Religion In Japan: Buddhism and Shinto

Chionin Temple
The entrance of Chionin Temple in Kyoto
Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine
The entrance of Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine in Kumanokodo

You may find the Japanese custom of going to a Shinto shrine to celebrate a birth and being taken to a Buddhist temple after death strange. After all, how is it possible to follow two religions at once?


Today, I want to talk about religion in Japan. Knowing about Japanese religious practices can help you to understand the Japanese mentality.

Shinto, Japan's indeiginous animistic religion

Omiya-mairi, introducing a new baby to God.


Shinto is connected to people’s lives in Japan. The place of worship for Shinto is the shrine.

We pray for luck and success in business, school, marriage, and life in general at shrines. Also, traditional wedding ceremonies take place here. People visit a shrine at the start of every new year to pray for luck and health for the year. Some shrines even host lively festivals and traditional music concerts.

I often visit my local shrine, but one of my favorites in Japan is Meiji Shrine. Located in the heart of Tokyo, it manages to be a quiet and peaceful refuge. It is a great feeling to walk through the surrounding trees.

Japanese wedding ceremony at Shinto Shrine

Shrines are dedicated to this native religion of Japan — Shintoism is worshipped in no other country. Shrines are also devoted to a specific god or gods, the spirit of some historical hero or heroes, or Imperial ancestors.

It is said that the origin of religion in Japan were folk religions that influenced Shintoism, which started as a folk religion and evolved over the centuries. These folk beliefs were peaceful and benefited everyone. The mentality of the Japanese may depend to a large extent on Shintoism as it remains a part of our hearts. In this traditional religion, we believe in a multitude of gods.

Buddhism, the spiritual tradition from China

Horyu-ji Temple in Nara
Horyu-ji Temple in Nara UNESCO World Heritage Site

Buddhism came to Japan via China in the 6th century where it evolved to appeal to the Japanese people. It is the basis of many Japanese cultural practices, such as writing, reading and architecture.

In other countries, temples are dedicated to gods and worship services are regularly performed in many of them. In Japan, temples are dedicated to the religion of Buddhism. This religion teaches us how to achieve the state of Nirvana. To do this, we have to follow the Eightfold Path consisting of practices known as right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

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Visiting a grave to Temple

Buddhism is related to spirituality and death. Temples take care of family ashes and burial tombs. Anniversaries of the death of a relative are conducted in temples. Other ceremonies are also performed at temples, but commemoration of death is a very important and common event at a temple. Like Shinto, Buddhism is very precious to us.

Buddhism and Shinto work together by covering different parts of life (and death) in a harmonious manner. Many Shinto and Buddhist sites are even connected — it’s not unusual to find a Shinto shrine in the midst of a Buddhist temple. 

Such sights are all over Japan. If you have an interest in shrines and temples, we’d love to show you around on one of our many tours. Get in touch with us today!