|The author lived in Japan for three years and quickly learned that religion was a rather unusual concept for the Japanese. Two-thirds of the people would say they were atheist, maybe 30 percent Buddhist and the remaining small bits would say Christian and/or Shinto. Maybe "and" would be a better way to describe all the options as a cocktail mixture of faiths or customs. Fundamentally, most Japanese celebrate holidays at Shinto shrines, may marry in a Christian ceremony and are buried in a Buddhist ceremony.
Initially, we lived in Tokyo around the corner from the Meiji shrine which is the most famous Shinto shrine in Japan with the customary Shinto tori gate entrance. It was packed during every holiday period with every lady wearing a new kimono.
What is Shinto-ism? It is a Japanese ethnic religion that is based on ritual practices that are conducted to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past. The precision and structure of the tea ceremony falls into that category. The beliefs focus on the existence and power of the kami, or gods, that exist in the world, nature and Japan.
We later moved to Yokohama where the father of a close friend, Shogo Tatematsu, a very famous kimono maker, lived. When he passed, the author was the only foreigner invited to a long day of funeral rites which began with respects and incense in his home; a ceremony at the Soji-ji Buddhist temple; vast quantities of sake and rice cake at a tea house; the cremation, where an unusual but compulsory ritual of two strangers each holding a single chop stick to select and place a bone in the funeral urn at the crematorium following the cremation; and a massive Chinese dinner back at the home. After dinner, we were each given a bag of salt to throw on us before we entered our home to chase death away. The funeral urn was subsequently placed in a small spot at the Soji-ji cemetery shown below at considerable expense to Tatematsu-san's family. Probably few of you have had that experience.
The Nikkei Asia Week has published a series of articles over the past several months concerning the financial difficulties of Buddhist temples due to a dwindling source of burial income. One young Buddhist monk, Shoukei, is shown below. He obtained an MBA to develop skill sets to change the focus of Buddhist temples from a thought process of death to one of life. He believes the Buddhist faith is about helping people to understand their purpose and to live a better life.
Shoukei has since opened a café at the Komoyoji temple to help the temple maintain its financial capacity and to serve as a gathering point for visitors. Moreover, over 400 priests have attended his seminars from which ideas such as meditation courses and music productions have surfaced.
For example, at the famous Koyasan holy mountain area of Wakayama Prefecture, the Ekoin temple attracts foreign guests to its meditation seminars and offers lodging in the temple.
In the Kyoto and Ehime areas there are several pop stars that regularly perform in Buddhist temples. Below is Yakushiji performing in the Senganji Temple in Kyoto. He has been a performing artist for ten years and became a monk three years ago.
Pop nirvana is not restricted to male performers as evidenced by "Idol-bosatsu" who is the daughter of a Buddhist chief priest. Her mission is to utilize techno-pop tunes to bring young people into the temples to build a stronger connection to Buddhism.
Japan is one of the few places where Buddhism is traditionally visited only after a death. In Tibet, it is viewed as the preparation for death by living a better life. Most everywhere else it is designed to improve one's life on earth. We can always debate the concept of reincarnation. However, if you have followed the basic precepts of Buddhism in life, you would have impacted so many people around you, that is your life after death.