Religion in Tokyo in the 18th and Early 19th Century Term Paper

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Religion in Tokyo in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries

Religion plays an important part in the lives of everyone. It is especially important in the various stages of life such as births, weddings, and funerals. It also plays an important role in the lives of many people on a daily basis. In Tokyo today, there are four major religions: Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, and another group comprised of various new religions. Confucianism was another major religion at one time, but it had primarily died out by the Tokugawa period. Of these, Shinto is the religion most closely associated with the indigenous peoples of Japan. The others were introduced later. Among these are many cross influences and it is at times difficult to distinguish the roots of these new versions of religion in Tokyo. According to the University of Texas, Shinto and Buddhism are by far the most popular, both in number of participants and in number of shrines and temples Buddhism and Shinto are almost equal as far of number of members. This paper will follow the development of religion in Tokyo from its indigenous roots, focusing on the use of religion in the Tokugawa period to establish and strengthen a new Japanese state (University of Texas, 2002).

Early Religion

Shinto arose during the Yayio period from 300 BC to 300 AD. During this time, people began to recognize certain forces in nature (Kami) which had an effect on their world. Clans began to form small political units. During the Kofun period (300-645 AD, clan leaders claiming to descend from a goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, began the Imperial dynasty which still continues today. The ruler Shotoku Raishi (574-622) sought to centralize government and promote the adherence to the principles of Buddhism and Confucianism. (Ask Asia, 2002).

In the years 710-794 Imperial Court moved to Nara. At this time all emperors were Shinto, however, they promoted the ideas of Buddhism as they felt that it would promote peace and protect the state. Buddhism was adopted as the official religion of the state and Buddhist leaders gained political power. During he Heian period from (794-1185) Shinto religions and Buddhism flourished side by side. From this time until 1568 the country went through a time of political strife and turmoil.

Origins of Shinto

Shinto had its roots in the indigenous cultures of ancient Japan. It was a conglomeration of nature worship, tribal culture, hero worship and respect for the emperor. A Shinto shrine is the home of the garden deity who guards the village. The origins of Shinto are based in the belief that the emperor is of divine origin. This belief was reinforced in 1868 when the Meiji Government restored the emperor to power and established the Department of Shrine Affairs. Shinto became the state religion. There were some who did not wish to see their religion nationalized, and they became known as sect Shinto. Through splits and disagreements, the number of small sects grew to over 100, which are in existence today (University of Texas, 2002).

Origins of Buddhism

Buddhism came to Japan through China and Korea in 538 AD. Buddhism originated in India. It gained popularity due to the patronage of Prince Shotoku who served as regent from 593 to 628. The Horyuii Temple was built under his rule and soon became a center of learning. A stature of Buddha at Nara was constructed to symbolize the power of the imperial government (University of Texas, 2002).

The ninth century heralded the arrival of Tendai and Shingon Buddhism. During this time, fine arts thrived along with the popularity of the aristocrats. From this time through the Tokugawa period (1603-1867) Buddhism saw many changes in philosophy such as a greater emphasis being placed on experience rather than on learning. It was during this time that Buddhism came to the common people such as farmers, the military, and other ordinary people. It was no longer only in the realm of the aristocrats (University of Texas, 2002).

Origins of Christianity

Christianity was introduced to Japan in 1549 by a Jesuit missionary named St. Francis Xavier. Christianity came to Japan at a time of internal strife. The religion became popular with those who were seeking new spiritual symbols and those who wished to gain the advanced technology offered by the West. By the end of the sixteenth century, leaders became fearful that the new religion was an attempt to gain control over the population and decided to ban it. In the middle of the nineteenth century, pressure to tolerate religious freedom caused the leaders to lift the ban and tolerate Christianity (University of Texas, 2002). The first Christian churches after the ban was lifted were Catholic and Protestant. These two sects worked closely together and formed many missionary churches. Many of these missionary churches later became self-supporting.

The Tokugawa Period

In 1600 Japan entered into a period called the Edo or Tokugawa period. During this time Tokugawa Leyasu founded a new shogunate and instituted wide reforms. Japan entered into a time of isolation and with this isolation came peace. The capital was established in Tokyo. A rigid social hierarchy was established in Japan. The arts and technology flourished. Japan was closed to outsiders from roughly 1600-1868.

During the Edo period major shrines were established in Tokyo. These shrines are Meiji Jingu and Yasukuni Jinja. Shinto can be grouped into five main categories, based on: traditional Shinto, Confucianism, faith healing, mountain worship, and purification rites (, 2002). Paul Watt says it best, "the Japanese religious tradition is rich and complex, encompassing within it both complementary and contradictory trends in religious thought and practice with an ease that may occasionally puzzle the Western observer." (Watt, 1996)

Proponents of Buddhism saw many benefits to the religion, including trade with other Asian nations. Those who wished to further relations between Japan and other countries actively sought to develop a connection between Shinto and Buddhism. They achieved this by identifying the Shinto kami as manifestations of various Buddhas and bodhisattvas that had grown up within the Mahayana Buddhist tradition (Watt, 1996).

The Tokugawa regime supported any ideas that were thought to increase harmony and decrease violence. Therefore Tokugawa hired scholars to bring together many elements of various older religions that suited his purpose. Ogyu Sorai and Hayashi Razan of the neo-Confucian Chu Hsi school of thought was the main scholar in charge of this task. Under this new religion, social and natural order is thought to be in agreement with the unchanging principles of nature and reverence to the ruler. This dispelled that ideas of the Warring States period where one's lineage could override morals (Nelson, 2002).

Tokugawa promoted peace and harmony, however temple records show that the temple at Arakawa was used to execute 200,000 people for behavior, which was more individualistic in nature. Tokugawas religion gave the individual no freedom of choice. Everyone was judged by their place in the social hierarchy. This new "religion" depended on strict adherence to social norms (Nelson, 2002).

Part of this strict religious adherence was influenced by the introduction of Christianity and Western ideas. The leaders wanted the same spiritual unity for Japan that they saw Christianity have for the Western nations. This was a necessity as the Western and other nations sought to expand their control into the region (Nelson, 2002). Japan needed to unite in order to thwart these attempts at control and they turned to this new religion to achieve this task. Japan was under great pressure at this time and leaders saw the necessity to establish universal principles, which would turn the focus from problems of the state to something greater. It was hoped that the belief in something greater than the state would help to unify Japan when it needed it more than at any other time in its history.

The transition from the Tokugawa period to the Meiji period saw an increased necessity to develop a state religion due to increased pressures from the Christian west. Several options were examined. Christianity was proposed and then later rejected, as it did not promote peace and harmony. Attempts were made to enlist a pure Buddhist doctrine for purposes of the State. Finally, it was an overhauled version of Shinto which was adopted as official policy, much to the detriment and persecution of Buddhism and the total ban of Christianity (Nelson, 2002).

The acceptance of a state religion did not happen over night. It took nearly twenty years of persistence to gain the acceptance of a state religion but, by 1889, it was a reality. This was partially due to the structuring of the educational system around the new religion as well as Shinto priests assuming the roles of government employees. Any group or individual opposing this new set of ideals was considered disloyal and subject to severe punishments (Nelson, 2002).

Why were Shinto and Buddhism able to exist side by side while Christianity and Shinto could not?

Shinto, unlike most major religions has no dogma associated with it. It…[continue]

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