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The oldest faith in Japan is Shinto, which means ‘the way of the Gods’. There is neither a founder nor prophets and there is no major text that outlines its principal beliefs. Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion, beginning about five hundred BCE. Its name was derived from the Chinese words ‘ Shin Tao ‘ within the eighth Century CE. The Shinto religion is practiced by approximately 80-90% of Japanese people. An approximated 3,000,000 people worldwide practice Shinto.
Buddhism is a faith that was founded by Siddharta Gautama (“the Buddha”) more than 2,500 years ago in India. With about 470 million followers, scholars consider Buddhism one of the major world religions. Its practice has historically been most prominent in East and Southeastern Asia, but its influence is growing in the West.
Prior to Buddhism in Japan, individuals had their own arrangement of spiritual beliefs and ritual practices. First occupants of Japan were inspired by nature like the magnificent rivers, mysterious forests and snow-covered mountains, which individuals began to believe in the kami (spirit beings) of these places. Essentially, there was no requirement for special buildings of worship, but later kami was venerated in a chieftain’s palace or a shrine arranged over a sacred site.
Purity is symbolised by mirror since it reflects precisely what it sees. It is found in Shinto signs and it stands for purity and honesty as well as the kami worshipped in the shrine to enter.
Since the earliest times, unique entry gates known as torii marked shrines. Prior forms of torii comprised two, upstanding trees connected by a crosspiece. The final piece of timber below held the structure stable. This was viewed as an approach to bring Kami to earth and separate the ‘real’ from the spiritual worlds.
After Buddhism, worship of Kami was given a conventional structure and was given the name ‘Shinto’, meaning ‘way of gods’. Emperors utilized Shinto beliefs to support their position, misleading minorities that they were royal family descended from the sun goddess up till World War II.
In the sixth century, Buddhism came to Japan from China and Korea, soon being adapted by ruling families. A large Buddhist temple was established in Nara during the eighth century. Throughout the unsettled times of Kamakura period (twelfth century), Japanese adopted new Chinese forms of Buddhism, like Zen Buddhism.
Zen stressed self-discipline through meditation: buddhists sit silently like the Buddha in the Lotus position to control their breathing and void their minds. This captivated numerous people, especially the warrior class as they were constrained by the shogun, putting a lot of stress upon them. Zen Buddhism was frequently expressed through archery as one would have mastery over a bow and arrow, hitting the centre point of the target unconsciously.
Tea drinking became a complex ritual as it had soothing, stimulating attributes that were see as an acid to meditation. Zen Buddhism is unified with Shinto as both share admiration for the natural world; meditation, landscape painting and garden design are all interconnected. Paintings influenced by Zen would have a few strokes to resemble a landscape, the garden being defined by the leftover. The Zen garden at Ryoanji, Kyoto is composed of a blend of white stones, a few carefully placed rocks and some moss.
Shinto is often cited alongside Buddhism as one of Japan’s two main religions, and the two often differ in focus, with Buddhism emphasising the idea of transcending the cosmos, which it regards as being replete with suffering, while Shinto focuses on adapting to the pragmatic requirements of life.
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