Postmodern Japan
A Buddhist/Shinto/Confucian/Christian Society?
Image of various elements of "postmodern" Japanese society
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Are the Japanese Religious?
“Contemporary Japanese society is highly secular.” This rather brisk and arid sentence may suggest much more than meets the eye of the reader. An American scholar of comparative religion has provided an interesting account of the state of “religiosity” or “religiousness” of the Japanese people in contemporary Japan. When the question “Are the Japanese religious?” is posed, the author says, the answer must be “no.” To the direct question “What is your religion?” the reply would be “I have no religion.” The simplest reason for this is that Japan is not a monotheistic society. The answer is no because they do not usually belong to or identify exclusively with any single organized religion. There is no doubt that the Japanese are as religious as any other people around the world, and they hold beliefs and practice rituals of a religious nature, but largely of multiple religious heritages. Thus, “The heart of the matter, then, is not whether the Japanese are religious but in what way the Japanese are religious.” (Confucianism and Modernization in East Asia, 134-5 [RTTP Readings, 137])
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Defining "premodern," "modern" and "postmodern"
Buddhist Statue under a Shinto "Torii" gate with the red Japanese sun (representing the Sun Goddess Amaterasu)
The relationship between Buddhism and Shinto, the indigenous faith of Japan, has varied over time, but for a considerable part of Japanese history a syncretic connection existed between the two faiths. One expression of this link lay in the theory of honji-suijaku, a doctrine of assimilation whereby certain Shinto divinities (kami) were said to be “manifestations” (suijaku) of the “original nature” (honji) of certain Buddhas and bodhisattvas. But the relationship between Shinto and Buddhism could be more complex than this, as the following story of the Buddhist priest Myoe (1173-1232) testifies. Myoe was a prominent monk of the Kegon (Chinese: Hua-yen) sect who developed the ambition to travel from Japan across China to India in search of the Dharma. He was also, however, a devotee of the god of the great Kasuga Shinto shrine in Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, where the Kegon sect had its headquarters. According to a famous legend, Myoe visited the Kasuga shrine to take his leave of the deity there, only to be told that he should not leave Japan, that there was nothing Buddhist in India that he could not find at home. Thus, we have a Shinto divinity (who is a manifestation of the Buddha) looking out for the interests of Japanese Buddhism by forbidding a Buddhist monk to go on a pilgrimage to the land of the Buddha, arguing that he is needed at home, where, in any case, the sacred sites of India and China could be found, some of them in the Kasuga shrine itself. (In this connection the well-known Deer Park of the Kasuga shrine at Nara is equated with the Deer Park at Samath in India, where the Buddha preached his first sermon.) (The Experience of Buddhism, 316-7)
Detail from the Sanno Mandara showing the relationship between various Buddhist and Shinto deities
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Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu
From Warring States to the Tokugawa Shogunate
Buddhism, Shinto & Confucianism in Early Modern Japan
Nobunaga, a cold, ruthless warrior, generally hated religion. ... It was he who, in the process of bringing all Japan under his sway, slaughtered the monks of Mount Hiei and burned their temples in 1571, and who received the surrender of the Ikko ikki in 1580.
Oda Nobunaga setting Mt. Hiei on fire
Ironically enough, it was also during Nobunaga’s heyday that a totally unexpected new politico-religious force arrived in Japan: Europeans and with them Christianity. ... Some lords and not a few others were baptized; by the death of Nobunaga, less than thirty-five years after the missionaries first came, as many as 150,000 Japanese were Christians. Nobunaga was not among them, although he seemed more sympathetic to the foreigners and their creed than to the despised native Buddhists. (IJR, 171)
Sir Francis Xavier
bamboo page divider
Toyotomi Hideyoshi on a horse
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
He who lives by the sword will die by the sword, it is said, and so it was with Nobunaga, who died quelling a fairly minor rebellion in some of his own following. He was succeeded by his most brilliant general [Toyotomi Hideyoshi]. ... At first this dictator seemed complacent towards religion, without the vindictiveness of Nobunaga. He allowed Tendai, Pure Land, and Nichiren groups to become active again, and remained on cordial terms with the Christians. Then, suddenly, in 1587, he turned against the missionaries in an edict forbidding their activities; why is not entirely clear, but it is likely that he came to fear the faith’s growing power. ...
The 26 Christian martyrs on crosses
The ruler seems to have had advice that, as the example of the Philippines and the Americas made clear, missionaries were not seldom followed by European regiments and colonial governors. ... The twenty-six martyrs of Nagasaki described in Chapter 2, both European and Japanese, both Franciscans and Jesuits, perished on crosses at Hideyoshi’s order in February of 1597. Hideyoshi himself died the following year. Christians were given a short respite as power shifted, after some vicissitudes, to the third great warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasu. (IJR, 172-4)

Tokugawa Ieyasu
Tokugawa Ieyasu
After well over a century of almost constant conflict between power-hungry warlords, Japan was ready for peace, and the Tokugawa were ready to impose it. For their two-and-a-half centuries, if not quite the well-regulated, clockwork society its masters envisioned, Japan was without external war and suffered only internal disturbances. With peace came, as it usually does, relative prosperity despite famine years, and considerable cultural creativity. However, poverty and unrest in the countryside only grew worse as the years advanced, even as the commercial sector became more and more prosperous.
Martin Scorcese's film "Silence"
However, it was not a time of peace for Japan’s remaining Christians either. The Tokugawa regime, alarmed by news of European expansion, desirous of a society without significant internal dissent, and determined that Japan must cut itself off from the rest of the world, enacted increasingly harsh decrees against Christianity, until by 1623 the religion was subjected to unspeakably cruel persecution. Christians were tortured until they recanted or died, and were forced to spit or stamp on crucifixes. ... Some Christian families remained faithful, however, throughout the long Tokugawa era; when missionaries finally returned in the mid-nineteenth century, they found Kakure Kirishitan, “Secret Christians,” who, without priests, had kept alive sometimes garbled versions of the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Creed, and who worshiped by such ingenious devices as placing a crucifix behind a Buddhist image. (IJR, 175)
Buddhism itself was organized and controlled by the Tokugawa government. Each family was required to have membership in a Buddhist temple. Every temple, in turn, was made a branch of a well-regulated major temple, like Mount Koya in Shingon, Mount Hiei in Tendai, the two Honganji in Jodo-Shinshu, or their major auxiliaries, which trained and supplied priests for the local level. Japanese Buddhism had no geographical divisions or responsibilities, like the diocese or district in many Christian churches; each priest and local temple looked to its main temple for guidance and, if need be, the resolution of difficulties. ... [T]he Tokugawa ordinances meant that Buddhism now was at least a nominal part of the life of every village and family. (IJR, 175-6)
Every family was legally required to belong to a Buddhist temple and had to be questioned periodically by the temple priest. “At one stroke, all Japanese were incorporated administratively into the existing Buddhist structure.” Births were registered and deaths were recorded in the local temple to which the family belonged. ... The general situation tended to stifle religious devotion, especially at parish Buddhist temples where family membership was obligatory; temple members’ “relationship with Buddhism often came to be more formalistic and pragmatic rather than a matter of individual religious conviction.” The Japanese historian Anesaki has described the general situation: “For the people at large religion was rather a matter of family heritage and formal observance than a question of personal faith.” ...
Poster for the film "Departures"
To the present day, the organized sects of Japanese Buddhism have not been able to escape completely the unfavorable stigma of disinterested affiliation. Both enlightened priests and devout laypeople have often deplored the inertia of Tokugawa “feudal” patterns of Buddhist ancestor worship and have lamented the lack of a strong, personal Buddhist faith in the setting of parish temples. (Japanese Religion, 146-7)
Tokugawa crest
Hayashi Razan

In medieval China, a new school of Confucian philosophy arose. It continued the ancient sage’s humanistic emphasis on a harmonious social order and the realization of one’s true inner nature as the supreme good. But, influenced by Taoist and Buddhist thought, the tradition now took on a more metaphysical cast. What ultimate view of nature, and of humanity, best led to true humanism and the good society? According to Zhu Xi (1130-1200), the leading Neo-Confucianist, the key is the discovery and contemplation of li (Japanese, ri) or fundamental principles. Everything has its own li, and it is from the supreme li of heaven (tenri in Japanese), earth, and humankind that all else derives. The second most important Neo-Confucianist, the idealist Wang Yangming (1472-1529), considered the li to be ultimately in the mind. (IJR, 176)
Samurai receiving Confucian education
The Tokugawa government was interested more in the organizational powers of Neo-Confucianism than in its cosmological theories. Tokugawa Ieyasu apparently saw in Neo-Confucianism a suitable philosophy for stabilizing and ordering the state. What the Neo-Confucian tradition amounted to was a heavenly sanction for the existing political and social order. Neo-Confucianism in this period served as the main intellectual rationale justifying the existence of the four social classes and their support of the Tokugawa government. The rulers or superiors were advised to be just and benevolent; subordinates were taught to be obedient and respectful. (Japanese Religion, 148; cf. IJR, 177-8)

Confucius with a can of SPAM

The Four Classes





The separation into four classes of samurai, farmers, artisans and merchants, like the five relationships, is part of the principles of heaven and is the Way which was taught by the Sage (Confucius). (Hayashi Razan; Religion in the Japanese Experience, 115)

The Five Relationships

Ruler and Subject

Parents and Children

Husband and Wife

Elder and Younger Brother

Friend and Friend

Neo-Confucianism was seen by its advocates as a rational and moral force in society (particularly in politics) that corresponded to the structure of the universe and the nature of life. The rulers may have had personal preferences for Buddhist piety and some sympathy for Shinto teaching, but the government support of Neo-Confucian teachers and advisers was an expression of political duty, in the interest of preserving the social order. The intention of the government policy supporting an official school of orthodox Neo-Confucianists (who taught people the nature of the moral order) was to create moral citizens and thereby preserve social stability. The government sought to tie the political system and social stability to support for Confucian (Chu Hsi) principles, and banned heterodox teachings. (Japanese Religion, 150-1)
Like earlier thinkers of the Tokugawa period, Yamaga Soko (1622-1685) worried about the inactivity of the warriors (samurai or bushi) in the prolonged peace of Tokugawa, and he proposed a code of personal ethics for warriors. His work, entitled The Way of the Warrior is considered the first systematic attempt to set forth what later was called Bushido. The notions of self-discipline and loyalty in this code of life were very influential for popular ethics in subsequent centuries.
When Shinto values such as genuineness, purity of heart, and imperial rule blended with Confucian notions of hierarchy (as embedded especially in the Japanese interpretation of its virtues of filial piety and loyalty), there was an important side effect outside Neo-Confucianism and Shinto institutions per se. A distinctively Japanese understanding of loyalty to one’s lord (and ultimately to the emperor) developed.
Social strata during the Tokugawa period (emperor on top, merchants on the bottom)
This Japanese variant took Confucianism’s emphasis on loyalty and appropriate behavior toward one’s superiors and enhanced it with two Shinto qualities: affect (emotion) and the holographic paradigm. The affective dimension maintained that loyalty does not derive merely from formulas about hierarchical roles. This would make loyalty no more than an external relation. For bushido, loyalty is not role-playing or fulfilling some social contract. In the new Japanese interpretation, loyalty derives at least as much from love, an internal relation with the lord and his house. Such an internal relation reinforces the holographic model of the whole-in-every-part. That is: true loyalty arises from the sincere mindful heart that recognizes how the house headed by one’s lord is reflected within each of its members, including oneself. To turn against one’s lord is to turn against oneself.
ritual suicide (seppuku/hara kiri)
In this context, when a vassal could not agree with and follow the command of his lord, seppuku — ritualized suicide — was often the only option. By the holographic model, because the whole is part of the individual, the individual cannot be fully true to oneself and simultaneously oppose the whole. The act of seppuku arises from the double bind of being torn between one’s own position against the whole and one’s identity as reflecting the whole. (SWH, 110-1)
[T]he bushido value system gave the samurai a new sense of place in peacetime society. They could bring their values from the battlefield to the bureaucratic offices, where dedication, absolute loyalty, and discipline were equally important. Bushido ideology articulated its values into a formal system promulgated beyond the military class itself. That is: the bushido mentality became potentially a model for all Japanese — its elements promulgated in the Japanese public schools of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries under the rubric of “moral education.” (SWH, 111-2)
From ancient times the Japanese people had a general sense of collective unity, but through most of Japanese history, especially in the medieval feudal setting, individuals and groups identified themselves more as belonging to a specific geographical region and to a particular social unit (such as a feudal domain). After 1868, the new governments main priority was to establish a much stronger national identity, which required the refashioning of individual identity as citizens within a nation-state. Much of Japanese history from 1868 to 1945 is the story of the creation of the nation-state and the rationale of nationalism to support it. ...
“The sense of nation, of being Japanese, was transmitted to the whole of the kokumin [citizens, countrymen] for the first time in the Meiji period and is not much diminished today.” (Religion in Japan, 196, cf. IJR, 190)
The Meiji Restoration’s major policy toward religion was the attempt to purify Shinto shrines and the Shinto priesthood from Buddhist influence. ... The goal was to return to the ancient period, an ideal age when (Kokugaku advocates claimed) Shinto (especially the emperor through his rites) had played a prominent role in government. ... Accordingly, in 1868 Shinto was proclaimed the sole basis of the government, which embarked upon an ambitious project designed both to make such ancient purity possible and to discredit the combinatory ideas that had allowed the Tokugawa to usurp imperial power.” A series of edicts ordered both the separation of kami from Buddhas, and the purification of all shrines of the kami ... by decreeing the laicization of the priests with Buddhist credentials ... who served at them. ...
Not only did the emperor become the head of the state but also there was established a Ministry of (Shinto) Rites [Jingi-kan] within the government, superior to other ministries. In addition to cleansing Shinto from Buddhist domination, the ministry began to regulate Shinto on a centralized, nationwide basis. ... An imperial rescript, or proclamation, in 1870 explained the rationale for such policies. According to the rescript, the Japanese nation had been founded by the gods (kami) and preserved by an unbroken line of emperors who maintained the unity of rites and rule. This unity was considered indispensable for the restoration agenda of the Meiji era. (Religion in Japan, 198-9)
On April 6, 1868, an imperial edict announced the restoration of various imperial Shinto rites, often from the ritsuryo, that had long been in abeyance under the shoguns. The official position was that these rites helped restore the ancient concepts of matsurigoto, or saisei itchi: government and (Shinto) religion as one inseparable unity. (IJR, 191)
On April 22, 1869, the Emperor dispatched one of his officials to venerate the grave of the Emperor Jimmu in Nara Prefecture. Three days later, the Emperor himself led  a procession of court nobles and daimyo to the Hall of Ceremonies where they performed a worship service before all the gods of the Shinto pantheon and swore allegiance to the Charter Oath, a general statement of the new government’s aims. The Emperor then interpreted the Charter Oath and expressed his desire to continue the Imperial tradition of concern for the people’s welfare. By these actions, the Emperor Meiji personally demonstrated the meaning of the unity between worship and government. (Religion in the Japanese Experience, 253)
In June, 1871, the government took the first step in making Shinto the national religion by issuing the following proclamation:
The function of shrines is to provide a place of worship for all the people of Japan. They are not the sole property of any individual or family. Some shrines still obtain priests in accordance with ancient procedures, but in most cases the daimyo who originally established the shrine has continued to appoint its priests. Often where ownership of the land has changed several times, the connection with the daimyo who established the shrines has ceased, and they have become laws unto themselves. Even in small villages, the priests have made the succession of the priesthood hereditary and use the shrine revenues for their own income; they consider themselves independent. Priests have become a class apart; this is exactly opposed to unifying worship and government, and has many harmful effects. ... From now on, the government will appoint the priests for all shrines, from the very largest at Ise to the very smallest throughout the country. (Religion in the Japanese Experience, 254)


The Separation of Buddhism and Shinto

The first great wave of modern globalization ... had begun in the late nineteenth century. In East Asia, it culminated in the 1910s-1920s with China’s May Fourth Movement and Japan’s Taisho democracy. ... The high tide of globalization receded rapidly after the disastrous collapse of the U.S. stock market in 1929, however. By the 1930s, the world was descending into what some historians have aptly dubbed a “dark valley.” As a result of the Great Depression, in the United States, real gross domestic produce had declined 35 percent by 1933, a quarter of American workers were out of work, and there were calls for the newly inaugurated president Franklin D. Roosevelt to assume dictatorial powers. In Germany, the Weimar Republic gave way to Adolph Hitler. In China, the Nationalist Republic became an authoritarian single-party state with an increasingly nationalized economy. In Japan, Taisho democracy was thrust aside by the rise of ultranationalistic militarism.

Surprisingly, the industrial sector of Japan’s economy recovered fairly quickly from the depths of the Great Depression, thanks to a sharp devaluation of the yen (which made the price of Japanese exports globally more competitive), low interest rates, and increased government spending on public works and armaments. The volume of Japanese exports actually doubled between 1930 and 1936. But, as much of the world responded to the Great Depression by adopting protectionist measures — such as high taxes or outright quotas on imports, which threatened Japan’s ability to continue exporting — the argument began to resonate that what Japan really needed was to create an economically self-sufficient yen-bloc that would be independent, and under Japan’s own control. Manchuria, in particular, came [to] be viewed as a potential economic “lifeline” for Japan. (HEA, 288-9)
The modern national public school system in Japan promoted ideals of patriotic loyalty to the emperor and military valor. Organized state Shinto religion, although as an institution it was largely a modern creation of the Meiji era, nonetheless emphasized the ancient mythology of imperial descent from the sun goddess Amaterasu, from before the dawn of history. This supposedly divine imperial line was proclaimed to be the core of Japan’s unique national polity (kokutai), which invested modern Japanese imperialism with a special sense of sacred mission. Exaltation of the imperial majesty reached a crescendo in the late 1930s, when over two million copies of the Ministry of Education’s Cardinal Principles of the National Polity were published (beginning in 1937), and it became required reading in Japanese schools.
Know ye, Our subjects,

Our imperial ancestors have founded Our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting, and subjects ever united in loyalty and filial piety have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof. This is the glory of the fundamental character of Our Empire, and therein also lies the source of Our education. Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters; as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends true; bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all; pursue learning and cultivate arts, and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore, advance public good and promote common interests; always respect the Constitution and observe the laws; should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth. So shall be not only ye Our good and faithful subjects, but render illustrious the best traditions of your forefathers.

The Way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by Our Imperial Ancestors, to be observed alike by Their Descendants and the subjects, infallible for all ages and true in all places. It is Our wish to lay it to heart in all reverence, in common with you, Our subjects, that we may all attain to the same virtue. (Shinto and the State, 1868-1988, 121-2)

Yasukuni Shrine

In Manchuria, the Japanese sought to portray themselves as saving the common people from brutal warlords, as upholders of an ideal Confucian “Kingly Way,” and as promoters of a new order of ethnic harmony among the Chinese, Manchu, Mongol, Korean, and Japanese populations of the region. The Japanese Empire differed from most other colonial empires of that era in acknowledging a degree of racial and cultural commonality with its East Asian subjects. “Co-prosperity” became an important slogan in the 1930s, and many individual Japanese people were undoubtedly sincerely inspired by a genuine sense of idealism. The Concordia Association that was established in Manchukuo, for example, was intended to transcend not only the old-style imperialist exploitation of the colonized but also the enforced mass uniformity of modern nationalism by creating a harmonious multicultural new nation composed of many ethnicities. Such ideals were fatally undermined, however, by pervasive (and highly contradictory) Japanese assumptions of their own racial superiority. In practice, the Concordia Association merely became another tool of Kwantung Army rule. (HEA, 294-5)
Surrender & Occupation
Imperial Rescript ~ January 1, 1946
… We stand by the people and We wish always to share with them in their moments of joys and sorrows. The ties between Us and Our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world. ... (Religion in the Japanese Experience, 43-4)
Emperor Hirohito delivering his surrender speech to the Japanese people by radio
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Postmodern Religion in the Postwar Era

Shinto Rice Planting Ritual
Born Shinto
Shinto for the Rituals of Life
In the relationship between Shinto and Buddhism, the former typically focuses on rituals associated with the living, while the latter is closely associated with rituals for the dead.
Ofuda (talismans)Kamidana (Shinto home shrine)Ofuda (talismans)
  Ofuda & Kamidana
Talismans for the Home Shrine
Shinto Icon of a torii (Shinto gate) in front of a red sun
First Shrine Visit for Babies

First Shrine Visit

Shinto Icon of a torii (Shinto gate) in front of a red sun
Shinto prayer to transfer kami to "omikoshi"

Annual Matsuri (Festival)

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Japanese Buddhist Funeral
Die Buddhist
Buddhism for the Rituals of Death
[During the Edo period (1600-1868)] every family was legally required to belong to a Buddhist temple and had to be questioned periodically by the temple priest. “At one stroke, all Japanese were incorporated administratively into the existing Buddhist structure.” Births were registered and deaths were recorded in the local temple to which the family belonged. ... The general situation tended to stifle religious devotion, especially at parish Buddhist temples where family membership was obligatory; temple members’ “relationship with Buddhism often came to be more formalistic and pragmatic rather than a matter of individual religious conviction.” The Japanese historian Anesaki has described the general situation: “For the people at large religion was rather a matter of family heritage and formal observance than a question of personal faith.” ... To the present day, the organized sects of Japanese Buddhism have not been able to escape completely the unfavorable stigma of disinterested affiliation. Both enlightened priests and devout laypeople have often deplored the inertia of Tokugawa “feudal” patterns of Buddhist ancestor worship and have lamented the lack of a strong, personal Buddhist faith in the setting of parish temples. (Japanese Religion, 146-7)
Taiji (Yin and Yang) Representing Hun and Po (Two Souls)
The death of a person sets in motion a series of rites and ceremonies that culminates in the observance of a final memorial service, most commonly on the thirty-third or fiftieth anniversary of death. Between a person’s last breath and the final prayers said on his behalf, his spirit is ritually and symbolically purified and elevated; it passes gradually from the stage of immediate association with the corpse, which is thought to be both dangerous and polluting, to the moment when it loses its individual identity and enters the realm of the generalized ancestral spirits, essentially purified and benign. ...
Buddhist cremation during the Edo period
An outstanding feature of the ceremonies for the dead is that from start to finish they are primarily the responsibility of the household and its members, for all of whom, regardless of sex and of age at death, these same devotions will be performed in some degree. Indeed, the longer the time since a person’s death, the more likely that only household members will look after his spirit. Many people will attend the funeral; fewer will attend the rites of the forty-ninth day; and the number will dwindle over the years as the memorial services are marked. The priest, too, has less and less to do with rites for the deceased as time passes. It can be said without exaggeration that the household members alone, through their observance of the rites, prevent the ancestors from becoming wandering spirits. ...
Butsudan: Buddhist altar for the home
During the first forty-nine days after death, steps are taken both to separate the spirit of the newly dead from its association with the corpse and to free it from its attachment to the world of the living. To achieve these ends the survivors undertake first to confuse the spirit. The coffin may be carried in a circle around the room of the house where it has rested and only then be borne outside for the funeral procession. The mourners may return from the grave by a route other than that taken by the procession. The path of the cortege may be swept clean in order to obliterate the footprints of the mourners and prevent the spirit from using them to find its way back home. The funeral service itself ends in the symbolic separation of the corpse or ashes and the spirit: a temporary memorial tablet representing the spirit is taken away from the cemetery and serves as the object of veneration during the first forty-nine days. ...
Shingon Butsudan with ihai (spirit tablets)
The temporary tablet is first set on a low table in front of, but not within, the altar, and it is often accompanied by a photograph of the deceased, candles, an incense burner, and a bell or gong. On the forty-ninth day in most instances ... the temporary tablet is disposed of and the photograph put away. A permanent tablet, inscribed with the deceased’s posthumous name, is placed with the others already in the altar, to be separated from them only once when it is singled out for special treatment at the first bon. On that occasion the tablet will be placed on its own altar in the main room of the house and will be the object of far more elaborate offerings than are made to the other tablets. It is obvious that the special bon altar for the newly dead is constructed “to keep the observance for purified souls of distant ancestors from contamination with mourning for the newly dead.” ... With the conclusion of the rites of the first bon, the spirit is thought to have begun the long process of becoming an ancestral spirit. Over the years, on occasions marked by successive memorial rites, the dead person becomes more and more remote and fades from the memories of family members. At length, the final services are held for the individual ancestral spirit, which thereupon passes from the ranks of the household dead into a larger collectivity [i.e. it becomes one with the family’s ancestral kami]. (Religion in the Japanese Experience, 186-8; cf. 128-9)
Taiji (Yin and Yang) Representing Hun and Po (Two Souls)
Haka Mairi: Returning to the family grave (to honor one's ancestors)
Haka Mairi and the Rites of O-Bon
Along with the butsudan the other great focus of unity and centre of ancestral rites is the haka, the family grave, where usually ashes of all the family decesased are interred. ... The grave is simultaneously a special place of contact between the living and their ancestors, a receptacle for the spirits of the ancestors, a site for ritual offerings to the dead and a symbol of family continuity and belonging. ... The graves are usually in some sanctified ground, such as within the precincts of the family temple which thus oversees and protects the grave, with the priest conducting occasional rites to this effect. But maintainint the grave properly is the responsibility of the family and involves making offerings and periodically cleaning it, and this is a vital aspect of the relationship between the living and the dead, a means through which the living may express their feelings for the dead and uphold the vital balance and relationship through which the ancestors look after the living. Failure to do this correctly may, just as with neglect of the butsudan, invite problems: it is not infrequent for people who go to diviners or to the new religions for help with personal problems such as illness to be told that the cause of the problem lies in their failure to look after the grave properly or that the grave has been badly sited and requires changing. ...
 Cartoon of a famly praying at the ancestral grave
The grave, then, continues to be a central element in all the rites surrounding death: in fact haka mairi remains the single most widely performed religious activity in Japan, carried out, as was mentioned in Chapter 1, by close to 90 per cent of all Japanese people, young and old alike. It is primarily done at a number of set times in the year, especially at higan (literally the ‘other shore’), the period around the spring and autumnal equinoxes, and the o-bon festival in mid-July or August (the timing varies depending on the region). Many families also visit their ancestors’ graves over the New Year period as well. At these times it is customary to visit and clearn the graves, making offerings of food and drink to sustain the ancestors in the other world and calling in a priest to read Buddhist prayers for the benefit of the dead and to help them in their journey to full enlightenment (the ‘other shore’ implied in the name higan). ...

The Bon Dance (bon odori) welcomes ancestors back to their graves and household altars ...
... and Buddhist priests are hired to perform memorial services on their behalf.

Shinto Icon of a torii (Shinto gate) in front of a red sun
Picture of a family looking up at the "Five Mountain Returning Fires" (gozan okuribi)
The ancestors are then sent back to the spirit world by bonfire (okuribi) ...
... or floating lantern (toro nagashi).

Bon lanterns floating in the water
The most active and demonstrative time for family unity and festivities connected with the ancestors is the summer festive time of o-bon. This is the period when the souls of the dead are considered to return to earth to be with their living kin: since the ancestors are also felt to reside in the ihai and to be encountered at the butsudan throughout the year there are clearly some logical inconsistencies here, but these appear of little relevance and are hardly ever commented upon. (Religion in Contemporary Japan, 96-9)
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Japanese New Year Traditions

Japanese typically visit a Buddhist temple at midnight to hear a bell rung 108 times
(representing the casting off of 108 attachments that impede enlightenment) ...
Shinto Icon of a torii (Shinto gate) in front of a red sun

... and then visit a Shinto shrine on New Year's Day (or thereabouts)
to burn old omamori (amulets) and purchase new ones.
Woman selling omamori at a temple or shrine
Shinto Icon of a torii (Shinto gate) in front of a red sun
Ema (wish fulfilling wooden plaque)
People also purchase ema (wooden plaques) ...
Woman leaving her ema (wooden plaque) with her wish written on it
Shinto Icon of a torii (Shinto gate) in front of a red sun
Omikuji Paper Fortunes
... and get their fortune for the year with omikuji (sacred lot).
Omikuji (paper fortunes) left on a wooden board at a temple or shrine
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Japanese Tea Ceremony
Confucian Ethics & Daoist Aesthetics
Then what about Confucianism in Japan? To raise the question “How Confucian are the Japanese?” poses the same kind of problems. One simple indication comes from this same author who, in describing the general scene of religious life in contemporary Japan, had this to say: “Daoism and Confucianism are inconspicuous survivals within other traditions, popular beliefs, and (for Confucianism) social values.” What exactly does this mean, one might wonder. One rather simplistic and journalistic view may be introduced here as a quick prescription for later treatment of the issue: “Few if any Japanese today would describe themselves as Confucian, but Confucian values still permeate the thinking of virtually the entire Japanese population.” (Confucianism and Modernization in East Asia, 135 [RTTP Readings, 137])

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Christian Weddings
Christian wedding ceremonies have since the mid-1990s displaced the Shinto rite and continue to remain Japan’s wedding ceremony of choice. Christian wedding ceremonies have in the last thirty years moved from the sideline to the mainstream of Japanese society. The popularity of Christian wedding ceremonies represents new widespread acceptance, commercialization, and popularity of a religious ceremony. The postwar history of Christian wedding ceremonies is best understood in light of the efforts made by traditional Christian churches and the bridal industry to meet the religious needs and demands of Japan’s largely “nonreligious” (mushūkyō) constituency.
Although the Japanese have unprecedented access to the Catholic Church, the majority of weddings in Japan follow the Protestant liturgy. As such the ceremony includes elements typical to a traditional Protestant wedding including hymns, benedictions, prayers, bible readings, an exchange of rings, wedding kiss, and vows before God. It is typical for a bride to enter with her father and then be “given away” to her husband—an exchange that usually involves bowing and shaking hands. In recent years, the custom of lowering the veil has also become popular. During the veil lowering the mother of the bride lowers the veil for her daughter before she continues down the “virgin road” with her father toward her husband. In the case of a non-Japanese wedding minister, the ceremony is commonly performed in a mix of Japanese and a western language (typically, English). (Wiki/Marriage in Japan)

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What about the Intersection of Tradition and Modernity in ...

Korea & China?

And what about the significance of

East Asian Intellectual History?