Japanese people
Regions with significant populations
Majority populations
Japan Japan 125,000,000 [1]
Minority populations
Brazil Brazil 1,600,000 [2]
United States United States 1,304,286 [3]
Philippines Philippines 200,000 [4]
China China 127,282 [5]
Canada Canada 109,740 [6]
Peru Peru 103,949 [7]

Disapora languages
Portuguese, English


Mostly Mahayana Buddhism and Shintoism, also Japanese new religion and Christianity

The Japanese people (Japanese: 日本人 Nihonjin) are an East Asian ethnic group native to Japan. Worldwide, approximately 130 million people are of Japanese descent; of these, approximately 127 million are residents of Japan. People of Japanese ancestry who live in other countries are referred to as nikkeijin (Japanese: 日系人). The term ethnic Japanese may also be used in some contexts to refer to a locus of ethnic groups including the Yamato (which refers to the majority of the Japanese populace) and native groups such as the Ainu, and Ryukyuan people.

Japanese culture today is highly influenced by Chinese culture, such as their writing, ways of life and food. However, Japanese culture has become a major culture of the Asia-Pacific rim, and very popular throughout the world, such as the art of swordsmithing, and the popular fom of media entertainment known as anime and its comic counterpart, manga.

The Japanese people were also crucial to the development of syncretic spiritual religions in the East Asia region. They developed the religion known as Shintoism 


Early History and Ethnic OriginsEdit

The modern-day Japanese people contain a mix of descent, from indigenous peoples such as the Ainu (Japanese: アイヌ, Russian: Айны) as well as Sino-Tibetan settlers such as the ethnic Chinese who settled into the Japanese Archipelago. The Ainu people are native to the Hokkaido region of Japan, and historically the northeastern parts of Honshu.

Jōmon peopleEdit

Some of the world's oldest known pottery pieces were developed by the Jōmon people in the Upper Paleolithic period, 14th millennium BC. The name, "Jōmon" (Japanese: 縄文 Jōmon), which means "cord-impressed pattern", comes from the characteristic markings found on the pottery. The Jōmon people were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, though at least one middle to late Jōmon site (Japanese: 南溝手, ca. 1200–1000 BC) had a primitive rice-growing agriculture. They relied primarily on fish for protein. It is believed that the Jōmon had very likely migrated from North Asia or Central Asia and became the Ainu of today. Research suggests that the Ainu retain a certain degree of uniqueness in their genetic make-up, while having some affinities with other regional populations in Japan as well as the Nivkhs of the Russian Far East. Based on more than a dozen genetic markers on a variety of chromosomes and from archaeological data showing habitation of the Japanese archipelago dating back 30,000 years, it is argued that the Jōmon actually came from northeastern Asia and settled on the islands far earlier than some have proposed.[8]

Yayoi peopleEdit

Around 400–300 BC, the Yayoi people began to enter the Japanese islands, intermingling with the Jōmon. The Yayoi brought wet-rice farming and advanced bronze and iron technology to Japan. Although the islands were already abundant with resources for hunting and dry-rice farming, Yayoi farmers created more productive wet-rice paddy field systems. This allowed the communities to support larger populations and spread over time, in turn becoming the basis for more advanced institutions and heralding the new civilization of the succeeding Kofun period.

The estimated population in the late Jōmon period was about one hundred thousand, compared to about three million by the Nara period. Taking the growth rates of hunting and agricultural societies into account, it is calculated that about one and half million immigrants moved to Japan in the period.

Ancient PeriodEdit

Kofun period Edit

The Kofun period began around 250 AD, and is named after the large tumulus burial mounds called kofun (Japanese: 古墳, "ancient grave") that started appearing around that time.

The Kofun period (the "Kofun-jidai") saw the establishment of strong military states, each of them concentrated around powerful clans (or zoku). The establishment of the dominant Yamato polity was centered in the provinces of Yamato and Kawachi from the 3rd century AD till the 7th century, establishing the origin of the Japanese imperial lineage. And so the polity, by suppressing the clans and acquiring agricultural lands, maintained a strong influence in the western part of Japan.[citation needed]

Japan started to send tributes to Imperial China in the 5th century. In the Chinese history records, the polity was called Wa, and its five kings were recorded. Based upon the Chinese model, they developed a central administration and an imperial court system, with its society being organized into various occupation groups. Close relationships between the Three Kingdoms of Korea and Japan began during the middle of this period, around the end of the 4th century.[citation needed]

Classical EraEdit

The classical era of Japanese history heralded in a golden age - characterized by a blossom in the arts and the architecture. The kingdoms in the Japanese archipelago also adopted a political system, modeled from Imperial China. Japan's Classical Era is divided into three periods: the Asuka period, Nara period and the Heian period.

Asuka period 538-710Edit

From 538 to 710, the proto-Japanese Yamato polity gradually became a clearly centralized state, defining and applying a code of governing laws. This era is known as the Asuka period and marked a period of relations with the kingdoms in the Korean Peninsula.

Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 538 by the King Seong of Baekje, to whom Japan continued to provide military support.[9][10][11] Buddhism was promoted largely by the ruling class for their own purposes and was not a popular religion with the common people of Japan.[12]

A prince by the name of Shōtoku (Japanese: 聖徳太子) came to power in Japan as Regent to Empress Suiko in 594. Empress Suiko had come to the throne as the niece of the previous Emperor, Sujun (588–593), who had been assassinated in 593. Empress Suiko had also been married to a prior Emperor, Bidatsu (572–585), but she was the first female ruler of Japan since the legendary matriarchal times.[13]

As Regent to Empress Suiko, Prince Shotoku devoted his efforts to the spread of Buddhism and Chinese culture in Japan.[13] He also brought relative peace to Japan through the proclamation of the Seventeen-article constitution, a Confucian style document that focused on the kinds of morals and virtues that were to be expected of government officials and the emperor's subjects. Buddhism would become a permanent part of Japanese culture.

The Taika Reforms (Japanese: 大化の改新 Taika no Kaishin) were a set of doctrines established by Emperor Kōtoku (Japanese: 孝徳天皇 Kōtoku-tennō) in the year 645. They were written shortly after the death of Prince Shōtoku, and the defeat of the Soga clan (Japanese: 蘇我氏 Soga no uji), uniting Japan. The reforms also artistically marked the end of the Asuka period and the beginning of the Hakuhō period. Crown Prince Naka no Ōe (who would later reign as Emperor Tenji), Nakatomi no Kamatari, and Emperor Kōtoku jointly embarked on the details of the Reforms. Emperor Kōtoku then took the name "Taika" (Japanese: 大化), or "Great Reform".

The Reform began with land reform, based on Confucian ideas and philosophies from China, but the true aim of the reforms was to bring about greater centralization and to enhance the power of the imperial court, which was also based on the governmental structure of China. Envoys and students were dispatched to China to learn seemingly everything from the Chinese writing system, literature, religion, and architecture, to even dietary habits at this time. Even today, the impact of the reforms can still be seen in Japanese cultural life.

A letter brought to the Emperor of China by an emissary from Japan in 607 stated that the "Emperor of the Land where the Sun rises (Japan) sends a letter to the Emperor of the land where Sun sets (China)",[14] thereby implying an equal footing with China which angered the Chinese emperor.[15] The Taiho Code or Code of Taiho Japanese: 大宝律令Taihō-ritsuryō was enacted in 703 in Japan.[16]. It was compiled at the direction of Prince Osakabe, Fujiwara no Fuhito and Awata no Mahito.[17] The work was begun at the request of Emperor Mommu and, like many other developments in the country at the time, it was largely an adaptation of the governmental system of China's Tang Dynasty.[17]

Heian period 794-1185Edit

The Heian period, lasting from 794 to 1185, is the final period of classical Japanese history. It is considered the peak of the Japanese imperial court and noted for its art, especially its poetry and literature. In the early 11th century, Lady Shikibu Murasaki wrote Japan's (and one of the world's) oldest surviving novels, The Tale of Genji.[18] Kokin Wakashū,[19] one of the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry, was compiled during this period.

Strong differences from mainland Asian cultures emerged (such as an indigenous writing system, the kana). Due to the decline of the Tang Dynasty,[20] Chinese influence in Japan (at the time) had reached its peak, and then effectively ended, with the last imperially sanctioned mission to Tang China in 838, although trade expeditions and Buddhist pilgrimages to China continued.[21]

Political power in the imperial court was in the hands of powerful aristocratic families (kuge), especially the Fujiwara clan, who ruled under the titles Sesshō and Kampaku (imperial regents). The Fujiwara clan obtained almost complete control over the imperial family. However, the Fujiwara Regents who advised the Imperial Court were content to derive their authority from imperial line. This meant that the Fujiwara authority could always be challenged by a vigorous emperor. Fujiwara domination of the Court during the time from 858 until about 1160 led to this period being called "the Fujiwara Period."[22] The Fujiwara clan gained this ascendancy because of their matrimonial links with the imperial family.[23] Indeed, because of the number of emperors that were born to Fujiwara mothers, the Fujiwara Regents became so closely identified with the imperial family, that people saw no difference between the "direct rule" by the imperial family and the rule of the Fujiwara Regents.[24]  In 1192, the Court appointed Yoritomo of the Minamoto clan to a number of high positions in government. These positions were consolidated and Yoritomo became the first person to be designated the Seii-tai-shōgun or "Shōgun."[25] Yoritomo then defeated the Fujiwara clan in a military campaign in the north of Japan. This spelled the end of the Fujiwara Period and the end of Fujiwara influence over the government.

Clan Rule in the Archipelago and Civil WarEdit

The end of the period saw the rise of various military clans. The four most powerful clans were the Minamoto clan, the Taira clan, the Fujiwara clan, and the Tachibana clan. Towards the end of the 12th century, conflicts between these clans turned into civil war, such as the Hōgen (1156–1158). The Hōgen Rebellion was of cardinal importance to Japan, since it was the turning point that led to the first stages of the development of feudalism in Japan.[26] The Heiji Rebellion of 1160 also occurred during this period[27] and the uprising was followed by the Genpei War, from which emerged a society led by samurai clans under the political rule of the shōgun—the beginnings of feudalism in Japan.

Buddhism began to spread during the Heian Period. However, Buddhism was split between two sects—the Tendai sect which had been brought to Japan from China by Saichō (767–822) and the Shingon sect which had been introduced from China by Kūkai (774–835). Whereas the Tendai sect tended to be a monastic form of Buddhism which established isolated monasteries or temples on the tops of mountains,[28] the Shingon variation of Buddhism was a less philosophical and more practical and more popular version of the religion.[29] Pure Land Buddhism (Jōdo-shū, Jōdo Shinshū) was a form of Buddhism which was much simpler than either the Tendai or Shingon versions of Buddhism. Pure Land Buddhism became very popular in Japan during a time of degeneration and trouble in the latter half of the 11th century.[30]

Medieval eraEdit

The medieval or "feudal" period of Japanese history, dominated by the powerful regional families and the military rule of regional warlords (shōgun), stretched from 1185 to 1573/1600. The emperor remained but was mostly kept to a de jure figurehead ruling position, and the power of merchants was weak. This time is usually divided into periods following the reigning family of the shōgun. 

Kamakura Shogunate 1192-1333Edit

The Kamakura period, 1185 to 1333, is a period that marks the governance of the Kamakura shogunate and the transition to the Japanese "medieval" era, a nearly 700-year period in which the emperor, the court, and the traditional central government were left intact but largely relegated to ceremonial functions. Civil, military, and judicial matters were controlled by the bushi (samurai) class, the most powerful of whom was the de facto national ruler, the shōgun. This period in Japan differed from the old system in its pervasive military emphasis.

War with the MongolsEdit

Two traumatic events of the period were the Mongol invasions of Japan in 1274 and in 1281. Massive Mongol forces with superior naval technology and weaponry attempted a full-scale invasion of the Japanese islands in both 1274 and in 1281. However, a famous typhoon referred to as kamikaze (translating as divine wind in Japanese) is credited with devastating both Mongol invasion forces and saving Japan.[31] Although the Japanese were successful in stopping the Mongols, the invasion attempt had devastating domestic repercussions, leading to the extinction of the Kamakura shogunate. For two decades after the second failed Mongol invasion of Japan, the Japanese remained fearful of a third Mongol attempt. (Indeed, Japan could not rest assured of peace until the death of Kublai Khan in 1294.) Consequently, the shōgun required the various samurai to spend money lavishly on armed forces in order to remain in a high state of readiness for the expected third attack by the Mongols. This vast expenditure of money had a ruinous effect on the economy of Japan. The Kamakura Shogunate could perhaps have survived the strain of the continual military readiness and the resultant bad economy if that had been the only problem. However, upon the death of Emperor Go-Saga in 1272, there arose a bitter dispute over succession to the throne within the imperial family.

Reinassance eraEdit

Warring states era (Sengoku period) 1467-1603Edit

From 1467-1603, the Japanese archipelago experienced an era similar to the Warring States Era of China, characterized by constant disputes. It was known as the Sengoku period (Japanese: 戦国時代 Sengoku jidai).

Arrival of Christianity Edit

Roman Catholic Jesuit missionaries led by Francis Xavier (1506–1552) arrived in 1549 and were welcomed in Kyōto.[32] Their proselytizing was most successful in Kyūshū, with about 100,000 to 200,000 converts, including many daimyō.[33] In 1587, Hideyoshi reversed course and decided the Christian presence was divisive and might present the Europeans with an opportunity to disrupt Japan. The Christian missionaries were seen as a threat; the Portuguese merchants were allowed to continue their operations. The edict was not immediately enforced but restrictions grew tighter in the next three decades until a full-scale government persecution destroyed the Christian community by the 1620s. The Jesuits were expelled, churches and schools were torn down, and the daimyō were forbidden to become Christians. Converts who did not reject Christianity were killed. Many Christians went underground, but their communities died out. Not until the 1870s was Christianity re-established in Japan.[34][35]

Empire of Japan and Asia-Pacific Domination 1868-1945Edit

Beginning in 1868, Japan undertook political, economic, and cultural transformations emerging as a unified and centralized state, the Empire of Japan or Imperial Japan (Japanese: 大日本帝国).. This 77-year period, which lasted until 1945, was a time of rapid economic growth. Japan became an imperial power, colonizing Korea and Taiwan. Starting in 1931 it began the takeover of Manchuria and China, in defiance of the League of Nations and the US. Escalating tension with the U.S.—and western control of Japan's vital oil supplies—led to Japan's involvement in World War II. Japan launched multiple successful attacks on the U.S. as well as British and Dutch territories in 1941–42. After a series of great naval battles, the Americans sank the Japanese fleet and largely destroyed 50 of its largest cities through air raids, including nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered in late summer 1945, gave up its overseas holdings in Korea, China, Taiwan and elsewhere, and was occupied and transformed into a demilitarized democratic nation by the U.S.

Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905Edit

In 1900s, the Empire of Japan challenged the Russian Empire for naval control of the northern Pacific. Russia sought a warm water port[36] on the Pacific Ocean, for their navy as well as for maritime trade. Vladivostok was only operational during the summer season, but Port Arthur would be operational all year. From the end of the First Sino-Japanese War and 1903, negotiations between Russia and Japan had proved impractical. Russia had demonstrated an expansionist policy in Manchuria dating back to the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century.[37] Japan offered to recognize Russian dominance in Manchuria in exchange for recognition of Korea as a Japanese sphere of influence. Russia refused this, and demanded that Korea north of the 39th parallel be a neutral buffer zone between the two empires. The Japanese government perceived a Russian threat to its strategic interests and chose to go to war. After the negotiations had broken down in 1904, the Japanese Navy opened hostilities by attacking the Russian eastern fleet at Port Arthur, a naval base in the Liaotung province leased to Russia by China.

Russia would suffer numerous defeats at the hands of Japan and would remain engaged in the war due in part to the will of the Tsar, Nicholas II. After faring poorly early into the war, Nicholas II, convinced that Russia would ultimately obtain victory in the war, chose to remain engaged in the war; at first, to await the outcomes of certain naval battles, and later on, upon realizing imminent defeat, it has been debated, to preserve the dignity of Russia by averting a "humiliating peace". The Russo-Japanese War would be concluded with the Treaty of Portsmouth, mediated by U.S President Theodore Roosevelt at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on Seavey's Island, Kittery, Maine, while the delegates stayed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The Japanese victory over Russia initially shocked the world, and had given the Japanese Empire a new status as a world power. 

World War II 1941-1945Edit

During the Second World War, the Empire of Japan reached the height of its peak as Japanese forces occupied a large empire spanning all the way from the Japanese Archipelago, to Manchuria, the Korean Peninsula, Southeast Asia and Oceania. In 1941, a Japanese imperial general by the name of Hideki Tōjō (Japanese: 東條 英機) became the prime minister of Japan. Under his leadership, the Empire of Japan embarked on a policy of war against the United States and a conquest of the Asia-Pacific Region. As a result of Japan's expansion in East Asia, the United States issued an oil emargo against Japan. As a result, the Japanese led the infamous surprise attacks on important strategic American naval bases in Hawaii and the Philippines on December 7, 1941. This had triggered the United States to declare war on Japan. The next day, the Japanese invaded Malaysia, quickly defeated the British forces (mostly composed of ethnic Indian sepoys) stationed there. In 1942, the Japanese defeated the Americans and Filipino forces for control of the Philippines, after the Americans surrendered the military fortresses of Bataan and Corregidor. Japan proceeded to occupy Indonesia, at that time, the Dutch East Indies as well as Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The Indonesians actually welcomed the Japanese invasion out of contempt for the Dutch control. Japan also occupied the islands in the mid-Pacific Ocean, including Wake Island and Micronesia. After four years of domination, the United States Marines embarked an an "island-hopping campaign" under the leadership of General Douglas MacArhur. The Japanese army also adopted a policy of "win or commit suicide", outlawing surrender for its soldiers. They performed a disembowelment ritual known as seppuku (Japanese: 切腹). They also used an aerial sucide tactic, in which fighter pilots sacrificed themselves while driving their planes into their opponent's bases. This was known as kamikaze (Japanese: 神風) literally meaning "Divide Wind" in Japanese. Due to this, Japan lost many skilled pilots. Japan experienced many naval losses during the battles at Midway, Leyte Gulf and Coral Sea. In 1944, American forces drove the Japanese forced out of the Philippines, Indonesian, Chinese and Korean nationalists also started their resistance movements against Japan. Because of the Imperial Japanese Army's refusal to ever surrender, this in turn had caused the United States to drop the first atomic bomb in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Soviet forces were also attacking Japanese strongholds in the Kuril Islands, North Korea and Mongolia. The Empire of Japan finally surrendered in 1945, Hideki Tōjō was captured, tried for war crimes and executed in 1948.

Treatment of Japanese-AmericansEdit

During the Second World War, the United States contained large Japanese-American communities living in the western regions. Out of suspicious, the United States government pursued a policy to remove Japanese-Americans from the West Coast to live in isolated communities. About 120,000 Japanese-Americans were sent to what is known as internment camps, which were designated communities meant to isolate Americans of Japanese descent. In order to avoid negative perceptions and even more discriminations, many of these Japanese-Americans served in the military during World War II in all sorts of positions and areas. Japanese-American soldiers dominated the 100th Infantry Battalion, are the Hawaii National Guard (which already contained a large Japanese community). The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was composed entirely of Japanese-Americans. 

American Occupation 1945-1952Edit

After the Empire of Japan surrendered, the Japanese people experienced American military occupation and keeping order in the Asia-Pacific Region. Under American occupation, Japan was prohibited from raising up any type of armed forces. The law was imposed not by the Allies, but by Japanese prime minister Kijūrō Shidehara.[38] However, The American occupation of Japan weakened as a result of the Korean War between the Soviet-supported North Koreans and the western-supported South Korean armies. The American rule in Japan also saw negative consequences for its natives, with allegations of rape, censorship and abuse. The occupation ended in 1952, with Japan regaining its sovereignty. 

Postwar Recovery and Economic Golden AgeEdit

Japan however, would beging to experience a period of economic prosperity under the leadership of Shigeru Yoshida. In 1949, the creation of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry promoted a strong workforce in Japan, cooperation between government and big bussiness, encourage manufacturing and industrialization, among many reforms. In 1954, Japan returned its military, as the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. This establishment of this group was meant to prevent communist expansion into Japan, as Japan was partially surrounded by communist giants such as the Soviet Union and China, who both supported North Korea. The Japanese economy surpassed the pre-war levels by 1955. Japan eventually found itself with the world's second-largest GDP, with standards of living amongst the highesti in Japan. The Korean War also helped boost the Japanese economy, as Japan provded logistical support for the United States.


Today the Japan contains one of the world's largest economies. The Japanese people well-known for their contribution in technology, and the automobile industry. Japanese culture is also widely appreciated throughout the world such as their cuisine, which is served in many Asian-style restaurants around the world. It is also not uncommon to see Japanese cultural festivals around the world. One of the other popular parts of Japanese culture is the style of cartoon known as anime (Japanese: アニメ) which is popular in many western nations and television shows with non-Japanese producers. The Japanese language is also a popular foreign language taught in other countries. 



The Japanese people speak languages belonging to the Japonic family of languages, with Japanese having the most speakers.[39] Japanese is an agglutinative language distinguished by a system of honorifics reflecting the hierarchical nature of Japanese society, with verb forms and particular vocabulary indicating the relative status of speaker and listener. Japanese writing uses a variant of the Chinese alphabet known as kanji (Japanese: カンジ) and two sets of kana (syllabaries based on simplified Chinese characters), as well as the Latin alphabet and Arabic numerals.[40]


The Ryukyuan languages are the indigenous languages of the Ryukyu Islands, the southernmost part of the Japanese archipelago as well as Okinawa. Although the Ryukyuan languages have sometimes been considered to be dialects of Japanese, they are not mutually intelligible with Japanese or even with each other. It is not known how many speakers of these languages remain, but language shift towards the use of Standard Japanese and dialects like Okinawan Japanese has resulted in these languages becoming endangered; UNESCO labels four of the languages "definitely endangered",[41][42][43][44] and two others "critically endangered".[45][46]


The religious nature of Japan reflects the cultural influences it absorbed from its history. Japanese religion is very similar to Chinese religion - in that it is very spiritual in nature. 


Shintoism (Japanese: 神道), also kami-no-mich is the indigenous religion of Japan and the people of Japan.[47] It is defined as an action-centered religion,[48] focused on ritual practices to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient roots.[49] Shinto practices were first recorded and codified in the written historical records of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki in the 8th century. Still, these earliest Japanese writings do not refer to a unified "Shinto religion", but rather to a collection of native beliefs and mythology.[50] Shinto today is a term that applies to the religion of public shrines devoted to the worship of a multitude of gods (kami),[51] suited to various purposes such as war memorials and harvest festivals, and applies as well to various sectarian organizations. Practitioners express their diverse beliefs through a standard language and practice, adopting a similar style in dress and ritual, dating from around the time of the Nara and Heian periods.[50]

The word Shinto ("way of the gods") was adopted, originally as Shindo,[52] from the written Chinese Shendao (Chinese: 神道),[53][note 1] combining two kanji, meaning "spirit" or kami, meaning a philosophical path or study (from the Chinese word dào).[50][53] The oldest recorded usage of the word Shindo is from the second half of the 6th century.[52] Kami are defined in English as "spirits", "essences" or "gods", referring to the energy generating the phenomena.[54] Since Japanese language does not distinguish between singular and plural, kami refers to the divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms: rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the nature of kami.[54] Kami and people are not separate; they exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity.[50]

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practiced by nearly 80% of the population, yet only a small percentage of these identify themselves as "Shintoists" in surveys.[51] This is due to the fact that "Shinto" has different meanings in Japan: most of the Japanese attend Shinto shrines and beseech kami without belonging to Shinto organisations,[55] and since there are no formal rituals to become a member of folk "Shinto", "Shinto membership" is often estimated counting those who join organised Shinto sects.[56] Shinto has 100,000 shrines[57] and 78,890 priests in the country.[58]

Shinto sects and new religionsEdit

With the profound changes that the Japanese society has gone through in the 20th century, and especially after World War II, including rapid industrialisation and urbanisation,[59] traditional religions were challenged by the transformation and underwent a reshaping themselves,[60] and principles of religious freedom articulated by the constitution[61] provided space for the proliferation of new religious movements.[62]

Both new sects of Shinto and movements claiming a thoroughly independent status, as well as new forms of Buddhist lay societies, provided ways of aggregation for people uprooted from traditional families and village institutions.[63] While traditional Shinto is residential and hereditary, and a person participates in the worship activities devoted to the local tutelary deity or ancestor, occasionally asking for specific healing or blessing services or participating in pilgrimages, in the new religions groups were formed by individuals without regard to kinship or territorial origins, and required a voluntary decision to join.[64] These new religions also provided cohesion through a unified doctrine and practice shared by the nationwide community.[65]

The officially recognized new religions number in the hundreds, and total membership is reportedly in the tens of millions.[66] The largest new religion is Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist sect founded in 1930, which has about 10 million members in Japan. Scholars in Japan have estimated that between 10% and 20% of the population belongs to the new religions,[67] although more realistic estimates put the number at well below the 10% mark.[68] As of 2007, there are 223,831 priests and leaders of the new religions in Japan, three times the number of traditional Shinto priests.[69]


Buddhism first arrived in Japan in the 6th century, it was introduced in the year 538 or 552[70] from the kingdom of Baekje in Korea.[71] The Baekje king sent the Japanese emperor a picture of the Buddha and some sutras. After overcoming brief yet violent oppositions by conservative forces, it was accepted by the Japanese court in 587.[72] The Yamato state ruled over clans (uji) centered around the worship of ancestral nature deities.[73] It was also a period of intense immigration from Korea,[74] horse riders from northeast Asia,[75] as well as cultural influence from China,[76] that had been unified under the Sui dynasty becoming the crucial power on the mainland.[77] Buddhism was functional to affirm the state's power and mold its position in the broader culture of East Asia.[78] Japanese aristocrats set about building Buddhist temples in the capital at Nara, and then in the later capital at Heian (now Kyoto).[79]

The six Buddhist sects initially established in Nara are today together known as "Nara Buddhism" and are relatively small. When the capital moved to Heian, more forms of Buddhism arrived from China, including the still-popular Shingon Buddhism, an esoteric form of Buddhism similar to Tibet's Vajrayana Buddhism, and Tendai, a monastic conservative form known better by its Chinese name, Tiantai.

When the shogunate took power in the 12th century and the administrative capital moved to Kamakura, more forms of Buddhism arrived. The most popular was Zen, which became the most popular type of Buddhism of the time period. Two schools of Zen were established, Rinzai and Sōtō; a third, Ōbaku, formed in 1661.

Another popular branch is Pure Land Buddhism, arrived in the Kamakura period. It emphasizes the role of Amitabha Buddha and promises that reciting the phrase "Namu Amida Butsu" upon death will result in being removed by Amitabha to the "Western Paradise" or "Pure Land", and then to Nirvana. Pure Land attracted the merchant and farmer classes. After Honen, Pure Land's head missionary in Japan, died, the form split into two schools: Jōdo-shū, which focuses on repeating the phrase many times, and the more liberal Jōdo Shinshū, which claims that only saying the phrase once with a pure heart is necessary. Today, many Japanese adhere to Nishi Honganji-ha, a conservative sect of Jodo Shinshu.

The monk Nichiren established a more radical form of Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, which praised the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren's teaching was revolutionary, and the shogun distrusted him; when Nichiren predicted that the Mongols would invade Japan, the shogun exiled him. Nichiren Buddhism is the second or third largest Buddhist sect in Japan today. Sub-sects of Nichiren Buddhism include Nichiren Shū, Nichiren Shōshū and Soka Gakkai, a controversial denomination whose political wing forms the Komeito, Japan's third largest political party. As of 2007 there are 315,659 Buddhist monks, priests and leaders in Japan.[80]

Christianity Edit

In the year 1542, the first Europeans from Portugal landed on Kyushu in Western Japan. The two historically most important things they imported to Japan were gunpowder and Christianity (キリスト教 Kirisutokyō), in the form of Roman Catholicism. The Japanese daimyo on Kyushu welcomed foreign trade because of the new weapons and tolerated the Jesuit missionaries. These missionaries were successful in converting large numbers of people in Western Japan, including members of the ruling class. In 1550, Francis Xavier undertook a mission to the capital, Kyoto.

Near the end of the 16th century, Franciscan missionaries arrived in Kyoto, despite a ban issued by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1597, Hideyoshi proclaimed a more serious edict and executed 26 Franciscans in Nagasaki as a warning. Tokugawa Ieyasu and his successors continued the persecution of Christianity with several further edicts.

In 1873, following the Meiji restoration, the ban was rescinded, freedom of religion was promulgated, and Protestant missionary work began. Today, there are around 0.6–3 million Christian adherents of various denominations.[81][39][82][83] Most of them live in Western Japan, where the missionaries' activities were greatest during the 16th century. Since World War II,[citation needed] a number of Christian customs, including Western style weddings and the celebration of Valentine's Day and Christmas, have become popular among the non-Christian population.

As of 2007 there are 32,036 Christian priests and pastors in Japan.[84]

Most of the Japanese-American diaspora were also Christians. 

Art and ArchitectureEdit


Japanese art covers a wide range of art styles and media, including ancient pottery, sculpture, ink painting and calligraphy on silk and paper, ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints, kiri-e, kirigami, origami, and more recently manga—modern Japanese cartooning and comics—along with a myriad of other types of works of art. It has a long history, ranging from the beginnings of human habitation in Japan, sometime in the 10th millennium BC, to the present.

Anime is one of the most popular forms of Japanese art outside of Japan. Anime is a form of cartoon and comic work, that has spawned popular franchises such as Pokémon, Yui-Gi-Oh! and Naruto. Anime is often accompanied by a form of Japanese comic work known as manga (Japanese: 漫画).

Origami (Japanese: 折り紙) is a popular form of paper-folding art, which is also a popular type of art around the world. 

Historically, Japan has been subject to sudden invasions of new and alien ideas followed by long periods of minimal contact with the outside world. Over time the Japanese developed the ability to absorb, imitate, and finally assimilate those elements of foreign culture that complemented their aesthetic preferences. The earliest complex art in Japan was produced in the 7th and 8th centuries in connection with Buddhism. In the 9th century, as the Japanese began to turn away from China and develop indigenous forms of expression, the secular arts became increasingly important; until the late 15th century, both religious and secular arts flourished. After the Ōnin War (1467–1477), Japan entered a period of political, social, and economic disruption that lasted for over a century. In the state that emerged under the leadership of the Tokugawa shogunate, organized religion played a much less important role in people's lives, and the arts that survived were primarily secular.

Painting is the preferred artistic expression in Japan, practiced by amateurs and professionals alike. Until modern times, the Japanese wrote with a brush rather than a pen, and their familiarity with brush techniques has made them particularly sensitive to the values and aesthetics of painting. With the rise of popular culture in the Edo period, a style of woodblock prints called ukiyo-e became a major art form and its techniques were fine tuned to produce colorful prints of everything from daily news to schoolbooks. The Japanese, in this period, found sculpture a much less sympathetic medium for artistic expression; most Japanese sculpture is associated with religion, and the medium's use declined with the lessening importance of traditional Buddhism.

Japanese ceramics are among the finest in the world and include the earliest known artifacts of their culture. In Japanese architecture, Japanese preferences for natural materials and an interaction of interior and exterior space are clearly expressed.

The kimono (Japanese: 着物) is a traditional Japanese garment, worn by women in Japan. They also have become a popular form of fashion in western fashion. Kimono are T-shaped, straight-lined robes worn so that the hem falls to the ankle, with attached collars and long, wide sleeves. Kimono are wrapped around the body, always with the left side over the right (except when dressing the dead for burial) and secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back. Kimono are generally worn with traditional footwear (especially zōri or geta) and split-toe socks (tabi).


Japanese architecture has traditionally been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized for different occasions. People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction and design, and is today a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology.

The earliest Japanese architecture was seen in prehistoric times in simple pit-houses and stores that were adapted to a hunter-gatherer population. Influence from Han Dynasty China via Korea saw the introduction of more complex grain stores and ceremonial burial chambers.

The introduction into Japan of Buddhism in the sixth century was a catalyst for large-scale temple building using complicated techniques in wood. Influence from the Chinese T'ang and Sui Dynasties led to the foundation of the first permanent capital in Nara. Its checkerboard street layout used the Chinese capital of Chang'an as a template for its design. A gradual increase in the size of buildings led to standard units of measurement as well as refinements in layout and garden design. The introduction of the tea ceremony emphasised simplicity and modest design as a counterpoint to the excesses of the aristocracy.

During the Meiji Restoration of 1868 the history of Japanese architecture was radically changed by two important events. The first was the Kami and Buddhas Separation Act of 1868, which formally separated Buddhism from Shinto and Buddhist temples from Shinto shrines, breaking an association between the two which had lasted well over a thousand years and causing, directly and indirectly, immense damage to the nation's architecture.

Second, it was then that Japan underwent a period of intense Westernization in order to compete with other developed countries. Initially architects and styles from abroad were imported to Japan but gradually the country taught its own architects and began to express its own style. Architects returning from study with western architects introduced the International Style of modernism into Japan. However, it was not until after the Second World War that Japanese architects made an impression on the international scene, firstly with the work of architects like Kenzo Tange and then with theoretical movements like Metabolism.


Japanese cuisine is the food—ingredients, preparation and way of eating—of Japan. The traditional food of Japan is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes, with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. The side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Fish is common in the traditional cuisine. It is often grilled, but it may also be served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter as tempura.

Apart from rice, staples include noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga. Foreign food, in particular Chinese food in the form of noodles in soup called ramen and fried dumplings, gyoza, and western food such as curry and hamburger steaks are commonly found in Japan. Historically, the Japanese shunned meat, but with the modernization of Japan in the 1860s, meat-based dishes such as tonkatsu became common.

Japan has an indigenous form of sweets called wagashi, which include ingredients such as red bean paste, as well as its indigenous rice wine sake.

Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi, has now become popular throughout the world.


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