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Shrines, Temples and Convenience Stores

Even if you plan to travel around Japan by being fascinated by its modern aspects, you may also be interested in its traditional culture. The Japanese tradition is strongly related to our religious concepts.
Two major religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism.

Shinto is the nation’s indigenous religion which dates back to more than 3000 years ago. It doesn’t have any founder, real scriptures, or a system of doctrines. It evolved out of the ancient worship of nature such as mountains, seas, lakes, waterfalls, trees, etc., and ancestors.
Buddhism was imported from India through China in the 6th century.
Most of Japanese people practice the customs of both religions. While Shinto shrines hold a variety of auspicious occasions such as birth and marriage, Buddhist temples deal mostly with unhappy events like funerals.

We should recognize a trend away from religion especially among youth, but can you guess how many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples still exist in Japan?

You might have no idea.
Well, I pose an easier question to you.

You can readily find convenience stores such as Seven Eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart throughout Japan.
They usually offer 24 hours services, including ATMs, copy machines, and sales of snacks, food items, and movie, concert, and amusement park tickets. They should definitely facilitate your survival in Japan.

So, which do you think are the largest and smallest in number, shrines, temples or convenience stores?

(As of Dec 31, 2018)# of facilities
Shinto shrines81,158
Buddhist temples77,256
Convenience Stores55,743

Is your answer correct?
You may plan to visit some famous shrines and temples, but it’s actually not so difficult to find a shrine or temple near your hotel. Of course, there is usually an approach to a popular shrine or temple, so you can enjoy eating snacks and food or shopping on the sides of the approach more easily.

By the way, it’s now estimated that about 1% of the Japanese are Christian. Christianity was introduced to Japan in the 16th century but was later banned for political reasons. The idea of equality under the Almighty God was regarded as a threat to the feudal rules.

Today in Japan, freedom of religions is guaranteed by the Constitution. People are free to practice whichever religion they want to believe in.

However, what puzzles you is the open acceptance of a variety of religious practices. For example, people celebrate Christmas every year, and many brides tend to choose church weddings only because they want to walk down the church aisle in their wedding dress.
This tendency is explained by the fact that Shinto is so polytheistic that it accepts other gods.

If you ask Japanese people which religion they believe in, many of them may answer that they have no religion.
This is because religions in Japan are functional. Certainly, we think of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples as religious spaces, but some of them are rather considered to be sightseeing spots.

So, don’t hesitate to visit Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan regardless of your nationality and religion. You can also enjoy appreciating them.

YUKI Takano, a member of iTWS japan LLP
e-mail: yuki.takano@i3ws.co.jp

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