Religion in Modern Asia Newsletter

Is Japan's "Religious Boom" an Illusion?


The Yomiuri shinbun, said to enjoy the largest circulation of all Japanese daily newspapers, on July 3 published the results of a recent public-opinion survey regarding religious consciousness and behavior in Japan. The survey indicated that the number of Japanese involved in any kind of religious activity has gradually declined since the late 1970s.

During the 1 980s, it was commonly claimed that Japan was in the midst of a "religious boom," and some journalists and scholars also claimed that the younger generation was chiefly responsible for the revival. Certainly, the 1 980s saw large book sellers displaying a many more new books about religion and religious personalities, and one was struck by the frequent appearance of young people engaged in street-side proselytization activities around large urban commuter stations and on university campuses.

But it now seems precipitous to claim that the Japanese people had, as a whole, become more sensitive to religion than before. It now appears more correct to say, rather, that the Japanese interest in religion was greater during the latter 1970s than in the 1 960s, and during that period, the earlier tendency toward non-religious attitudes temporarily declined, as people demonstrated more interest in religious topics. At the same time, the general trend toward secularism, which has characterized post-war Japanese society, does not appear to have substantially changed.

How, then, do we characterize Japanese religious trends since the 1 980s? My personal view is that rather than a "religious boom" per se, Japan has experienced a "boom in religious information." What we see is increasing interest in "newsworthy" events or incidents relating to religion, without, however, a corresponding growth of interest in exploring religious thought and concepts, or in joining religious groups.

While the postwar period has seen a gradual decline in the number of people who assert that religion is "important" in their lives, the ratio of such persons is still much higher than those who have gone the additional step toward holding a specific religious "belief." As a result, it appears that religious organizations in Japan continue to fail to satisfy the religious desires and needs of the Japanese people.

-- Aug 1, 1994, INOUE Nobutaka

Last updated: 2001/11/28 14:33:43

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