Buddhism and Shitoism in Japan

Japan has two religions, Buddhism and Shintoism, which coexist and are the foundation of Japanese life and culture. However, the coexistence of these two religions for more than 1,000 years is unusual, so I explored history to discover how this situation transpired.

Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan

Shintoism later mixed with elements of Buddhism to create the unique spiritual values of the Japanese. This mixing of Shinto and Buddhism elements is a trait of religion in Japan. 

Unlike Christianity, where people are expected to atone to a god for their sins, the appeal of Shinto for the Japanese is in the respect paid to nature and through the purity of nature to become pure oneself. 

What is Shinto?

Shinto shapes the foundations of the Japanese ethnic mentality, such as respect for nature, harmony, purity, and loyalty.

For example, Shinto festivals are a testament to the power of community and togetherness that culture thrives on. We celebrate various aspects of life, such as harvest, seasons, and ancestors. 

Even today, Shinto rituals are part of our daily life. We clean our room in the house or classroom,, or any public place in town. 

Shinto is an indigenous religion that emerged spontaneously in ancient Japan. However, over time, the definition of religion has been overwritten and expanded, with various different interpretations and implications.

Shintoism has no “scriptures” or founder, and the Japanese worship the religion’s “eight million gods (myriad of gods)” that fuse nature, such as mountains and fire, with indigenous ethnic deities and foreign deities. Since ancient times, harvest festivals and prayers for good yields have been held to appreciate the blessings of nature. 

Nevertheless, since the gods of Shinto have no substance, shrines are built as permanent places of worship for the different gods.


Nihonshoki & Kojiki

At the beginning of the 8th Century, historical books titled Nihonshoki and Kojiki were written. These chronicles indicated that Japan was a nation controlled by an emperor believed to be a living god or a direct descendant of Amaterasu-Omikami, an important Shinto deity. Simultaneously, Nihonshoki and Kojiki were designated as the scriptures of Shintoism.



Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th Century and formed a syncretic relationship with Shintoism. The latter, which had no clear scripture or founder, seeks salvation in the present world, while Buddhism is a religious doctrine or theory based on the Buddha’s teachings.

During the Nara era, Shintoism and Buddhism were combined as one syncretic religious system. In the Nara period, Shinto deities were enshrined in temples.


Co-existence with Buddhism and Shintoism through a process of trial and error, rather than conflicting with it. 

The mixing of these religions developed the unique value system of the Japanese. 


In Shinto, there is not a strong connection  to an afterlife. The belief is in the elements of nature and how those elements can benefit in this life.  But Buddhism encouraged a belief in the afterlife. 

Hondo-Suijaku Setsu” (the theory of original reality and manifested traces) In the Kamakura era, the theory of harmony between the Buddha and Shinto gods was advocated. In other words, the idea that the eight million gods of Shinto actually appeared as incarnations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to save sentient beings, and what was, in fact, a Buddha elsewhere, appeared as a Shinto god in Japan.

The Ordinance Distinguishing Shinto and Buddhism 

During the Meiji Restoration, an ordinance proclaimed a distinction between Shintoism and Buddhism and indicated, as national policy, the deification of the Emperor, establishment of Shinto as the national religion, and determination of Japan as a theocracy, in which church and state were unified (saisei icchi). As a result, Buddhist statues and sutras were removed from shrines.

 Shinto was Dismantled by General Headquarters (GHQ)of the Allied Occupation

However, following World War II, the GHQ ordered the separation of religion and state, and Shinto was dismantled as the state religion.

Summing upToday, under Japan’s democratic constitution, people are guaranteed religious freedom. However, due to the bias of prehistoric history education and effects of emerging religions, the concept of religion is negatively perceived. Nonetheless, the ancient Shinto religion of nature worship has continued uninterrupted in everyday Japanese life.

 From another perspective, it might be more appropriate to assume that, in Japan, one religion has been created through the harmonious combination of Shintoism and Buddhism, rather than to consider the two religions as having existed separately.