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Part III: Buddhism in Japan Today

Going Out of Business?


Japanese monk begging for alms

A Zen monk begging for alms.

Solotune / Flickr.com, Creative Commons License

Since Meiji

Although no new major schools of Buddhism have been established since Nichiren, there have been no end of subsects growing from the major sects, and no end of "fusion" sects compounded from more than one Buddhist school, often with elements of Shinto, Confucianism, Taoism, and nore recently Christianity tossed in as well.

Today the government of Japan recognizes more than 150 schools of Buddhism, but the major schools are still Nara (mostly Kegon), Shingon, Tendai, Jodo, Zen and Nichiren. It is difficult to know how many Japanese are affiliated with each school, because many Japanese claim more than one religion.

The End of Japanese Buddhism?

Recently several news stories have reported that Buddhism is dying in Japan, especially in rural areas. The many small "family owned" temples for generations had a monopoly on the funeral business, and funerals became their chief source of income. Sons took over temples from their fathers out of duty more than vocation. These two factors combined made much of Japanese Buddhism into "funeral Buddhism." Many temples offer little else but funeral and memorial services.

Now rural areas are de-populating, and Japanese living in urban centers are losing interest in Buddhism. When younger Japanese have to organize a funeral, more and more they go to funeral homes rather than Buddhist temples, or skip funerals altogether. Now temples are closing, and membership at the remaining temples is falling.

Some Japanese want to see a return to celibacy and the other ancient Buddhist rules for monks that have been allowed to lapse in Japan. Others urge the priesthood to pay more attention to social welfare and charity, to show Japanese that Buddhist priests are good for something other than conducting funerals. If nothing is done, will the Buddhism of Saicho, Kukai, Honen, Shinran, Dogen and Nichiren fade from Japan?

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