"Born Shinto, Die Buddhist. " An Analysis of Modern Religion in Japan
For hundreds of years, Shinto was the state religion of Japan. But after the Axis Powers were defeated in 1945, Shinto sort of phased itself out. It was not that there was an animosity towards the belief system itself, it simply faded, like any trend. However, it didn't completely fade. Many people in modem Japan will still practice Shinto rituals, such as cleaning themselves before they enter ajinja (Shinto shrine). In some ways, Shinto is still a very rare thing. When Emperor Hirohito died in 1989, he was buried in a Shinto ritual performed by a Shinto priest. This is extremely rare in modem times because not only is it just not really done, if someone wants to be buried in Shinto ritual, it is very expensive, usually prohibitively so. For this reason, there is a common saying: "Born Shinto, die Buddhist.") There is a strange dualism in the case of the Japanese in relation to their religious choices. I speak of this simply because in Shinto, there is a heavy urge to be part of a community, this community obviously being religious in nature. However, there are other instances in which the individual is stressed at great length. This is an interesting relationship, because on the one hand, people take part in the festivals and all of the rituals that bond the community together, and yet people will go to the shrines (perhaps with friends) and will pray for things to help themselves. Of course, this isn't always the case, but it is interesting that in the same religious setting, someone can be totally immersed in the sense of community, and yet will pray for their own personal gain. Again, this is not always true, because many do pray for sick and dying relatives and others. Before we can discuss Shinto in terms of its relation to Buddhism and also as a real or proto-religion, perhaps we should do our best to come to some sort of vague conclusion as to what a religion entails. Durkheim believes that "religion is a system of beliefs and practices that bind a community together around those things which it holds sacred." So, in that sense, Shinto is absolutely a religion. There is a community that holds those rituals and beliefs that they practice as sacred, and simply because they do that, that group in tum has a real sense of community. Again, this illustrates that many religions have some principles in common, most noteworthy the feeling of community, and in essence, strength in numbers. However, wouldn't it seem that a religion couldn't be a religion without affiliated members? In light of this question, I would suggest that because of the question, this belief system is an ideology in modern Japan, as opposed to a full blown religion. Despite the varying definitions of religion by different scholars, most scholars agree on one thing: there will never be one universal definition for religion.