| In addition to the traditional religions of Shinto and Buddhism, Japan is also home to more than 600 new religions (shinko shukyo), which incorporate Buddhist, Shinto, and Christian elements. In this video series, Harvard University professors Theodore Bestor and Helen Hardacre discuss the impact of religious values and traditions on Japanese life.
Helen Hardacre :: Many people think that Japan is perhaps the most secular society on earth. That is to say, the society where religion has the least influence. A secular society is one where religion has very little influence or place in the public realm. However, if we add up the number of people who belong to all of the branches of Japanese religions in the country, we get at least twice the number of the total population. This has been true since the 1950s. Why is this so?
The reason is that, historically, the Japanese have been affiliated with a branch of Buddhism and have also been linked to Shinto. They may belong to a family temple in the case of Buddhism, and also be a member of a parish of a Shinto shrine in the neighborhood where they live.
Thus, for a very long time, the Japanese have had a pattern of belonging to at least two religious groups. That has been true since the Edo period, that is 1600 to 1868. A long time in which these patterns became very deeply entrenched. Added to that, Christianity came to Japan in modern times during the Meiji period, beginning in 1868, and it achieved a very strong social influence in the country.