Japan 9: Religion

I read in The Guardian the other day that the largest single group of people in the UK now describe themselves as having no religion. And this was the first time such a thing has happened.

The proportion of the population who identify as having no religion – referred to as “nones” – reached 48.5% in 2014, almost double the figure of 25% in the 2011 census.

So having no faith is the growth belief system.

And I felt this, because in our own census last month I described myself as having no religion too. Although I had lost my faith in the organised religion of Catholicism about 40 years ago while at boarding school, in previous censuses I still classified myself as Catholic.

And, on ticking the box in census form, I felt sad. As if I’d lost something. Perhaps I have. Or perhaps I have gained something else instead. And perhaps if more people sent the right message to the Catholic Church it might begin to consider its position on certain issues.

When reading our guide book the other week, I was interested to see that 84% of Japanese consider themselves to have Shinto beliefs and 71% consider themselves to have Buddhist beliefs.

So, while in the UK only 51.5% of people consider themselves as having any religious beliefs, in Japan 155% of people consider themselves to have religious beliefs. Well, you know what I mean.

What does this mean? What does faith give us? And what does it take from us? Did the banning of Buddhism in the imperial military period leading up to the 1930s help lead Japan into a disastrous war? Did the emperor’s disavowal of his godlike status at the insistence of the Americans after the war diminish his people? Or free them?

I don’t know.

Perhaps it’s beliefs in a way of life rather than an organised religion that sets the Japanese apart. And perhaps I have that belief too.

I wrote a bit about Uko-no-in and Daisho-in Buddhist temples and the great spiritual impact that they bestow. We also watched some of the Aoi Matsuri Shinto festival procession in Kyoto when we were there. And these were impressive. And I did say prayers at the temples. Or send good wishes. I’m not sure which.

Japan does make me think about these things though.



Novelist, short story writer, essayist, sports writer. Crime novel: Whatever it Takes due out June 2020. The First Sunday in September, debut novel, published in 2018. Mercier Press, Stinging Fly, Irish Examiner, Holly Bough, Honest Ulsterman, Quarryman, Silver Apples.

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