Dana Nelson: “Durkheim and Coexistence in Japanese Belief Systems”

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Given the way America was founded, our culture has been nicknamed a “melting pot” for various ethnicities, religions, and creeds. But, as was made abundantly apparent in the recent presidential election, religion can be a passionate drive and sometimes a stark divider between those that believe as you do and those that don’t. It can be said with certainty that Japan’s current social structure has a different background to America’s, no “melting pot” the same way America does, but the point these articles make is that Japan’s various religions don’t compete to become the apex religion. As one article states “It’s not about extreme devotion to a particular theology or god.1” Instead, religion is practiced widely more as a spirituality rather than a devout faith. The more notable religions in Japan being Shinto and Buddhism along with the western Christianity. While each of these hold an importance to Japanese society, attendance to a Shinto shrine for a festival or saying a Buddhist prayer at a funeral seem to be cultural traditions rather than an observance to a belief system. These articles also state that when born parents will often go to Shinto shrines for blessing, that child may have a western style wedding a church, then have a Buddhist ceremony at a funeral. This further solidifies the idea that religions in Japan coexist with one another as a spirituality common to its denizens.

Because of this coexistence, this society could be seen as a representation of Durkheim’s idea that religion permeates social relationships to represent the values in the society. Including the idea that all religions are “true” since they all contribute to the stability of Japan’s social structure through centuries of embedded tradition. Shinto is considered to be the original religion in Japan, and there are many gods or “kami” that can both represent and hold power over rivers, seasons, or even a specific region of land. In one of the articles, an interviewee stated “One day, the god called Buddha came from mainland Asia. Later, the god called Christ came by boat. It was just two more gods added to the almost countless number we already had.1” This can be a direct example of the Japanese society accepting another set of values such as “mind over matter” from Buddhism or charity from Christianity. The specific values don’t matter so much as the idea that the religions became accepted in the norm. This normalization of beliefs is what Durkheim called the common consciousness. When compared to the ties with religion in other countries societies can have, Japan’s shared consciousness can be seen to be exceptionally strong. In some cases, nearly wiping out the individual’s values to those of the social norms, at least in public, to keep with that social cohesion. Thus, the belief system becomes the manifestation for Japan’s social rules rather than a devout, singular faith.

1 https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-07-01/japan-isnt-especially-religious-theres-still-plenty-religion

2 https://www.japantoday.com/category/opinions/view/how-religious-are-japanese-people

3 https://www.insidejapantours.com/japanese-culture/religion/


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