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Religion in Japan

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Religion in Japan

Postby ziritrion » Sun Aug 03, 2003 16:48 +0000

This afternoon, I was typing the letters column of UY #63 (Komainu), as well as the story notes in there. I noticed that the meaning of the two stone dogs on the entrance of a Shinto shrine is to represent the balance between yin and yang. As far as I know, the concept of duality (black and white, good and evil, etc...) and the balance between opposing forces (yin and yang) is the basis of Taoism, religion created in China by Lao-tse (spelling?) around 600 b.C. However, the main religions of Japan (or at least what I think they are) are Shintoism (the local religion) and Mahayana and Zen Buddhism, which are kind of blended together due to the non-dogmatic nature of Eastern religions. There are also many details which seem taoistic but are present in Japan, like the concept of ki (chi or qi in Chinese), which is the inner human energy created in the hara (stomach, perhaps?), a part of the body placed 3 fingers below the navel (the Chinese arts of Tai Chi and Qi Gong deal with proper breathing as a way to allow your qi to flow more fluidly through your body in order to have good health; actually, Qi Gong is the basis of Kung-Fu, which is probably a derivation of Yoga).

My question is: which religions were known in Japan, or how did they influence the society's behavior? I don't know of any taoist cult in Japan, but the things listed above seem to point out some kind of taoist influence. Did the teachings of Confucius (spelling again?) ever arrived to Japan's shores? It looks like religion in Japan was some kind of mix up of cults :P .
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Postby takematsu » Tue Aug 05, 2003 13:12 +0000

To my knowledge, the primary religions in Japan up to modern times were Buddhism and Shinto. However, the Buddhism was filtered through China, where it would likely have picked up a lot of the flavour of taoism. Confuscian ideas likely got imported with the set up for the Imperial court during the initial interactions in the 4th or 5th century (top-of-head numbers-- if anyone's got the real numbers, please correct); some tao could have slipped in this way, too, since the Japanese were importing wholesale lots of Chinese literature. I guess one should mention the half-century or so of Christian influence before the Namban got chased out by the Shogun.

Since a lot of taoist stuff is well-entwined with medical theory (qi flow, yin, yang and the various meridians and accupuncture points), one can expect that as the medical texts got brought across, so did the notions contained within.

As far as affecting society's behavior, Buddhism is responsible for the mainly vegetarian nature of the Japanese diet (I don't want to try to explain out how a slaughterer-of-dozens samurai could reconcile being a Buddhist-- there's explanations out there, they're long, and not entirely convincing). Confuscianism didn't leak out of the Imperial court too much except in the notions of "know your place" and "group is responsible for individual failures". Shinto, as far as I can make out, is the background on which everything else is happening-- references to kami lurking under every rock, the divine nature of the Emperor, why Japan is cooler than anywhere else, and pretty much everything that's not accounted for by the foreign belief systems. Remember too that there isn't a central source of Shinto beilefs, no "bible"-- the way in which Shinto was practiced would vary from town to town, and more so as one travelled through regions, so to Europeans with a book-taught religion it would look like there were a zillion slightly-related belief systems at work in Japan.



think I need a nap now.... :roll:
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Postby ziritrion » Tue Aug 05, 2003 14:34 +0000

Thanks for the info, Takematsu.

So, should I assume that the Japanese were just importing culture from China indiscriminately? As far as I know (not much), Taoism and Confucianism were pretty opposed philosophies. Or did they only pick those things that seemed better (or more convenient) for them?

NOTE: when I say "them" I mean the guys from above (Court, Shogun, Bushi, etc...) :P .
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Postby takematsu » Wed Aug 06, 2003 8:53 +0000

So, should I assume that the Japanese were just importing culture from China indiscriminately? As far as I know (not much), Taoism and Confucianism were pretty opposed philosophies.


Well, maybe not "indiscriminately". The Imperial Court would likely have been very much in favour of Confuscius, since it made opposing the will of the Emperor the same as opposing the will of Heaven, Gods and Nature-- allies I'd want! The Taoism would have come in by other sources (philosophy students, doctors, other questionable characters), because it suited their own, somewhat less political, agendas.
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