A number of years ago I wrote a blog post about a lively debate between Timothy Fitzgerald and Ian Reader concerning whether it was appropriate to speak of ‘religion’ in Japan and whether the concept had any coherent significance prior to the arrival of the Western colonial powers and their ideological baggage. From my perspective a clear winner emerged from these exchanges (*spoiler* it did- see my previous post for details) but I’ve just become aware that, while working on my PhD, I seem to have missed a more competitive second round that has been taking place over the past few years, due in large part to the work of Jason Ānanda Josephson.
Japan and the Christian Cafe
So it’s 2010. Time to put those new year resolutions into practice and get myself organised and in this futuristic decade what better place to start than my hi-tech internet blog. Granted it is now almost a week since New Years day but since I am technically still ‘on holiday’ in Japan I think getting the blog back in order at this early stage of the year can almost pass for an achievement!
Being in Japan at the moment I can’t help but feel like I am missing out on the predictable collapse of society that occurs in the UK following any unexpected weather. However, I can at least console myself by enjoying the sites of Tokyo and visiting the various bizarre cafes and bars that are littered across the city. This post is about one such venue called the ‘Christon Café’ which aside from being a nice place to eat also provides a pretty good illustration of the paradoxical attitude towards religion found throughout Japan of widespread indifference alongside a fascination with religious iconography and aesthetic.
Japan’s Pick and Mix Religions
One of the first statistics that someone who is researching religion in Japan will come across is that when statistics are collected the total membership of the main religions when added together equates to almost double the population of Japan. So for instance, in 2006 the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs reported that there were 106.8 million Shinto adherents and 91.2 million Buddhists while the total population of Japan was 127.8 million people.
The explanation for these strange statistics is very straightforward- in Japan most people do not regard religions as exclusive and this includes the various temple and shrine authorities who collect the statistics. This attitude is illustrated quite nicely by the fact that it is common in Japan for a person to have Shinto ceremonies shortly after they are born and at certain ages (3, 5 and 7) throughout their childhood, have a Christian wedding when they get married and have a Buddhist funeral after they die. It is also relatively common for individuals to be unaware of what Buddhist sect they and their family belong to until after a close relative dies and they need to contact a temple and summon the relevant priests.