Japan’s two leading religions are Shintoism and Buddhism, and most Japanese practice both despite their differences. Shinto ceremonies are often used at birth and wedding and Buddhist rites at funerals and commemorations. Chinese Confucianism has also influenced Japanese thinking and action but is seen more as a moral doctrine than as a religion.
Buddhism came to Japan in the 500s from India via China and Korea – 552 are usually stated as the year when the Emperor’s reluctance on the Naras plain began to worship Buddha. The Buddhists first depended on contact with the great monasteries and temples in China, from where also Confucian and Daoist (Taoist) thought reached Japan. Japanese Buddhism, however, soon gained its own mark which greatly influenced the country culturally and politically.
Shintoism, or shinto, “the path of the gods,” is the native religion of the Japanese with roots in ancient folk belief. It includes rites originally built on the worship of natural gods. The myth of the celestial origin of the imperial dynasty became one of the main pillars of the Shinto. The emperor was worshiped as a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu and when he regained his worldly power in 1868, Shinto became Japan’s state religion. The Meiji Temple in Tokyo was erected in the Emperor’s honor and tens of thousands of new sacred gates, torii, were traveled across the country. At the capitulation of Japan in 1945, the emperor was forced to renounce his divine claims and Shinto’s position as state religion ceased. Freedom of religion was written into the constitution.
Christianity came to Japan in 1549 with Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier and quickly spread to the south. However, the rulers saw it as devastating, and the Christians began to be persecuted. Christianity was banned throughout Japan in the 17th century. Only since the country opened up to the outside world in the 1860s did missionaries begin to work in Japan again.
During the 20th century, several smaller belief systems were added, many influenced by the older religions. Japan is estimated to have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of “new religions” – societies and sects that blend elements of Shintoism, Buddhism or Christianity with old beliefs and new ideas into their own outlook on life. The Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai has exercised political influence through the Komeito Party. Following the doomsday sect Aum Shinrikyo’s terror gas attack in Tokyo in 1995 (see Modern History), the state has tightened its control over the religious small groups.
- Countryaah: Population statistics for 2020 and next 30 years in Japan, covering demographics, population graphs, and official data for growth rates, population density, and death rates.
Japan’s population density is 335 residents / km². It should be noted, however, that most of the country is mountainous and only sparsely populated. The remaining area of the country of around 25%, on the other hand, is much more densely populated. Overall, around half of the Japanese live only 2% of the total area. It is not uncommon for more than 1200 residents / km² to live in the coastal plains. The majority of Japanese also live in cities. The largest urban agglomerations are the metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.
After centuries of isolation, Japan made the transition from an agrarian state of feudal character to an industrial nation in just a few decades. Up to this point in time, Japan could still feed its 30 million residents – and no more – as an agricultural land with limited but intensively used agricultural land. After 1870, the number of residents rose sharply in the course of industrialization. As a result of the population explosion, the Japanese government introduced strict family planning and birth control. The birth surplus then fell from 2.9% to 1.4% in the years 1950 to 1955. The growth rate is currently stagnating at around 0.3% per year. The population consists almost exclusively of Japanese, the strongest foreign group are the Koreans.
The Japanese usually belong to several religions. The most widespread religions are Shintoism and Buddhism, to which the vast majority of the Japanese population profess. Shintoism is a natural religion that knows neither gods nor holy scriptures. The divine, it is believed, reveals itself to people in nature, in springs, rivers, stones, rocks and gardens, which are therefore worshiped in shrines in consecrated places. One enters these consecrated places through wooden gates. The ancestors and the sun enjoy special reverence in this religion.
Japan resumes commercial whaling
The government announces that Japan will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and begin chasing elections commercially in Japanese territorial waters in July 2019. Iceland and Norway also pursue whaling in violation of the ban imposed by the International Election Commission in 1986. Tokyo has tried to persuade the IWC to approve that Japan resumes whaling of particular species, which it is claimed to be abundant, but Australia, the EU and the US have firmly opposed this. Japanese people have been catching elections for hundreds of years, but today fewer and fewer people in Japan eat whale meat.
Positive meeting between Abe and Xi
Japan and China enter into important business dealings, with Japan’s Prime Minister Abe making an official visit to Beijing to meet President Xi. Japanese companies also manage to sign 500 business contracts, giving them access to the large Chinese market. Xi and Abe also sign several political agreements, including a special mechanism (MACM) that facilitates communication between countries to avoid collisions between Chinese and Japanese military vessels. The countries will also cooperate in rescue operations at sea and continue to develop a military communication channel (hotline) between the countries.
Abe reforms the government
Prime Minister Abe is conducting a government transformation after being re-elected as the leader of the LDP. Among the new government’s 19 ministers is just one woman. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera is replaced by Takeshi Iwaya.
Abe is re-elected as LDP leader
Prime Minister Abe gets 553 votes against 254 for former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba when LDP votes for party leader. Abe is thus re-elected for a further three-year period with a large margin.
More money for the defense
The Ministry of Defense presents a budget to apply from April 2019, where the ministry is demanding more money than ever before. The increased resources will go towards a better air defense defense and more military aircraft to meet the threats from North Korea and China, which are identified as continuing alarming in the ministry’s annual report. Compared to 2018, the Ministry wants to increase defense spending by just over two percentage points. It is the seventh consecutive year that the defense budget has shown an increase.
Another six executed for sarin attack
The six remaining members of religious doomsday sect Aum Shinrikyo who were sentenced to death for an attack with the nerve gas sarin in Tokyo’s metro in 2005 are executed. Earlier in July, seven convicted sect members were executed.
Heat wave is classified as a natural disaster
Over 80 people in Japan are reported to have died due to record-breaking weather in the country in July. In just the last week, 65 people have died. So many people have never before died in a heat wave during a summer week according to the country’s Fire and Disaster Authority. The heatwave is considered by the state weather authority as a natural disaster.
Trade agreement with the EU
Japan, with the world’s fourth largest economy, enters into a free trade agreement with the EU, which in its entirety is the world’s largest economy. The agreement is signed in Tokyo, covering almost a third of the global economy and affecting around 600 million people. Japan imports a lot of dairy products from the EU, which mainly buys cars from Japan. Companies in the EU export goods and services to Japan worth over $ 100 billion annually.
Over 200 dead in torrential rain
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cancels a planned trip abroad and the government allocates the equivalent of $ 20 million in emergency aid to areas affected by major flooding as a result of over a week of heavy rain. Over 200 people have lost their lives in water bodies and at least 60 people are still missing. The floods are the worst weather-related disaster in three decades.
Seven executed for sarin attack in Tokyo metro 2005
Seven members of religious doomsday sect Aum Shinrikyo are executed for an attack with the nerve gas sarin in Tokyo’s metro in 2005. 13 people died and nearly 6,000 were injured in the act. Among those executed are sect leader Shoko Asahara. Asahara and his sect are also suspected of other murders, including another deed in the city of Matsumoto when eight people died and hundreds were injured. The executions are then carried out to everyone who was sentenced to death for the assault having their appeals reviewed. Another six sect members have been sentenced to death and just as many have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
The trade conflict with the US deepens
At a meeting with the G7 countries, Japan’s government representatives criticize the United States in harsh terms for the tariffs on steel and aluminum, which are now also being imposed on the EU, Canada and Mexico, after the countries had a temporary exception. According to the Japanese government, tariffs have a “profoundly negative impact” on relations between countries and for the entire global trading system.
Tokyo is considering penalties against the United States
In response to the new US tariffs on imported steel and aluminum introduced earlier in the spring, the Japanese government says it is considering imposing its own penalty on US goods. The penalties would be based on WTO rules and correspond to the sum of the new tariffs Japan now pays for the metal export to the United States.
Japan criticizes US penalties
The Japanese government sharply criticized the US after the decision the day before to impose tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum. The EU, Canada and Mexico are temporarily exempted from customs duties in order for countries to negotiate new more favorable agreements for the US.
Pacific free trade agreement clear
Japan and ten other countries sign the Free Trade Agreement (CPTPP) (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Parthership). The agreement is also called TPP-11 and is a slightly revised version of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Parthership) (see Foreign Trade l). The changes are a result of the US withdrawing from the TPP before it came into force. The CPTPP is presented as a counter to the anti-free-trade policy pursued by US President Donald Trump.
Archipelago Museum opens in Tokyo
The Japanese government opens a museum in Tokyo that exhibits documents and photographs on the disputed archipelagos Senkaku and Takeshima in the East China Sea. The Senkaku island (Chinese Diaoyu) controlled by Japan also claims China, while Japan and South Korea dispute the right to Takeshima (Dokdo in Korean) controlled by South Korea. The museum collections show materials that support Japan’s claims on the archipelago.
Decreasing trade surplus 2017
The trade balance showed a surplus in 2017, but it was lower than the year before. Compared to 2016, the surplus decreased by 25 percent. This was partly due to the fact that energy imports have become more expensive.
Japan protests against Chinese military ships near Senkaku
According to the Japanese government, not only a Chinese military ship but also a submarine was sighted near the disputed island group Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese), controlled by Japan. Japan leaves an official protest to China after the incident.