I believe in . . .

Tokyo - Senso-ji

There’s a popular saying in Japan, “People are born Shinto, get married Christian and die Buddhist.” This can make sense because religion in Japan is not so much practiced or preached as it is lived.

Basically, Shintoism is the spirituality of this world and life, while Buddhism is more about the soul and the afterlife. That’s why the two religions can work together. To celebrate a birth or marriage, or to pray for a good harvest, the Japanese turn to Shintoism. Funerals, on the other hand, are usually Buddhist ceremonies.

So where does Christianity come in? Only a small percentage of Japanese are Christian, but when it comes to weddings, it’s an obsession. Modern couples want all the western traditions, including an expensive white dress, exchange of rings and even a giant cross hanging in the background during the ceremony. The key component? A minister who looks the part — in other words, a white person. The term for this is a “white wedding.” Many of these ministers aren’t even religious. Our guide had a friend who went into this business. He does six weddings a week and makes big money!

Like cathedrals in Europe, it seems every time you turn a corner in Japan, you run into a shrine or temple. Generally, shrines are Shinto and temples are Buddhist. Some religious compounds have both so it gets confusing. One can easily get “templed out” but each of these structures is unique and each play a big part in Japan’s history and present day life.


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