March 14th, 2011
04:43 PM ET
How Japan's religions confront tragedy
By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
Proud of their secular society, most Japanese aren't religious in the way Americans are: They tend not to identify with a single tradition nor study religious texts.
"The average Japanese person doesn’t consciously turn to Buddhism until there’s a funeral,” says Brian Bocking, an expert in Japanese religions at Ireland’s University College Cork.
When there is a funeral, though, Japanese religious engagement tends to be pretty intense.
“A very large number of Japanese people believe that what they do for their ancestors after death matters, which might not be what we expect from a secular society,” says Bocking. “There’s widespread belief in the presence of ancestors’ spirits.”
In the days and weeks ahead, huge numbers of Japanese will be turning to their country’s religious traditions as they mourn the thousands of dead and try to muster the strength and resources to rebuild amid the massive destruction wrought by last Friday's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami.
For most Japanese, religion is more complex than adhering to the country’s ancient Buddhist tradition. They blend Buddhist beliefs and customs with the country’s ancient Shinto tradition, which was formalized around the 15th century.
“Japanese are not religious in the way that people in North America are religious,” says John Nelson, chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco. “They’ll move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations.”
“For things connected to life-affirming events, they’ll turn to Shinto-style rituals or understandings,” Nelson says. “But in connection to tragedy or suffering, it’s Buddhism.”
There are many schools of Japanese Buddhism, each with its own teachings about suffering and what happens after death.
“There are many Buddhist explanations of why calamities happen: from collective karma to seeing calamities as signs of apocalypse,” says Jimmy Yu, an assistant professor of Buddhism and Chinese religions at Florida State University. “And perhaps all of them are irrelevant to what needs to be done.”
Indeed, where Christianity, Judaism or Islam are often preoccupied with causes of disaster - the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example - Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy.
“It’s very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity, and their religions would emphasize that,” says University College Cork’s Bocking. “They’ll say we have to develop a powerful, even joyful attitude in the face of adversity.”
Japan’s major religious groups are still developing responses to the disaster, but experts say the impulse toward maintaining a positive outlook will likely translate into calls for Japanese to help friends and neighbors clean up and rebuild.
At the same time, Japan’s Buddhist priests will be preoccupied with rituals surrounding death and burial. Japanese Buddhism is often called funeral Buddhism because of its concern with such rituals.
Despite the Japanese penchant for blending their religious traditions - even with Western traditions like Catholicism - the overwhelming majority are buried according to Buddhist custom: cremation and interment in a family plot.
With many bodies swept away in the tsunami, many Japanese will have to come to terms with having to forego that ritual.
After burial, Japanese typically continue to practice rituals around caring for the spirits of the deceased. Most Japanese keep Buddhist altars in their homes, Nelson says, using them to pay tribute to dead ancestors.
“In the days ahead, you’ll see people praying, with hands folded, for the spirits of those killed,” he says. “It goes back to a really early understanding of human spirits and rituals designed to control those spirits, which can take 49 days or, depending on the type of Buddhism, could go on for up to seven years.”
One popular school of Japanese Buddhism, called Amida - or Pure Land - believes in a paradise that spirits of the dead can enter with help from living relatives.
Despite what is likely to be a mass embrace of Buddhist rituals after the earthquake, there may also be some grievances expressed over those traditions.
Many young Japanese have left Buddhism, accusing priests of profiting from grief because of their paid roles in burials. Critics say the priests spend money from funerals on temples without playing a broader role in society.
“The earthquake is an opportunity for Buddhist priests to step up and show they are still relevant,” says Nelson. “Young people just aren’t buying it anymore.”
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.
Well guess for people that worship spirit of their ancestors rather than God the creator they will always be facing grief's more than others....why haven't their ancestors save them or warn them ?? But rather it is growing into more danger every day in to having radio active pullotion that may effect them for many years and generations to come....?? Is is worth it to have such unbelief system?
Does not these verses that will follow speak of the Ancient Falling Systems and the Recent Past and Present Falling Systems? It warns and remind all of the future that if you fail you fall...and those blows come to believers and unbelievers on turns..it tests believers and destroys disbelievers....How much of that happens through wars and conflicts....How much of that through Natural Disasters....Aren't we seeing that all? Isn't it telling us some thing is wrong of our own wrong doing and disbelief....? Man can reverse ill-faith by reversing intentions in to right doings in deeds,actions and spiritual worship,prayers in peace with soul,pay poor due and charity as a belief and a spiritual meditation for soul to have mercy on earth,afterlife,resurrection and judgment day.....?!? What we got to lose,since we all ride the same as ship in the middle of this universe as a ship in the ocean..and every body wants it his way such a ship will never set to sail but to crash and drawn with the whole lot...!?
Al-E-Imran sura 03:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Systems have passed away before you. Do but travel in the land and see the nature of the consequence for those who did deny (the messengers). (137) This is a declaration for mankind, a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off (evil) (138) Faint not nor grieve, for ye will overcome them if ye are (indeed) believers. (139) If ye have received a blow, the (disbelieving) people have received a blow the like thereof. These are (only) the vicissitudes which We cause to follow one another for mankind, to the end that Allah may know those who believe and may choose witnesses from among you; and Allah loveth not wrong-doers. (140) And that Allah may prove those who believe, and may blight the disbelievers. (141).
Does Koran giving to the unfortunate? Please do it. BTW there is a YouTube channel that debunks the Koran. Why don't you Google it and start argument there. Just like you Christians are to brainwashed in what they belive, all religions are cults nobody is going to convert and atheists already know what myths are, very doubtfully the would cinvert either.
Their ancestors don't protect the Ja-panese from plate tectonics for the same basic reason that Allah doesn't improve the water availability in vast stretches of the Islamic world. Natural forces are generally unimpressed by supernatural beings, wouldn't you say?
Someone I know was once convinced that a spirit was turning a particular light on and off and was frightened by this supposed show of power. I then pointed out that I can turn lots of lights on and off. So the spirits must think I'm the biggest, roughest, toughest mo-fo around. And how about the fact that I can turn not just lights on and off, but TVs, computers, vacuum cleaers, ... Oh hail the mighty me!
DID ALLAH PROMISE ETERNAL LIFE? DID ALLAH DECLARE THAT HE CAN MAKE ALIVE AND HE CAN KILL? DID ALLAH DECLARE THAT HE WOUND AND HE HEALED? DID ALLAH DECLARE THAT THERES NO OTHER GOD BEFORE HIM?DID ALLAH DECLARE THAT THERE ANY THAT CAN DELIVER OUT OF HIS HAND? DID ALLAH DECLARE THAT THERE IS NO GOD BEFORE HIM? READ THIS... THIS IS THE GOD THAT DECLARE ALL OF THESE... ISAIAH 43:10 AND DEUTERONOMY 32:39..
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Come on, do you have a mind. Let's do a test. Let me throw you in front of next possible tsunami with wave 32 f.t. high and if you survive saying that, I believe. If you do not, too bad.
@CHAMI – Well, of course they meant "saved" in the "afterlife" in some completely unverifiable way. And of course this excludes those who couldn't actually call "on the name of the Lord", (e.g. infants, the severely mentally-disabled, etc). They all go to hell for failing to properly express the correct belief...
being saved, doesn't necessarily mean being saved literally from the wave. being saved means coming to know Christ and accepting him. And if you do accept him, and live by his word, then when the wave comes, one should have no worries, because if you believe, you will be the happiest person in the afterlife...in paradise with God 🙂
hi donz not everyone call the name of the Lord will be saved. the verse you stated is intended for true christian who give thanks to God. Not all people give thanks to God, besides, there are people who are breaker of the Law of Christ, even if they call the name of the Lord it is abomination to the Lord and they will not be saved, only people who obey the law of christ that call his name shall be saved.
Atheist will die a sad death.
I respect them for having a belief, even if it is in nothing.
Judge not lest ye be judged. Hooray for Christianity!
No, there are less and less people who believe in a made up god all the time, the church is having a very difficult time getting people to be priests ect. They try and hide all of that. Stop being a cave person and use the mind that you have!
THIS WAS WHAT THE ATHEIST SAID IN THERE HEART. DEUTERONOMY 32:21, PSALMS 14:1, PSALMS 53:1. TO THOSE WHO SAID THAT THEY BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST BUT THEY DON'T FOLLOW THE LAW OF CHRIST THIS IS FOR YOU. ROMANS 1:21. MY ADVISE IS READ THE BIBLE. BUT, HOW YOU CAN UNDERSTAND THE MISTERY IF YOU ARE A SINNER.. I GUESS YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME READING THE BIBLE WHILE DOING BAD THINGS.. THIS IS FOR YOU.. REVELATION 21:8
Buddhism is really the idea of cause and effect. It is absolutely amazing that Buddha statue stand still despite the catastrophe. Some say those of who did not surive commited bad Karma, it is correct. What cause this disaster to happen is not because of the peoples bad Karma. Speaking of Karma, some karma we can overcome, some cannot which we may have commited in the previous or 50 or even more lives before. That is why you or me did not end up living there. According to the Buddhism, understanding and following is more important perfoming meditation etc... There is a saying that "Someone who follow Dharma, protects by Dharma." Yet again exception is nature of the Karma you may or may not get protection.
All we can do as people nothing but help for the survivors and chant to transfer the energy to the departed once to help in their next rebirth to born in a good place.
oooh! time for the christian missionaries to move in and save some souls! it's a perfect opportunity for groups/iniividuals that sell religion to those in miserable conditions. tell you, you can make a killing!
Your confused. Our goal is not to get as many followers as possible, but to provide connection to God for people that want it. (at least thats what the Catholic Church believes...)
deter, how about just providing a bisquit, fresh water, a warm blanket and a shoulder to cry on if they choose, and leave the religion crap out of it.
The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. (Saint Paul in Romans 14,23).
Just leave people of different societies alone. Why does religion have to figure into this horrific event. People, need to be left to their own belief, and when hard times hit, let them grieve in their own way.
Yes, respect other people's beliefs: its the way to peace in the world.
Because so many Christians aren't content with respecting other beliefs – they think Christianity is the only way rather than believing that there are many ways to worship. The energy expended on trying to "convert" is extraordinary – think what could be accomplished if that energy was to be turned to feeding and educating instead of converting.
Personally I don't think its "intense religion" but rather a strong respect for tradition.
That's what I thought! At least it respects the DEATH and the presence of their dead ancestors in their everyday life.
It also amazes me to see they don't even show ANGER in awake of their miseries unlike Americans. Nor some HOLIER than THOU fundamentalist pastor from the so-called FAKED Bible belt of USA accusing them of some sinful acts or their past deeds.
They are amazing human beings to watch unlike you know what.
shinto and budda are speeping gods they cant hear .Call on the name of the lord and be saved.
You clearly do not understand what your religion teaches.
I had a speeping problem once. I prayed to Jesus but it only got worser.
AGEEK there is stilll hope for you ,dont wait for disaster to strike.
Is there no hope for me save? I just had a disaster strike in my pants.
YES go to the cleaners man.
Its obvious that buddism and every other religion "works" or they woudnt have so many countless followers since like forever ago. Think about that.
Buddha never claimed to be a god...
Buddhism is not Shinto and Buddhism is NOT a religion, its a philosophy that basically is centered on meditation. Lots of other cultures have added things to Buddhism and it has nothing to do with it. I really hope all humans can stop being so stupid by worshiping made up gods and stop inflicting it on the rest of the world. Religion has brought mostly war and death because others want to be right all the time...
The only problem I have with this article is its date for Shinto. The practices were first set down c. 500BE not the 1400s and its probably even older than that.
CNN has been known for typos...
Blessed is the man who walks NOT in the counsel fo the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seats of the mockers, but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he ponders in his heart. But the ungodly are like beasts who have no souls, and have no consciousness of God, yet to whom they will give account for their ways, because in their pride they have rejected Him, and disregarded His laws.
Isn't this amazing: the Cathedral in Sendai, despite being in the most damaged part of the city, in unharmed.
The Anglican Journal says something other than that.
The churches have not been spared from harm there.
The actual link won't post here, but I'm sure you can Google a few of the words - Anglican Journal... news update Ja.pan earthquake church Sendai
I'm talking about the Orthodox Cathedral
It is amazing, sort of like the houses that stood after the nuke in WWII. When the government asked the residents how the houses were untouched, they said it was because they prayed the rosary there every morning.
Please post a link to a story about the church that surviced while buildings around it did not.
@Methusalem, @magic, @deter
And... the *inference* that we should take away here from your postings is...? God allowed mother nature to destroy a country basically, and allowed his places of worship to remain standing, for some reason...?
I don't mean to come off as flippant, as I am sincerely curious as to what your *implying* here...?
As @HotAirAce posted, I would like to read about such phenomena too.
You can find articles using the suggesting keywords above. I tried to post the content of one but failed twice – I don't have patience to fight with the idiot word filter tonight. I was going to post one from the Huffington Post which basicaly is a factual accounting of the churches in the area, and does say that the orthodox church was not damaged, without speculating why. An article on the same page says Glenn Beck says god is sending us a message – what an a$$!!
Hey -Ace !
Yeah, it kind of boggles the mind to read here what I think they are implying, even if some churches remained standing.
Oh, s-h-i-t, I didn't read the latest from Beck...? So, he' basically implying the end of days or some such nonsense... He is starting to sound like all of the other crazy preachers that spout off...everytime there are natural, or man-made disasters, it's because the big G is mad at us.
Hopefully, he's not turning into another 'doomsayer' like the wonderful 'WBC's' Pastor Fred Phelps. Yikes...!!!!! 😯
Yup – the silliness continues....
I was in Tokyo during the earthquake and watched the buildings sway but not fall. I guess that means the big G thinks the people in Tokyo are less sinful than the folks in Sendai.
Wow... so you were actually in Tokyo when it happened. Well, that must have been quite an experience. I believe i read that the epicenter was 230 miles N.E. of Tokyo. So, it must have been pretty crazy while all of this was happening.
Glad you made it out o.k. !
Religions should be put aside for compassion to those whose loss of family is heart-breaking.
NJT the only comfort and hope in times of trouble I have is in the LORD JESUS .NOT IN MAN.
saved, that is very sad. I wish you had friends and family like I have, like many people have.
TALL-- all IM saying is trust in the LORD JESUS family and freinds are great , but no one can compare to the LORD JESUS
True. People so hateful with religion God, god and god all day but they have many evil'sl idea in there heart and always love god. what're kind of their gods? Brainwash.....
Religious texts are somewhat like scientific journal articles of theology. Everyone is racing to be correct when in reality the closest thing to certainty is refuting a falsity. So I would put forward a thought for someone to refute and see how it stands up with REASON: Humans are fearful, thoughtful, and impressionable. Therefore every impassioned argument that's religiously based here is a reflection of how that individual has leaned on doctrine and it has helped them in some way get to where they are today. Consolation during trauma does't need sources cited and can help people when they are vulnerable. As a scientist I appreciate listening to sermons on Sunday that speak to my complicated human nature and emotions. However, grandstanding about "Truth" here is irresponsible, inconsiderate, and only cites one book that references itself and was first drafted when people thought the world was a flat disk at the center of the universe. What was real THEN and still is NOW is that we are fearful, thoughtful, and impressionable: lessons on human nature are the "truest" part of the Bible.
Interesting to note that a largely secular society experiences an awful disaster, and calm prevails, people help one another, zero looting occurs, victims are aided in every way possible and the people openly speak of how the nation can improve itself going forward. Disaster occurs in a religious society (which attempts to keep at least its governmental processes free of theism.. with varying success), and you see rioting, looting, and filthy refugee conditions coupled with a nearly rabid nationalistic pride in which constructive criticism is NOT welcome. Very interesting comparison. I believe it was John Lennon who first dared to sing a song which shameless imagines a world with no religion. Looking pretty good from this vantage point.
Friend, your observation is amiss.
Amiss is right. Making a conclusion about religion in the space of a paragraph by comparing various different cultures with widely differing religious beliefs and their response to two completely different catastrophes... That's just silly.
It is not about whether the culture is religious or not. This is the contrast between the collective sense of eastern culture vs. the individualistic sense of western culture. In reality, if people were truly practicing the religion they claim to be in the US culture, there would be more of a collective response, but our religion is primarily a surface practice and does not deeply affect the lives and behaviors of most who practice it. I guess because to most it is religion, and not relationship with God, as it is intended to be. Deeper relationship with God, when genuine, creates deeper and more caring relationships with people.
This whole seeming conundrum is addressed in detail even in the New Testament, so immature Christians have apparently been at it for centuries. Eventually, we grow up if we allow ourselves to do so.
" if people were truly practicing the religion they claim to be in the US culture, there would be more of a collective response, but our religion is primarily a surface practice and does not deeply affect the lives and behaviors of most who practice it."
Oh, how ritght you are!!!!!!!
No, the world would be even beter if the religions and athiests could exist together peacefuly!
"....the world would be even better if the religions and atheists could exist together peacefully"
Yes it would be, but considering the spiritual forces that are ruling this world, which are in enmity with God, and those who are in rebellion against God, this is close to impossible. There is a enormous hatred toward God and those who are His people , ever growing in the present age. Jesus said it would be so. And even these blogs, and thought people express in them, are evident of what I'm saying.... But our, Christian mission is to care for people, and by doing so , to tell them the truth. But that's where we encounter the problems....
All of you who pointlessly argue back and forth about what the bible says and does not say while you are doing just that, arguing. Shame on you. Focus on what religion is about. Look at yourselves. Look. You at the nature at how you argue. There are people suffering here and this is what you argue about. Put this energy toward helping others and being compassionate instead of wasting it here arguing about trivial words.
LOL @ Justin
"They blend Buddhist beliefs and customs with the country’s Shinto tradition, which dates back to the 15th century."
He's off by about a thousand years isn't he?
Yes. Shinto dates back to 500 C.E. It may even go back further, 500 isjust when it was first recorded.
I know Buddhism is 2500 years old but I don't know about Shintoism.
Ja-pan is worser off now than in 1945 after enola g-ay paid them a visit.
You people are a REAL disgrace to the HUMAN RACE. You have the DEVIL LUCIFER resided in you and within to be this EVIL. You have NO SOUL as human BUT a BEAST!
What's worser than your grammar? Answer: your slavish devotion to a collection of myths that are way past their freshness date.
Jesus Christ loves the sinner.. this is why He died. is the sun relevant 2000 years ago.. how comes its still relevant today. Has seasons been done away with. I think its still relevant today. So is the words of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is not just a histrical figure, with events written in scripture verifiable. He is legit and He is God. Open your heart to Jesus today. its not too late. He loves you soooo much.
So, let me get this straight... Jesus died to appease and please Himself because He likes and needs and demands human sacrifice??
As a belief system useful to tell us about the world around us, Christianity *isn't* relevant today. There was a time when Christian notions of witches, a flat earth, etc. were cutting-edge concepts and the claim of relevancy in a meaningful sense could be made. Sadly now, it is only relevant in a whose-got-numbers cultish sense.
Well "what the", all I have to say is this. Every day we need to sacrifice ourselves. If you had children you would sacrifice your life for theirs too.
What kind of god needs and demands human sacrifice?
This idea went out with tossing virgins into volcanoes to appease the angry gods.
Are you Aztec or something? I don't think any religion exists today that involves human sacrifice. (besides a few extrimist versions)
Are you Aztec or something? I don't think any religion exists today that involves human sacrifice.
I don't think you people are understanding what Derek is saying..... He is right!
Maybe Jesus can help you with your grammar. Worser is not a word.
Worser. Good grief.
For some people, religion – particularly the U.S. – is akin to a horribly catching mental illness that causes delusional thinking and speech. I am seeing a whole heck of a lot of that on here. Scary, really. The only thing that is going to save you is your brain. What's left of it.
While some latch on to anything just to belittle and ridicule those who speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, it would be better for them if they concerned themselves with what's the condition of their hearts and souls.
Because that's what will count when all is said and done.... no spelling corrections relevant.... But those who mock and ridicule the people of God will not escape their dues!
May Jesus help you, for this is not the time for a spelling lesson, i'll be praying for ya today, comprende?
Jesus is not God, he is the son of God. Stop listening to your priests and preachers. They are the same liars that had Jesus killed. Read Matt. 7:21-23.
ALBERT he had to die for your sins and mine.
Al-Isra sura 17:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Say (unto mankind): Cry unto Allah, or cry unto the Beneficent, unto whichsoever ye cry (it is the same). His are the most beautiful names. And thou (Muhammad), be not loud-voiced in thy worship nor yet silent therein, but follow a way between. (110) And say: Praise be to Allah, Who hath not taken unto Himself a son, and Who hath no partner in the Sovereignty, nor hath He any protecting friend through dependence. And magnify Him with all magnificence. (111).
Oh CUT that nonsensical CRAP of perfect grammar or spelling mistake(s) in article!
At least I've learned something VERY important from this article. Other than my FAITH, it gives me HOPE that others have other ways of grieving in SAD times like these. SHAME on YOU for being picky than looking at the whole picture which the author intended to convey to us from a different culture.
Pray that you don't get caught in a Tsunami on your way out. The world will decide if it has to rejoice or mourn of your passing. You have NO SOUL .................. Period! The Lord said; "you mourn with those who mourns." If you have nothing to say to comfort those in GRIEVE just keep your mouth SHUT! We don't need you at this of GRIEVE.
Albert, if Jesus Christ is not God, how could His sacrifice on the cross be sufficient to redeem us? God Himself says , He is our Salvation, and one of Names of Jesus is Emanuel.
You say that people need to stop listening to priests and preachers... Who are you listening to? Watchtower? or some other self proclaimed prophets who tell you they are the mouth of God ? You need to read Gospel of John 1-5. It's clearly spelled out who Jesus is. And lest you tell me, it's wrong in my translation... I know my Greek too! No further debate necessary!
We have a lot better of a chance in Jesus and God being real to save us, then what's left of our brains saving us...because I don't think there is very much left of our brain...you know Jersey Shore is a hit show, right?
ROFL! Well Said Justin. Well Said!
Justin: You BET He will. 😉
Jesus is not God... He is called “the firstborn of all creation,” for he was God’s first creation (Colossians 1:15) Did God create himself?. Also who did Jesus pray to before, during, and after his death?...Does god need to pray to himself?... The only-begotten Son never even considered trying to be equal to his Father. The Bible clearly teaches that the Father is greater than the Son. (John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 11:3)