The most practiced religions in Japan – From Buddhism to Shinto

Japan is a nation that allows for free worship, yet there are two religions that have more followers than the rest and today you will get to know them.

The Japanese are not governed by a specific religious culture, but by the composition of several of them. However, Buddhism and Shinto are popular because they are the most widely practiced religions in this country.

According to studies, about 80% of people at some point in their lives have practiced Buddhism and Shintoism. In fact, often both religious activities together.

According to studies, Shinto has more believers, followed by Buddhism and, in third place, by Christianity. However, today we are going to focus on the first 2.

Udo Jingu Shrine in Miyazaki

Buddhism and Shinto

Buddhism and Shinto are so widely practiced in Japan and so intertwined that they have a very popular phrase: Japanese people are “born Shinto and Buddhists die”.

But, let's talk a little about each of them.


Buddhism is based on the wisdom of Siddhartha Gautama, born in the year 563 BC, in Nepal. Luego came to be seen as Buddha (el Enlightened).

It originated centuries ago in India, then transcended Korea and China, ending up in Japan by the 6th century. It also began in the city known as Nara, the capital at that time in the country. From there, it spread throughout the Japanese territory thanks to the construction of Buddhist temples.

Such a religion is practiced through continuous meditation, in other words, through observation and understanding of the mind.

It should be noted that, for the Japanese, religion is part of their culture and tradition. However, Buddhism can be seen in 3 different ways:

  • Mahāyāna: It is deployed in northern India, Tibet, China, Japan and Korea. Known as the most personal.
  • Theravada: Most common in India, Japan and Southeast Asia area. Here Buddhism is more orthodox.
  • Vajrayana: It extends to Tibet, East Asia and Japan. Popular also by the tantric or esoteric name, symbolizes spiritual authority.
Buddhism in japan - japanese religions


Also known as Shinto, and whose literal meaning is the path of the deities. The religion is native to Japan and must be thousands of years old. Shinto is based on devotion to nature.

In addition, he worships sacred objects, places and animals. For example, the deities called Kami: the sun, trees, sea, sounds and even death.

Shinto is a very open religion and can be interpreted in many ways and therefore conforms to different philosophies. In this way, it became a way of life and not a belief. For those who are ruled by this religion, they will know that there is no absolutism. Well, not everything is good or bad completely.

Your faith is optimistic.

This is due to their belief that people are by nature good and that malice derives from other people's influences.

On the other hand, over the centuries, these two religions created a religious syncretism. For many of the followers put their faith in both.

- the most practiced religions in japan - from Buddhism to Shintoism

Differences between Buddhism and Shintoism

The most practiced religions have noticeable differences for those who follow them. Some of them are:


Shinto worships the Kamis. Those deities inspired by nature, like atmospheric phenomena and abstract conceptions. While in Buddhism, believers worship their forerunner Buddha.

the protectors of temples

Shintoists guard their entrances with legendary animals, better known as Komainu. These take the form of lions, dogs or foxes.

Instead, in Buddhism they have four Buddhist deities in order to safeguard the 4 cardinal points.


People who come to Shinto shrines are purified with fountains indicated at the entrance. On the contrary, in Buddhist temples it works with incense burners.

But for the Japanese, these differences don't seem to be a problem, as much of the population considers themselves Buddhist and Shinto.

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