Monday, April 04, 2011

How Japanese Religions Deal With Death has an article on how Japanese religions deal with tragedy.
  • Japan is a largely secular society. People don't turn to Buddhism unless there is a funeral. "When there is a funeral, though, Japanese religious engagement tends to be pretty intense."

  • “A very large number of Japanese people believe that what they do for their ancestors after death matters, which might not be what we expect from a secular society,” says [Brian] Bocking. “There’s widespread belief in the presence of ancestors’ spirits.”
  • Buddhist beliefs are blended with ancient Shinto tradition.
  • John Nelson of the University of San Francisco says that the Japanese "move back and forth between two or more religious traditions, seeing them as tools that are appropriate for certain situations. For things connected to life-affirming events, they’ll turn to Shinto-style rituals or understandings. But in connection to tragedy or suffering, it’s Buddhism.”
  • Buddhist explanation of why bad things happen are many, "from collective karma to seeing calamities as signs of apocalypse.”
  • Bocking says “It’s very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity, and their religions would emphasize that. They’ll say we have to develop a powerful, even joyful attitude in the face of adversity.”
  • Most of the dead will be cremated with their ashes being interred in a family plot.
  • "After burial, Japanese typically continue to practice rituals around caring for the spirits of the deceased. Most Japanese keep Buddhist altars in their homes, Nelson says, using them to pay tribute to dead ancestors. "In the days ahead, you’ll see people praying, with hands folded, for the spirits of those killed,” he says. “It goes back to a really early understanding of human spirits and rituals designed to control those spirits, which can take 49 days or, depending on the type of Buddhism, could go on for up to seven years.”"
  • Pure Land Buddhism (Amida Buddhism) believes that living ancestors can help the deceased live in a paradise for spirits of the dead.
  • Many young Japanese don't believe in these rituals, and accuse Buddhist priests from profiting form death. There is a huge Buddhist funeral industry. "Young people just aren't buying it any more."