Japan: the most religious atheist country (2023)

When the Agency for Cultural Affairs commissioned a report on religious beliefs in Japan, they were at first baffled by the results. They totaled the number of people belonging to religious groups in Japan and found that 209 million people were religious. The problem? That was almost twice the population of Japan!

This anomaly seemed to indicate that Japan was very religious. However, further research showed that this strange result was caused by respondents happily checking the boxes for numerous religions without seeing a contradiction. After all, as the old saying goes, a Japanese is born according to Shinto rites, marries according to Christian rites, and is buried according to Buddhist rites.

However, when a subsequent Gallup poll asked about atheism, it found that 31% of Japanese were also willing to check the "convinced atheist" box. When the phrase "no religious affiliation" was used instead of "atheist," the affirmative result was a staggering 57%.

How can a country be so atheist and so religious at the same time?

Inspired by luminaries such as Professor Phil Zuckerman and Dr. Nigel Barber, this result is not surprising. Finally, atheism is generally influenced by a variety of factors, most of which have Japan. Consult the list: capitalism (check), economic stability (check), political stability (check), existential stability (check).

“People who are less vulnerable to the forces of nature feel they have more control over their lives and less trust in religion,” explains Dr. Barbero. Just as "there are no atheists in the trenches," he believes there are fewer atheists when the world is relatively stable, "atheism thrives in prosperity where most people feel financially secure."

So what's up? If we accept that Japan is a perfect breeding ground for atheistic thought, how is it possible that so many people also claim religious affiliation? How can a country be so atheist and so religious at the same time? Finally, if you've pushed your way through the crowd at 初詣 (Hatsumoude, the New Year's visit to the shrine), it's hard to believe that, statistically, a sizable percentage of those waiting for the prayer identified themselves as "hardcore atheists." "

"Much of what is done on New Year's Day and お盆 (the Bon Festival) does not require that the participants have any prior or firm religious commitment," explains Ian Reader, professor of religious studies at Lancaster University. “Gods and Buddhas are seen as supportive and one can pray to them without having to join a religious organization. Or even without having to profess belief in its existence.

As the author of numerous books on the subject, Professor Reader believes that the question of whether or not Japan is atheist is beside the point. "Surveys usually ask about religious beliefs (shuukyou shin 宗教心 - having a religious spirit), but this can be interpreted by ordinary people as asking if they believe in a 'particular religious organization'. Most would say no," he explains. , "That doesn't mean they're 'atheistic' about denying the existence of a god. These studies generally indicate a 'not quite sure' attitude."

Japan: the most religious atheist country (1)Photo:Matthäus Coslet

Indeed, one of the big problems with calling the Japanese "atheists" is that atheism requires that there be a "god" who is not to be believed. Instead, Japanese religions are somewhat ambiguous about it. Are the kami, spirits and ancestral beings that make up the Japanese indigenous beliefs really equal to the God of the Abrahamic religions?

In his book Rush Hour of the Gods, Neill McFarland found that defining kami was hard to categorize. Fortunately, the basic principles of life, celestial bodies, natural forces, topographical features, natural objects, certain animals, the spirits of the dead, and even influential people could all be included in a concise definition of kami. It's kind of hard to say that you don't believe in the "forces of nature" and the "basic principles of life"!

Instead, Ian Reader believes that one should look at Japanese culture and religion as a whole and that trying to separate them is not always possible. "Japanese society and culture are intricately woven with religious themes," he writes, "(Japanese religion) is a deep and continuous stream of religious motifs that are woven into, rather than unconnected with, other aspects of Japanese life and society. ".

In other words, religion in Japan is not something you can "believe" or "disbelieve" in. It is so widespread and all-encompassing that one cannot exist without the other. Perhaps the philosopher Daisetsu Suzuki gave the correct answer all those years ago. He argued that religion was so deeply ingrained in Japanese culture that just by being Japanese and participating in rituals and customs, one becomes part of the "religion." It is true that he was speaking of Zen beliefs, but the same could be said of Shintoism.

“The dichotomy between religion and worldliness just doesn't work when looking at Japanese institutions. Rituals are ubiquitous at all levels of society. A more compelling model is that of a family of intersecting ritual performances that share ideas of reciprocity, self-sacrifice, and dependency. Timothy Fitzgerald of Sterling University suggests: "In such a broad perspective, freed from the pressure to stuff rituals and experiences into the 'religious' or 'secular' bag, certain conceptual confusions are reduced."

Surveys cited:

The WIN-Gallup International "Religiosity and Atheism Index" shows that atheists are a small minority in the early years of the 21st century.
International Religious Freedom Report 2009 – Japan
Image recording ▽ Beliefs of the citizens of the prefecture (Map of religion of the prefecture)

Sources directly cited:

Why will atheism replace religion?
"Religion" and "the secular" in Japan

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (2)also dice:

    Feb 29, 2016 @ 5:51am

    1) We do not have infinite time. 2) Evolution does not create perfect beings. but "good enough to survive beings"), for example, we use the same orifice for breathing and eating, which could result in death by suffocation. But most humans don't die that way, so our species continues to exist with that imperfection.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (3)Tikto dice:

    July 14, 2015 at 9:35 p.m.

    i just found out something

    This is my story as an Okinawa. Until high school, I never asked what religion I belonged to or practiced because no one asked me and no one taught me.
    When I was in high school, my classmates and I went to Taiwan, and I gave a presentation on religions in Japan.
    What I found out was that the main religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto. So I thought he was a Buddhist or a Shinto.
    When I came to Canada, people ask and I answer that I am a Buddhist and a Shinto. In Chinatown there were Buddhist figures on a boat and I had no idea who they were and in fact had never seen them before. I realized that I am not even a Buddhist since my Vietnamese Christian friend knew more about Buddhism than I did.
    So I'm starting to think I'm a Shinto; Gods exist everywhere, it didn't contradict the native Okinawan religion, but I thought that they are not gods, they are goblins that are everywhere. I just didn't think much about religions, and when my friends would ask, I would just say, "I don't know."
    So I just saw a startling number saying that 7.8% of Okinawans are religious, of which 3.6% are Christian, 3% are Soka Gakkai.
    It is and in Okinawa we have the fewest number of temples and shrines (both per capita and #) in Japan.
    What are all these years of trying to figure out what makes me Buddhist and Shinto because that's what they told me when I was learning about religions? but I'm really just doing what my grandparents do, which is searching for our ancestors without any knowledge of Shinto or Buddhism.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (4)luke bobina dice:

    Feb 18, 2015 @ 3:38 PM

    Religion has nothing to do with GOD. To say that Christianity is NOT a religion. Most of the people get confused by this. Atheism that requires there to be "one" GOD is also a false statement.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (5)disqus_0cJboxuc5E dice:

    Feb 12, 2015 @ 10:42 PM

    (Video) 25 Countries With The Highest Rate of Atheism.

    I'm Japanese Yes. Many Japanese people go to Shinto shrines, but we don't believe in Shinto gods. We know that gods do not exist! Most of the Japanese are not interested in any religion. We Japanese cannot understand religious people like Christians or Muslims living in America. Why do they still believe in God in the 21st century? They are crazy... We Japanese know that there are no Shinto gods and we don't believe in God (Abrahamic God). Visiting Shinto shrines on New Year's Eve does not mean we believe in gods! okay? It's fun and traditional. If my English is wrong, I'm sorry...

    • Japan: the most religious atheist country (6)Aldrin dice:

      Oct 29, 2015 @ 12:32am

      Don't you believe that there are gods, or don't you believe that objects or beings perceived as divine should be appeased anthropomorphically? (Look what I did there). It really all comes down to your definition of what a god is. It's really not an easy question for people outside of monotheistic cultures.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (7)Cash dice:

    Feb 11, 2015 @ 2:13 PM

    Good point!

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (8)GeneralObviously dice:

    February 10, 2015 at 4:01 p.m.

    However, if you ask a Japanese if they believe in heaven, hell, and the afterlife, most will say yes. Whereas an atheist would flatly deny it. As I said before, the average Japanese selects multiple facets of multiple religions to incorporate into their daily lives, while atheists, by definition, reject all religion as a whole. It is not possible to be 1/2 atheist and 1/2 theist; you are one or the other.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (9)Cash dice:

    Feb 10, 2015 @ 3:07 PM

    I think the notion that one must be a believer, an atheist, or an agnostic is only valid if one believes in the concept of the "one true religion." Many people believe in deities or religious concepts as options because they like them and it reflects their values, and they don't want to prove it's TRUE. I went to the Ebisu Shrine in Osaka after the New Year and prayed there, not because I believe that Ebisu is a real deity, but because I really prayed for success, which Ebisu symbolizes. And instead of "pray" you could say "consciously focus on it". I'm religious. I don't know, I don't care if it's me.

    I think I've become a bit Japanese after being here for so long.

    • Japan: the most religious atheist country (10)GeneralObviously dice:

      Oct 29, 2015 @ 5:21 PM

      I think you answered your question yourself. When you decide to "focus" on something, you're not really praying to a god, are you? Atheism is a lack of belief, so if you don't believe there are gods then you are an atheist. If you're not sure, that's another story, then you'd be agnostic.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (11)pedo dice:

    February 9, 2015 at 11:41 p.m.

    So I can safely conclude that the concept of religion in Japanese culture is a bit confusing, right? But I wonder, does that have anything to do with their success as a country?

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (12)Kevin dice:

    Feb 9, 2015 @ 4:29 PM

    Uh, just because they visit Shinto shrines on New Year's Eve (a tradition) doesn't mean they believe in any god. Most Japanese are in fact atheists.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (13)Kinami dice:

    February 9, 2015 at 11:25 a.m.

    This article may interest you, then:http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201502060039
    It deals with recent events involving ISIS and a mosque in Aichi (near Nagoya) in Japan.

    (Video) The Most ATHEIST Country???
  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (14)such a mother dice:

    Feb 9, 2015 @ 7:42am

    I found information on the website of the Japan Islamic Center.http://islamcenter.or.jp/. Islam was absorbed for a period by Japanese visiting Islamic countries (to make "peace" with the locals so they could do business with them), but once they return to Japan they generally abandon the faith immediately. There have been some genuine conversions and there are also some Japanese imams, but faith has not grown at all in Japan. The Japanese Islamic center seems to be very moderate and passive in its ideals.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (15)Tess de la Serna dice:

    February 9, 2015 at 4:00 p.m.

    The Japanese are unique. They surprised us, the outsiders. You are like a closed book.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (16)ShreevatsaR dice:

    Feb 9, 2015 @ 2:43am

    For the sentence "there is no god at all" to make sense, the word "god" must have a meaning, that is, the idea of ​​God in monotheistic religions.

    If you read the article, it says no.
    "Atheism demands that there be a God in whom one does not believe"
    but says
    "Atheism demands that there be a 'God' who should not be believed"
    — with quotes around “god”, that is, it is the *idea* of an existing “god” that (also) does not exist in Japanese culture.

    Both theists and atheists from cultures with monotheistic religions tend to treat their own (common) idea of ​​"God" as if it were universal; That is another reason why it is good to learn new languages ​​and interact with other cultures, so that you know that your way of seeing the world is not the only one.

    For example: there would be no point in asking (telling) the average American whether or not they would classify themselves as "a-kami-ist" because that category does not correspond to how they think about the world: they would receive misleading answers, and this is evident when asked to the Japanese if they are "atheists".

    • Japan: the most religious atheist country (17)GeneralObviously dice:

      Feb 9, 2015 @ 5:19 PM

      Your argument is useless. God is a well-defined word and there is no discussion or debate about its meaning (neither in English nor in Japanese) nor about the meaning of the word atheist. The Japanese actually have their own word for "atheist" (無神論者), it's not a loan word.

      Atheists believe that gods (any god of any religion) do not exist today and never existed in the past.

      The Japanese clearly understand the meaning of the word and therefore say "no" when asked if they are "atheist" but when asked if they have no religious affiliation they say "yes" as they make up their minds, perhaps believing different things of many. different religions at the same time.

      • Japan: the most religious atheist country (18)Aldrin dice:

        Oct 29, 2015 @ 12:26am

        The argument doesn't work. To say that your definition of "god" or "religion" or "atheist" is the same everywhere, in English, Japanese, or other languages, ignores the great diversity in the way people of different cultures perceive things. What Shreevatsa said.

        • Japan: the most religious atheist country (19)GeneralObviously dice:

          Oct 29, 2015 @ 5:14 PM

          (Video) Most Atheist & Non Religious Countries In The World

          A god is a god by definition. That is not part of this discussion. It is a fact based on the meaning of the word. Whether a Christian chooses to refer to his god as God, Allah, or Kamisama is irrelevant as they are all the exact same word (concept) in different languages.

          The definition of "atheist" is also not in dispute. The word has a very specific meaning in each language; that is, a person who does not believe that gods exist. He is black and white. Either you are an atheist or you are not. It's not debatable, and you can't choose to believe some spiritual things and not others and still call yourself an atheist.

      • Japan: the most religious atheist country (20)ShreevatsaR dice:

        Feb 16, 2015 @ 1:59am

        Your argument that religious affiliation is not the same as "theism/atheism" is a good one and well considered. I agree with that.

        However, the article also mentions that 31% agreed to be "strong atheist", a lower number than the 57% of "no religious affiliation" (that difference shows your point above, and I agree with that part ), but 31% is still a large number (considering what you mentioned that 99% of Shinto Shinto country visits Shinto).

        Getting back to my point, it's not so much that "god" or "atheist" is a foreign idea in Japanese culture, but how central the idea/category is to the concept map. For example, "animist" is a well-meaning English word, but if you ask (tell) Americans if they are animists, both atheists and Christians can answer "no," and this data can be confusing for drawing conclusions from draw - because "animist or not" is not central to the western conception of religion.

        After all, "forces of nature" and "certain animals" exist, and the issue in the Japanese context is not belief in their existence, but attitude and action towards them (eg, showing respect).

        In cultures with monotheistic religions, "belief" and "belief" are considered central to aspects of human agency known as "religion," but a look at other cultures makes it clear that this is not necessary. In some parts of the United States, it can be considered hypocritical for someone to go to church every Sunday if they don't believe in God (or not go if they believe in God). In Japan, it can be considered arrogant and self-centered for someone to abandon the traditions and rituals of their family/ancestors for the flimsy reason of not "believing" in them.

        So my point is that even the *question* of believing in god or not (or at least considering that idea and question as the most important one) can be a typically western/monotheistic culture. The idea of ​​the existence of "God" and the opposite idea, namely atheism, may be universal, but they are not universally important.

        (I agree with your observation that the Japanese choose and believe different things from many different religions at the same time.)

    • Japan: the most religious atheist country (21)Moose_Master dice:

      February 9, 2015 at 2:23 p.m.

      This line also confused me a bit, but your explanation really helped.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (22)Patrick Drazen dice:

    Feb 9, 2015 @ 2:14am

    Mark Twain said that humanity is "the only animal that has true religion, several of them." Japan survived 2,000 years before the arrival of Christianity without seeing any problem with believing in Shinto and Buddhism at the same time, since they serve different purposes in Japanese life.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (23)pedo dice:

    February 9, 2015 at 1:45 am

    Are you saying that the Japanese are agnostic?

    • Japan: the most religious atheist country (24)GeneralObviously dice:

      February 9, 2015 at 5:08 PM

      no Most Japanese people worship various Shinto gods throughout the year, either for personal reasons or on holidays. They also believe in heaven and hell. While they do not follow any particular faith, they simultaneously follow various practices from many religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, and Shinto. They don't believe that there is no such thing as an atheist or an agnostic.

      • Japan: the most religious atheist country (25)disqus_0cJboxuc5E dice:

        Feb 12, 2015 @ 10:49 PM

        I'm Japanese, we don't believe in heaven or hell... when a person dies, the person becomes nothing.

        • Japan: the most religious atheist country (26)GeneralObviously dice:

          Feb 13, 2015 @ 7:52 PM

          I think it depends on the person. I have many Japanese friends who say they believe in life after death.

          (Video) Atheism in the World 1900 - 2100 | Atheists Population Growth | Data Player
  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (27)kazuya yonekura dice:

    Feb 9, 2015 @ 1:41am

    Most Japanese find it difficult to give a direct answer to the question: "Are you religious or not?" Or it doesn't matter to most of us because they don't see religion as principles to follow. Actually, the law does not allow public schools in Japan to teach religion. Few religious schools teach it. What really matters is how others see what you do and how you respect others, even if it's only on the surface.

    From what I've researched, the Japanese belief in gods or religious beliefs is based on animism, which I believe is due to those unforgiving environmental conditions with the 4 seasons and all those earthquakes, eruptions and tsunamis. They have no choice but to admire nature while appreciating what it gives them. So you see spirits or gods in everything from nature to everyday tools. You can see animated objects in old Japanese drawings like ukiyoe or emakimono. This tradition may also explain why the Japanese are good at making comics or characters of any kind.

    To summarize, in my opinion, the gods are not for the Japanese to seriously believe, but to play. They don't need a god to control them, instead they can create their own god to simplify the world. You may call it religion, but the word "religion" may sound too serious in comparison to "God."

  • February 8, 2015 at 10:56 p.m.

    Maybe it's just me, but I tend to think that Japan is very superstitious. All rituals for happiness and health, etc. and they seem to come from many religions. Perhaps a study should be done on the Japanese way of thinking about superstition and not necessarily about religion?

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (29)Robert Van Gelder dice:

    Feb 8, 2015 @ 9:29 PM

    Very interesting article! I am a member of Jiko-ji, a shin temple in Belgium, and we would like to translate this article so that we can include it in our newsletter. Could we have the author's permission, please?

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (30)Hampus Björklund dice:

    Feb 8, 2015 @ 8:34 PM

    Well, if any of the big three like Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, I'm pretty sure Christianity alone has a solid group of Japanese believers, as there are tons of Christian missionaries. In fact, the only time I met a Japanese Muslim was with my Indonesian friend's Japanese girlfriend, who had converted to Islam thanks to him. And knowing my boyfriend very well, I'm pretty sure he didn't force her to believe in her beliefs, and I think she probably started to believe in Islam because she thought it was interesting. And if you look at history, Islam has only existed in Japan since 1850 or so, while Christianity has existed since at least 1550. But if it hasn't already, here's what Wikipedia has on Islam in Japan.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Japan

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (31)Have fun dice:

    February 8, 2015 at 8:25 p.m.

    Hello Miss Iliyana Mitova...I have the same passion as you...I love to study culture and religion...I was in Japan for a year to study both and now I am in Bahrain to learn more about Islam...so if you want you can ask me about it and I'll be happy to answer, Islam in particular. I'm starting to learn more about it, and also the costumes in Japan and how they contribute to the religion... You can email me atsumaya0807@gmail.com

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (32)Bradley Temperley dice:

    Feb 8, 2015 @ 7:51pm

    Kobe has a mosque. Not far from a synagogue. That says a lot about Kobe's cosmopolitan history.

  • Japan: the most religious atheist country (33)Jorge Berberena Ironside dice:

    (Video) The Least Religious Countries in the World

    Feb 8, 2015 @ 7:26 PM



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