Religion in Japan

Religion in Japan

Modern Japanese inherit a worldview and philosophical ideas from their ancestors, combining multiple beliefs and teachings. So, when it comes to religion in Japan, it is no surprise that the Japanese marry in Shinto and Christian temples. Or they might utilize Daoist and Confucian ideas in their everyday lives but have Buddhist funerals. This mix-and-match approach to religion is called religious syncretism.

Religious Syncretism in Japan

Religious syncretism, where individuals practice rituals from multiple religions, is prevalent in Japan. Sometimes, it can be difficult for travelers to tell the difference between Shinto and Buddhist places of worship. That is because many of them were historically syncretic, combining elements of both Shinto and Buddhism, especially before the Meiji period.

This fusion, known as 'Shinbutsu Shugo', began when Buddhism was introduced to Japan. Locals were not ready to abandon their traditional Shinto practices, leading to a harmonious blend of both religions. That's pretty much how things have been ever since. Japanese culture is like a melting pot of Shinto and Buddhist influences, reflecting the lack of a strong separation between the two throughout history.

Main Religions in Japan

The main religions in Japan are Shinto and Buddhism. According to the 2022 International Report on Freedom of Religion, around 48.5% of people (83.9 million) say they are Shinto followers, while 46.3% (83.9 million) are Buddhist. But that’s more than 100% of the population in 2022. How is that possible?

The thing is that Japan is a secular state, which means the government doesn’t keep track of religious adherents. And again, it boils down to Japan’s unique religious landscape of the deep-rooted practice of syncretism.

Shinto Religion

Shinto, Japan's indigenous belief system, functions more as a philosophy than a structured religion. It involves participating in simple shrine rituals, through which many Japanese feel a connection to kami (spirits). Many Japanese say morning prayers, asking the highest spirits to give them fortune and blessings for the day.

There are 100,000 Shinto shrines in the country, which are the dwelling places of one or several kami, the Shinto deities. Among the most visited shrines in Japan are Fushimi Inari Shrine, Ise Grand Shrine, and Itsukushima Shrine.


Buddhism has been practiced in Japan for over 1,400 years, influencing various aspects of Japanese culture. Zen and Pure Land Buddhism, in particular, have left significant marks. If you ever visit Japan, you'll see Buddhist temples (tera) and shrines all over the place, and you can even experience their rituals and teachings. Some temples let you stay the night, meditate, and get the inside scoop on Buddhism from the monks who live there.


Despite a scant 1% of the population, Christianity has a noteworthy history in Japan, stretching back to the 16th century. Since then, it has seen acceptance, persecution, and revival. The period of persecution is poignantly captured in the Hidden Christian monuments in Nagasaki, one of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Daoism and Confucianism

Confucianism and Daoism, primarily philosophical systems from China, have influenced Japanese societal values since the 16th century, emphasizing respect, diligence, and family cohesion. Many believe the Japanese magic art Onmyodo was based on the Chinese Dao tales.

In Tokyo, you can check out the Yushima Seido and the Koshibyo, aka the Confucius Temple in Nagasaki. These spots give you a sneak peek into how much Confucianism has seeped into Japanese culture.

Muslims in Japan

Islam, with approximately 200,000 followers, mostly comprises immigrants from countries like India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The first mosque in Japan was built in 1905 in Osaka, and Islam was officially approved in 1939 as a religion. Fast forward to today, Japan has 113 mosques and five Islamic schools.

And check this out! The biggest mosque in Japan is in Tokyo, built in a beautiful Ottoman style.

Other Religions in Japan

Judaism, Bahai, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other religions of East Asia represent a small percentage. These, including Islam and Christianity, account for only 4% of Japan’s population but still have a powerful impact across the country with the support of followers.

Religious Practices and Holidays

Shinto and Buddhism have shaped Japanese rituals and customs. From birth to death, these traditions guide Japanese life. Matsuri holidays, rooted in Shinto, involve visiting shrines and grand processions featuring floats and traditional Japanese music.