, "other."

The believers and non-believers were then asked, "What role does religion play in your life?" Of the 318 respondents in the former group, 17.6% said it was intimate and important; 23.9% believed religion was something the world needed; 26.4% said it didn't matter so much to them one way or the other; 17.6% said they had an unfavorable impression of religion; and 14.5% said they had no concern.

Of the 682 respondents without religious affiliation, 48.4% said they had no interest; 24% said they had an unfavorable impression; 20% said they could take it or leave it; and 6.3% said they felt that in general, the world needs religion

"During the economic bubble, some so-called 'New New Religions' concealed their status in that they did not assume traditional aspects of religion, but rather attracted adherents via things like self-improvement seminars or channeling," said Hiromi Shimada, a widely known authority on religion. "These had the advantages of earning money, thanks to the overheated economy, and many targeted young people who had come to Tokyo from the countryside."

The next question asked, "In venues such as the workplace or at restaurants, etc, if a person with whom you are not on close terms raises the subject of religion, do you feel it objectionable or disagreeable?"

To this, 34% respondents felt so considerably; 27.2% to some degree; 17.7% not much, and 21.1% not at all.

Overall, a wide generation gap could be discerned in the replies. For example, when comparing responses to the above by those in their 20s and 50s, the latter were less tolerant of religion, with 68.5% of the older people saying they either felt discomfort strongly or to some degree, compared to a combined 49% of those in their 20s.

Only 25% of the total respondents said they had experienced being proselytized at school, the workplace or by friend or family members. However each age segment showed an incremental increase, rising from 15% to those in their 20s to 36.5% to those in their 60s.

Next question: Who in your circle of family, friends and acquaintances knows about your own religion or religious affiliation?

The responses, in descending order, were family members and relatives, 37.6%; believers in the same faith, 12.3%; friends and acquaintances, 10%; co-workers and boss, 7.5%; romantic partner, 4.5%; other, 2.5%, and -- the greatest number of responses -- no one at all, at 42%.

"The low percentages of believers among young people in Japan reflect a common trend with other advanced economies, such as in Europe, where Christianity is in overall decline, and in the U.S., where the number of believers is also showing an incremental decline," Shimada explained. "With greater urbanization and resulting decrease in the sense of community, religion loses its appeal. These days, I get the feeling that people are more likely to think, 'That sort of thing is depressing.'"

"With the wide dissemination of social media in recent times, the state of society has undergone dramatic change," Shimada said. "The world that matters is not the real one that exists right in front of you, but the one inside your smartphone -- that's what's become the reality.

"These have become difficult times for traditional religions, in terms of their ability to assemble a certain number of people having shared beliefs," he added.

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

22 Comments
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The nationwide survey of 1,000 men and women -- 100 males and 100 females respectively...

Was it 1000 men and women or 200 men and women?

5 ( +9 / -4 )

An association with a religion could reshuffle an administration and start background checks on politicians.

All I say is if discrimination on religion is acceptable the carry on. Just be ready to apply that rule equally.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Over 33 years knowing, working with Japanese or living in Japan did I only met once one Japanese couple who (1) was "religious" and (2) actually (pretty) vocal about it.

They were living in our apartment complex, were both Christians (not that the religion actually matters, I guess), and (we assumed) mentioned it to me and wifey assuming that we were too (gaijin-effect for ya).

She was raised in a buddhist household with her father (or was it grand-father?) being a priest and could never get into Buddhism, felt torn about it, considered suicide (yes, she actually told us all of that at the very first meeting with them!), ultimately turned to Christianism (not really sure why though, the conclusion was clear (conversion, baptism, etc) but the path leading to that were just, well, left to guessing), could only consider mariage with another Christian who basically felt the same and here they were at our table in the coffee corner of the apartment complex talking to us...

As tactfully as possible, did I mention that I was an atheist to which wifey mentioned that she wasn't a believer either...

They never talked to us ever again (big relief) and moved out at one point I believe.

All other Japanese where religion did pop up in the discussion said they weren't. Some were pretty adamant about it, but most of them were just "dismissive" of religions in general I felt.

Funnily enough, when you look at these figures...

According to the most recent edition of the Yearbook on Religion issued by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, as of December 2020, the number of claimed adherents were, for Shinto-affiliated, 82,670,000; for Buddhist affiliated, 47,170,000; for Christian-affiliated, 930,000; and for the rest, 4,250,000.

...and add them up, you end up with more believers than the actual population of Japan!

Shinto and Buddhism can overlap. I think there is a saying according to which, the Japanese can go to Shinto festivals, marry in a church but will always have a buddhist funeral in the end.

But in a country where the non-religious feeling is seemingly so strong, it is striking...You're kind of left thinking that if you go to a Matsuri you are tagged a Shinto-believer or if you go to a buddhist funeral tagged a buddhist by default or something...

I would take these figures with a 10-ton block of salt...

Especially in regard to the negative answers to the poll...

In addition to 68.2% who said they had no religion, a remarkable 79.8% responded either negatively or "don't know" to the question of if they had an affiliation with a religious organization, with the breakdown among the remaining 20.2% of respondents given as 11.8% Buddhist-affiliated; 2.2% Christian-affiliated, 1.5% Shinto-affiliated; and 1.6%, "other."

Still, while the population heavily leans towards a non-religious feeling, is religion seemingly everywhere in politics. Why????

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Still, while the population heavily leans towards a non-religious feeling, is religion seemingly everywhere in politics. Why????

Money and influence.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

It depends how one defines "religion". The need for a belief system is built-in to humans. Where traditional religion does not meet that, a majority will turn to pseudo-religion. In Japan, that means the "religion" of most people is simply endless navel gazing about "being Japanese". In the West, we see the rise of pseudo-religions like climatism and wokeism.

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

How does that song go?

Religion... do-do-dododo, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

A very gloomy picture indeed. Another reason i would find it hard to live in Japan for the rest of my life, even longer than a year or so. Im an orthodox Christian and in my country and city there are so many believers, different confessions - orthodox, catholics, protestants- who could really amaze you in a good, not distorted way with their sincere faith. We have lots of major Christian holidays being state holidays. In Japan it would probably be very lonely for me.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Para Sitius

Religion... do-do-dododo, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Social cohesian and simple answers for those who are unwilling/unable to think about ethics and philosophy by themselves. Fair enough?

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

When I was working in Japan, one person asked about my religion purely from curiosity. I gave a 3 sentence answer and that was the end of it for the remaining time.

I've met good, moral, people around the world with and without religions.

I've met nasty, terrible, people around the world with and without religions.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

the Fu:

Err, what's the 3rd sentence.......

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Martimurano:

the Fu:

Err, what's the 3rd sentence.......

Those 2 sentences above were NOT part of the 3 sentences to my Japanese coworker and friend. The ideas in the 3rd sentence, if posted here, would be removed by the moderators for being vulgar, based on the 10+ posts removed previously on religious subjects.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Was it 1000 men and women or 200 men and women?

It was poorly worded, but it looks like 200 men and women from each of the five age groups, totaling 1000 respondents.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Good! Keep it that way.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

"It depends how one defines 'religion'. The need for a belief system is built-in to humans. Where traditional religion does not meet that, a majority will turn to pseudo-religion. In Japan, that means the 'religion' of most people is simply endless navel gazing about 'being Japanese'. In the West, we see the rise of pseudo-religions like climatism and wokeism."

WiiliB puts it well. Sino-Japanese 宗教 (shuukyou) tends to refer to organizations rather than faith systems. If many Japanese are skeptical about or even hostile to "shuukyou," that may have more to do with a negative view of "groups" rather than of ideas...The Japanese tend to be eclectic in their beliefs and unlikely to pass any sort of "theological literacy" test, but they are also remarkably tolerant...One is arguably safer being a practicing Catholic in Japan than in some parts of the United States.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

WilliB

Social cohesion and simple answers for those who are unwilling/unable to think about ethics and philosophy by themselves. Fair enough?

Uh-huh, much like how Murica is all cohesive at the moment with the whole abortion issue because Christians are forcing their values on others personal choices.

Simple answers for people who are unwilling/unable to think deeper.

Ethics and Philosophy doesn't require religion and never has.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Para Sitius

Uh-huh, much like how Murica is all cohesive at the moment with the whole abortion issue because Christians are forcing their values on others personal choices.

I do not see that. The political tribal conflicts in America, largely whipped up and amplified by media and Big Tech, would exist with and without "Christians".

Ethics and Philosophy doesn't require religion and never has.

That is what I said. However, they do require indiviual effort and the will to think individually, and a majority of the population does not have that. Simply put, religion is philosophy for simpletons.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Not religious but extremely superstitious with entrenched woo woo beliefs like blood groups determining your personality.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Christianism 

Never heard of it.

Set ritual aside. Philosophy and religion are on the same continuum.

Most people apparently do quite well without either until there’s a problem in their lives that requires reflection.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have no problem telling others that I am not religious when asked.

I believe in being good to others and good will happen to you.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

But if a survey by Weekly Playboy (Aug 29) is to be believed

If a survey wants to be believed, they'll get a better name.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

An association with a religion could reshuffle an administration and start background checks on politicians.

Any belief system, religious or secular, could reshuffle and purge. Ask the Communist parties and the new american GQP party.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Ask the Communist parties and the new american GQP party.

GQP? “Gentlemen’s Quarterly Party?

The Q and O are rather far apart on the keyboard I use, but, assuming you mean GOP (Republican party) and assuming you are referring to the heave ho voters gave Liz Cheney, are you saying that the GOP and RCP, CCP, etc. engage in the same practices?

The GOP does not stage show trials (though Democrats seems to enjoy staging these spectacles), order mass executions, and permanently exile to wastelands all in the name of purification.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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