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Religious Communities and Ethics in Japan: Their Traditional Structure and Recent Changes

A245
Panel Chair: Yoshiko Oda | Friday, August 28, 9-11 a.m.

This panel focuses on religious communities and ethics in today’s Japan. Three papers mainly discuss recent changes of Japanese religions and society. In spite of these changes, the traditional religious structure still survives in Japan. Oda explains the traditional religious structure by using J. M. Kitagawa’s scheme. Kohara asks how the religious communities can contribute to today’s ethical problems. Miyamoto explains sufferings of isolated persons and shows some activities of religious groups. Inoue shows historical changes of Japanese Buddhism and ask their roles today. Professor Michael Pye makes comments as our respondent.

Yoshiko Oda

The Religious Soil in Japan

This panel focuses on religious communities and ethics in today’s Japan. Three papers mainly discuss recent changes of Japanese religions and society. In spite of these changes, the traditional religious structure still survives in Japan, which Joseph M. Kitagawa explained as the division of religions in his Religions of the East. His explanation, if modified a little, is valid; i.e., most Japanese belong to Shinto as local community religion, and to Buddhism as family religion, and choose either one case by case. Kitagawa named the Japanese religious community the national community, but I call it the religious soil. It consists of Shinto. There many Buddhist sects, new religions and even Christian churches have established their institutions. As most of these religions, unlike monotheisms, do not require religious identity, most Japanese insist on their secularity. Their understandings of nature, life and death, nevertheless, are influenced by the religious soil. The most difficult problem is that most Japanese do not clearly understand what the religious soil is.

Katsuhiro Kohara

How Can the Religious Communities Contribute to Tackling Contemporary Ethical Problems?

I will clarify what kind of unique roles the religious communities in Japan can play in tackling contemporary ethical problems, focusing on the modernization process including the second advent of Christianity and the following controversy over moralityd religion as well as some noticeable changes of the religious landscape after the 3/11 disaster in 2011. The 3/11 disaster prompted a change in the concept of religion and its role in society. To delve into the "moral capital" latent in religious communities, I will reinterpret the public interest or the common sphere from the religious aspect embedded in the Japanese tradition. At the same time I will deal with the rise of nationalism and the current move to introduce a moral education in public schools both of which seem to be a byproduct of the 3/11 disaster.

Yotaro Miyamoto

Suffering in muen shakai and Network of Compassion

Since 2010, when NHK started a campaign for warning muen shakai, or society losing bonds, the new coinage muen shakai has been used to indicate the various situations of contemporary Japanese society in which personal links weaken rapidly and individuals become isolated from social network. It also implies that traditional communities such as chien (local community) and ketsuen (blood relation) have been losing their functions as bonds between each other. This tendency stands in close relation to a decline of traditional faiths in Japan, especially Shinto and Buddhism. On the other hand, there are many individuals with various religious backgrounds who are aiming to support the people suffering in the muen shakai. Their activities are based on the network of compassion rather than the ethics of community. I will try to elucidate how the former change and reconstruct the latter within the tension between each other.

Yoshihuki Inoue

What Roles can Japanese Buddhists Play Today?

The term “Buddhist community” reminds us of the Japanese Buddhist institution (Danka Seido) established in the Edo period, that a family as a unit belongs to a temple. In this system, each Buddhist temple has guided the funeral and other rituals of the dead as family cult. After the Meiji era, some Buddhist sects reformed their teachings, but left Danka Seido untouched. Some Buddhist scholars have criticized “the funeral Buddhism” because it commits to ancestor worship, never taught by true Buddhism. Since the Meiji era, many farmers have moved to big cities leaving their family’s temple and tomb in their country home towns. Thus, they gradually secularize. In these decades, recent changes such as a highly aging society have made people more isolated, and the funerals oversimplified and secularized. However, after the 3/11 disaster in 2011, many Japanese have recognized anew the importance of mourning the dead and the function of the funeral. I will discuss what people expect of Japanese Buddhism today.

Michael Pye

Respondent

Michael Pye will address the issues raised in the papers of this panel.

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