In traditional Japan, two primary religions – Shintoism and Buddhism, and one code of ethics – Confucianism — have influenced the Japanese way of life and view of the world.
Shintoism is the indigenous religion of Japan based on the appreciation of nature and the belief in “kami” or spirit gods existing in nature- mountains, trees, rocks, etc. It emphasizes cleanliness and purity.
Buddhism, which began in India, was introduced to Japan by way of Korea in 500 to 600 AD. Prince Shotoku of Japan converted to Buddhism in the 7th century and Buddhism subsequently flourished. Japanese Buddhism emphasizes the interdependence of all living things and an acceptance of all aspects of life including suffering and the cycle of birth and death.
During the Japanese immigration to the U.S., most of the Japanese practiced both religions to some degree. Thus birth and marriage rites were Shinto rituals and end of life beliefs and funerals were often Buddhist, yielding the saying that a Japanese is born Shinto but dies Buddhist.
Confucianism was also important in influencing the Japanese culture and way of life. Confucianism is really a code of ethics with origins in China placing importance on family values and social order. Thus, inherent in the family is the importance of taking care of one’s parents, or filial piety. In Japan today, about 1% of the population is Christian. Overall, Japanese-American elders are diverse with respect to religious preferences. They may be followers of Christian, Buddhist, or other religious traditions.
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