The study of Japanese religion, and the archaeology associated with major religious sites, provides a fascinating insight into alternative ways of engaging with the transcendental. Shinto and Buddhism, the two major religions of Japan, have different ideas about nature and the place of human beings within it. These ideas are often expressed through sacred monuments, including as shrines, temples and gardens, and also through ideas of sacred landscapes, such as mountains. This strand explores some of the discoveries that are helping us understand the development of Japanese religious traditions and their place in the religious history of humanity as a whole.
Shinto (which means ‘the Way of the Gods’) is usually described as the indigenous religion of Japan. Many aspects of Shinto were described in early historical documents, but it was not until later on that it was fully codified, and used as the basis for State Shinto, the official ideology of the modern Japanese state from the Meiji period to 1945. Buddhism was introduced to Japan in the 6th century AD, originating in the teachings of the Buddha, who lived in India in the 5th century BC. Today, most Japanese people follow aspects of both Shinto and Buddhist religions – visiting Shinto shrines at New Year and other auspicious occasions, and following Buddhist related funerary practices. These two religious traditions now co-exist with a variety of other beliefs, including shamanism, Christianity and a series of so-called ‘New Religions’. This diversity is reflected in the wide range of sacred places (many now recognised as ‘Power Spots’ and contributes to the great interest of studying religion in Japan