Inspiration for a blog post sometimes stems from the strangest of places.
Aware of my interest in all things Japan and Japanese, a friend sent me a picture of the “kancho” statue. I guess it’s her way of pointing in the direction of Japan’s apparent weirdness. I replied that I was aware of kancho and that I’d always wondered if perhaps it’s where Japan’s most famous rugby player, Ayumu Goromaru, got his iconic goal-kicking pose from (Goromaru scored 24 points in Japan’s greatest ever victory in the sport of rugby union; a huge upset victory over heavyweights, South Africa, at the 2015 World Cup).
“What could any of this possibly have to do with religion?”, you may rightly ask. Well, just as I found Goromaru in kancho, so too was his pose found in a 500-year-old Buddhist statue in Gifu Prefecture. Perhaps it makes a little more sense than finding the face of Jesus in a piece of toast…
Either way, my friend sent me the kancho picture at around the same time as I stumbled upon details from a census conducted in my home country of Australia last year which suggested that the country is experiencing an “important cultural shift by the Australian people away from religion but more specifically away from Christianity”. Those who gave “No Religion” jumped by 45%. I wasn’t included in that census because I was in Japan. So my personal opinion needn’t affect those figures nor this blog post. I won’t even quote Richard Dawkins.
It got me thinking about Japan, of course. While post-1788 Australia has mostly been a nation of people belonging to some denomination of Christianity, Japan has had Shinto and Buddhism as its major religions.
Mercifully, like Australia, Japan is a nation which enjoys religious freedom, as per its 1947 constitution; “Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organization shall receive any privileges from the State, nor exercise any political authority”.
It would seem to me that religion in Japan has, at least in part, become tokenistic. Many say a Japanese person is born Shinto, married a Christian, and dies a Buddhist. In the past, polls on belonging to religious groups have totalled twice the population of the country, meaning there’s quite a few people doubling down, at least when it comes to tradition. But those same polls show that more than half of Japan’s citizens claim to be “religiously unaffiliated” in practice.
Back to last year’s Australian Census, and still 52% of people say they are Christian, however, this is a huge drop from the 88% just one generation earlier. What I’d quite like to know is why both Australia and Japan seem to be losing their respective religions…
According to the post “Japan : The Most Religiously Atheist Country” by Matthew Coslett, the rise of atheism relies upon a handful of contributing factors which conspire to render religious beliefs unnecessary – capitalism, economic stability, political stability, and existential stability. Coslett quotes Dr. Nigel Barber who explains “People who are less vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature feel more in control of their lives and less in need of religion. Atheism blossoms amid affluence where most people feel economically secure.”
Does that mean if you have money you don’t need God? Let’s not get too literal…
In the case of Australia, there have been suggestions that at least some of the decline can simply be attributed to placing the “No Religion” option at the top of the list on the census form, as opposed to the bottom. The thought being that people will just select the first vaguely reasonable answer they come across. It seems kind of apathetic but hey, we Australians aren’t too fond of filling out forms (Then, there’s the fact that the website crashed during the 2016 Census and many people were asked to do it again – which some refused to do).
Ultimately, whether it’s Japan, Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong, Australia or New Zealand, (the list goes on – of course, there are exceptions to the rule. For the record, China tops the list as the least religious country), a global decline in the need for religion appears to be attributed mainly to what we already mentioned; money. Not the need to be personally rich, just happening to be lucky enough to have your consciousness inhabit a body born in an economically stable country. Perhaps another way of phrasing it would be “free”..?? (a question for another time; where does the USA, the “Land of the Free”, fit in to all of this?).
Japan, it would seem, just happens to be enjoying being up towards the pointy end of the pile.
Harumi Murakami (Japanese author) – “God only exists in people’s minds. Especially in Japan, God’s always has been a kind of flexible concept. Look at what happened to the war. Douglas MacArthur ordered the divine emperor to quit being a God, and he did, making a speech saying he was just an ordinary person”.