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Buddhism in Japan (日本)

edited August 2006 in Buddhism Today
I've had a request to start a Buddhism in Japan thread so here it is!

I must point out though that I am in no way an authority on the subject of Buddhism in Japan! I'm just a Dharma student living here and observing the vast and minute differences between my life in the UK and my life here. I will also try to give some insight into the subtle way in which Buddhism is an everyday part of life here and the different attitudes and situations this creates.

So feel free to ask me questions and I will try my hardest to answer them!

がんばります!I will try my hardest!

Comments

  • edited June 2006
    To start the ball rolling I will describe one of my favourite parts of the culture over here that is definately related to the influence that Buddhism has had.

    It is a fairly simple thing: the bow.

    Being Buddhists, the bow is something very symbolic in our practise we find it in all traditions and it is indispensable to our way of life. In order to truely bow we must push past and through (what isn't really there) - the 'I'. When this is done the act is indeed sacred and the exchange deep and profound.

    Bowing in Japan replaces the handshake and also extends into places you would never normally expect such a thing to occur. When friends or coworkers greet or say goodbye there is a flurry of bowing (indeed high school grads are giving classes on how to bow accordingly in the workplace) with the more submissive party bowing the lowest. I will grant you that this is not entirely a Buddhist concept but Japan, until recently, was a feudally governed country and class/rank played a large part of everyday life. What interests me more (and makes everyday exchanges all the more profound) are the bows exchanged between customers and salespeople and people in the street.

    In order to fully appreciate why I find this so interesting it is important to understand what my basis for comparison is. Going to the corner store or convenience store in the UK is dreadful - the person behind the till could care less about their job and the customer always feels this type of 'burden' for causing the store employee so much hassle. Either that or they continue thier conversation as they process your items. In North America (I've lived in Canada too) there is a super shiny sheen of the 'How may I help you?' culture that is foreign to europeans and definately not all-together genuine.

    Stepping into a store in Japan is an entirely different affair. Upon entry all the employees (even the chef if it's a restaurant) will welcome you with raised voices (that speak of a real welcome - even if your Japanese is rubbish, like mine!). When it comes time to pay the money exchange is handled in a ritualistic way. Your money is accepted then counted for you (to check) then your change is counted for you (to check) then the clerk stands and waits for you to sort out our wallet/purse and bows deeply and with conviction as you leave (I usually reciprocate the bow though I doubt many Japanese do this). The thing that strikes me the most though is that the employees, be they in a restaurant, convenience, department or private store, all are very proud of their jobs and perform them immaculately. The epitome of which is the bow which speaks of a joy and happiness in service and a gratitude for business. Right livlihood anyone? :D

    The final type of bow exchange that really resonates with my practice is the bow in the street from a complete stranger. People here always put other members of the public first in their actions (this doesn't include Tokyo subways BTW!) If the path is not wide enough for two people to walk down I have no doubt in my mind that every Japanese person will stop and wait patiently. This kind of behaviour speaks of a mindfulness and selflessness that I have been practising myself in the UK (people in the UK usually are shocked that a young man will wait or hold a door etc). As a foreigner here the Japanese people usually expect me to barge my way through like I'm part of an American football team and so when we have a 'Mexican stand-off' of polite behaviour there is usually an exchange of 'sumimasen' (excuse me) and deep reverential bows. The first few times it happened I was almost brought to tears by the way it so deeply embodied the teachings of the Dharma - such an attention to compassion and peacefulness in the present moment!
  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited June 2006
    Now THIS is fascinating and beautiful. I worked in retail most of my life and after learning a few things about the privilege, dignity and honor of service (the movie "Remains of the Day" helped open my eyes) my understanding and attitude completely changed. When I said "My pleasure" in response to someone's "Thank you", I had already made sure they knew that I meant it. Service, to me, is sacred. I wish I could have gone to Japan. I would have been in quiet tears many times, I'm sure.

    This post has taught me something I never knew, BSF. Thank you, dharma brother.
  • MagwangMagwang Veteran
    edited June 2006
    After visiting Korea and the unexpectedly warm reception we received, I wish that bowing was more common in the West. I fell into the habit immediately.

    I think it is respectful, mindful and gracious.
    ::
  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran
    edited June 2006
    There is a guy I work with who is Japanese. He comes in the office every once in awhile just to update things.

    I was talking to him about religion in Japan. He said, in his opinion, religioin wasn't that big of a deal as it seems it is in the US.

    He said he felt most Japanese had a sense of things they believed in - but it was personal. It wasn't something that had to be shouted and argued about on the television - or fought over. It is a very quiet issue among the Japanese.

    -bf
  • MagwangMagwang Veteran
    edited June 2006
    I've had a request to start a Buddhism in Japan thread so here it is!...So feel free to ask me questions and I will try my hardest to answer them!
    ::
    I understand (from reading - never been there) that the Buddhadharma is in decline in Japan. Any observations?
    ::
  • buddhafootbuddhafoot Veteran
    edited June 2006
    That is what I've been told by a Japanese gentleman that works for the company where I work.

    -bf
  • edited June 2006
    Magwang wrote:
    ::
    I understand (from reading - never been there) that the Buddhadharma is in decline in Japan. Any observations?
    ::

    Thank you Magwang and Bf for raising this question I will try my upmost to relate my observations regarding it but I must stress again that I am NOT an authority on the subject.

    The first thing to consider is the Japanese attitude towards religion. The indigenous Japanese religion is Shinto in which the spirits of nature (kami) are revered and thanked (not worshipped) and harmony and peacefulness are given precedence. It is for this reason that you will usually find Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples occupying the same area without any ill-will towards each other. The average Japanese person will visit shrines on special days and pray (briefly) to Kami and revere the natural beauty provided by them.

    It is therefore not so much of a surprise when one finds lay practitioners of Buddhism doing the same thing - visiting temples to amire the gardens and give offerings and pray to Buddha in the same way they would pray to kami at a Shinto shrine (indeed at one point in Japanese history the Shinto followers believed Buddha to have been kami). Now I certainly have no place commenting on Shinto practices I know, for a fact, that aside from the Pure Land sects ay amount of praying to a Buddha for happiness and luck will get you nowhere unless you practice diligently, study the Tripikata and take refuge in the three jewels. I'm sure if you were to ask the average Japanese person visiting a Buddhist temple what the three jewels were they might be slightly confused...

    Despite all of this though I would definately not say that the Buddhadharma is in decline in Japan. There are still many very devoted lay practitioners who attend daily Zazen and retreats as well as a multitude of monks engaged in monastic life. However, due to the nature of The Way and the Japanese unwillingness to make someone uncomfortable the 'religion' of Buddhism is never 'up in your face' and would therefore be difficult to discern to the tourist here.

    Personally though, I don't see the Dharma as restricted to within the monastary walls (in any country) and would therefore have a different point of view than another more stringent practitioner. TO get a better sense of what I mean I guess I would refer you back to my post on bowing.

    I will say this, however. In the UK the provision for Zen practice in my hometown was somewhat limited. The only 'sangha' met weekly to practice meditation and was fairly good at doing that and little else (ie - all other 'study' was to be done outside the sangha) and if I had had any discipline issues regarding daily sitting this would have been exactly what I needed to help me on the path. Needless to say I didn't need that extra push to 'sit' without supervision. Here, however, I have not only found a temple that practises the tradition of Zen Buddhism I am studying/living but they also accept foreigners. Needless to say I've applied in writing to begin studying there.

    In conclusion to your question I would have to say my personal answer is both yes and no. 'Yes' in terms of simple lay Buddhists putting too much stock in empty ritual and 'No' in terms of a vast and healthy network of temples across the country and what I would say is 'true nature' being lived everyday in ways years of study cannot touch.
  • edited June 2006
    He's a little story that makes me smile when I think about it:

    I was in a beautiful temple in Kyoto (I can't for the life of me remeber the name) and I was sitting meditating on the tatami whilst the monks recited mantras to Amida when a large group of elderly lay pratitioners (in a sort of tour group) were bustled into the templeb, sat down for 3 minutes, got up, were ushered back out of the temple and arranged on the steps in order to take a group photograph.
    I think that they were on a sort of whistestop pilgrimage of temples and I can only imagine that after the hustle and bustle of 3 minutes prayers in 'who knows' how many temples that day they were all happy to see their futons that night! It seemed dreadfully ironic to me that in a religion that emphasises mindfulness and reflection they were being rushed from place to place by their tour leader with such haste!

    Here;s a sneaky picture I took of them as they prepared for their group photo:

    dsc005601qd.jpg
  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited June 2006
    Magwang wrote:
    After visiting Korea and the unexpectedly warm reception we received, I wish that bowing was more common in the West. I fell into the habit immediately.

    I think it is respectful, mindful and gracious.
    ::

    And much more hygienic than shaking hands. Donald Trump refuses to shake hands now and prefers the Asian bow. lol!

    That's a funny story about the people on the tour, BSF. Hustling them into and out of the temple is hilariously ironic.
  • edited June 2006
    BSF thank you for sharing your accounts and insights.
    Wishing you well,
    Steve
  • edited June 2006
    失礼します

    One thing that has always fascinated me is the 88-temple pilgrimage through Shikoku. If I ever get the chance to do that, I would love to. I understand that it's common for every 日本人 to make an effort to visit the 88 temples at least once in their lifetime. I wonder if that's still true?

    ありがとうございます
  • edited July 2006
    Dave, thank you for sharing your insight, and experiences! I understand that this is informal, and for entertainment. (deep bow)
    My wife finds the bowing offensive (somewhat), so I have resolved not to do it in her presense. It's my fault, I didn't listen to ZenMonk when he told me not to talk about Buddhism with non Buddhists for 7 years. I more or less forced her to go to meditation, and she was very uncomfortable there. Between me getting a Buddha statue gift from the temple, and some guests from out of town (more traditional Buddhists), there was alot of bowing going on. I explained to her that bowing helps one become humble, and that humility is the opposite of conceit, conceit leads to all kinds of evil. I think she said something like humility is important in Christianity, but Christians dont bow. I think we have agreed not to talk about it. All is well, I just need to keep my big mouth shut more often.
  • SimonthepilgrimSimonthepilgrim Veteran
    edited July 2006
    Dave, thank you for sharing your insight, and experiences! I understand that this is informal, and for entertainment. (deep bow)
    My wife finds the bowing offensive (somewhat), so I have resolved not to do it in her presense. It's my fault, I didn't listen to ZenMonk when he told me not to talk about Buddhism with non Buddhists for 7 years. I more or less forced her to go to meditation, and she was very uncomfortable there. Between me getting a Buddha statue gift from the temple, and some guests from out of town (more traditional Buddhists), there was alot of bowing going on. I explained to her that bowing helps one become humble, and that humility is the opposite of conceit, conceit leads to all kinds of evil. I think she said something like humility is important in Christianity, but Christians dont bow. I think we have agreed not to talk about it. All is well, I just need to keep my big mouth shut more often.

    No need to tell you, SLP, that many here have the same problem with a prtner or family.

    Anent bowing: it is a sad fact that the Protestant churches have more or less done away with bowing. Catholics bow or genuflect before the altar, monks bow when singing the doxology. We even had to genuflect when a bishop or archbishop went past. As you say, it promotes humilty and reminds us that we are not the most important person present.
  • BrigidBrigid Veteran
    edited July 2006
    I love the bowing. It makes me feel humble, respectful and trusting.
  • edited July 2006
    I loved reading this thread. Just found it.

    I love bowing and the respect that it shows. I wish more westerners would also do so.
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited July 2006
    it is a sad fact that the Protestant churches have more or less done away with bowing. Catholics bow or genuflect before the altar, monks bow when singing the doxology. We even had to genuflect when a bishop or archbishop went past. As you say, it promotes humilty and reminds us that we are not the most important person present.

    Oh Goodness! This reminds me of a story Sister Maria Theresa told us once in Class...
    She taught us RE, but told us that one day, she had been in charge of a group of American tourists, and was showing them round a small church, explaining the history of the place, weaving in, as she went, stories and accounts of tradition regarding Catholicism... at one point, across the church, she caught sight of the Deacon, whom she hadn't seen for a while...
    "Neil!' she called, waving at him over the pews....
    Then turned to find that all of her group were on their knees, behind her....
  • SimonthepilgrimSimonthepilgrim Veteran
    edited July 2006
    You put me in mind of a time when I was watching before the Blessed Sacrament, in a beautiful monstrance, where it would be for a 48-hour period of prayer. Behind me, I heard the door open and, out of the corner of my eye (ah, discipline of the eyes!!!) I saw it was an elderly nun and a young novice. The older one suddenly hissed: "It's Exposition! That's two knees. TWO!"
  • SabineSabine Veteran
    edited July 2006
    I kinda subconsciously bow to my teachers whenever I talk to them - at the beginning of the year, they think it's odd, but I think they appreciate it ^^. I'm not sure when I started doing this, but I think it's a good way to show them a lot of respect, especially since they have ME to deal with 180+ days of the year. :bowdown:

    BSF, how long are you going to be in Japan? Depending on my post-secondary options, I might be over there in a year and a half or so. :D

    Do Japanese Buddhist traditions take a lot of influence from the Mahayana?
  • edited July 2006
    Sabine wrote:
    I kinda subconsciously bow to my teachers whenever I talk to them - at the beginning of the year, they think it's odd, but I think they appreciate it ^^. I'm not sure when I started doing this, but I think it's a good way to show them a lot of respect, especially since they have ME to deal with 180+ days of the year. :bowdown:

    BSF, how long are you going to be in Japan? Depending on my post-secondary options, I might be over there in a year and a half or so. :D

    Do Japanese Buddhist traditions take a lot of influence from the Mahayana?


    Excellent school, Sabine! My second oldest brother, Michael, went to the University of Georgia. Good luck!

    Adiana:wavey:
  • edited July 2006
    Sabine wrote:
    I kinda subconsciously bow to my teachers whenever I talk to them - at the beginning of the year, they think it's odd, but I think they appreciate it ^^. I'm not sure when I started doing this, but I think it's a good way to show them a lot of respect, especially since they have ME to deal with 180+ days of the year. :bowdown:

    BSF, how long are you going to be in Japan? Depending on my post-secondary options, I might be over there in a year and a half or so. :D

    Do Japanese Buddhist traditions take a lot of influence from the Mahayana?

    Dear Sabine,

    I can certainly identify with your teachers as almost all of my students over the age of 10 bow when they enter and leave one of my classes! It certainly makes the whole both the teacher and student realise the importance of a 45 minute lesson.

    I'm going to be in Japan for as long as I'm going to be in Japan! I apologise for the vague answer but I really don't know how long I shall be here. I have a type of visa that allows me to work until May 2007 but my employers are pushing for a full working visa that would allow me to stay and work indefinately.

    If you, or anyone, ever gets the chance to simply visit Japan I would definately recommend doing so! Especially as practising Buddhists, Japan has so much to offer in the way of appreciating that which is normally overlooked in our hectic lives. Ironically Japan is also one of the busiest places I have ever lived (with school kids and businessmen coming home on the 10 o'clock train!).

    To answer your question regarding Mahayana influence: I would say that the majority of Buddhism outside of South East Asia is Mahayana-born. Buddhism now, in Japan, exists much like Christianity exists in the West. A Japanese person may say they are Buddhist but have no desire to become a disciple of Shakyamuni's teachings. My teacher did point something out to me and my intellectually driven Western mind - when Japanese Buddhists offer incense, they are offerring incense. When Japanese Buddhists are drinking tea, there is only tea. They walk with the mountains, not in them...

    Indeed, Zen traditions are beyond words and memory and such attachments of mine I release as a part of my practise.

    I hope my post has been of some help!

    Dave
  • SabineSabine Veteran
    edited July 2006
    (Rock on, UGA!) :rockon: :rocker:

    Heehee. ^^ Thanks BSF.

    Where ya located? My town (Augusta, GA) has a Japanese sister city - Takarazuka, Honshu, Hyogo Prefecture. Is that close to you?

    Takarazuka was very good to us in the 90s - they even sent our school 15 gorgeous cherry trees for the campus after we did an exchange program together - but our inter-city relations have kinda fizzled off with the new millenium, unfortunately. We had a little strolling garden dedicated to them in 1997, then I think our history together just...stopped. :(
  • edited July 2006
    Sabine wrote:
    (Rock on, UGA!) :rockon: :rocker:

    Heehee. ^^ Thanks BSF.

    Where ya located? My town (Augusta, GA) has a Japanese sister city - Takarazuka, Honshu, Hyogo Prefecture. Is that close to you?

    Takarazuka was very good to us in the 90s - they even sent our school 15 gorgeous cherry trees for the campus after we did an exchange program together - but our inter-city relations have kinda fizzled off with the new millenium, unfortunately. We had a little strolling garden dedicated to them in 1997, then I think our history together just...stopped. :(

    I'm living in a city called Shizuoka which is about an hour and a bit away from Tokyo. I'm afraid I've never heard of Takarazuka city! One explanation for the sudden decrease in inter-city relations between Augusta and her twin could be the sudden recession of the Japanese economy which began in the early to mid nineties... I could, however, be completely wrong!
  • SabineSabine Veteran
    edited August 2006
    I'm living in a city called Shizuoka which is about an hour and a bit away from Tokyo. I'm afraid I've never heard of Takarazuka city! One explanation for the sudden decrease in inter-city relations between Augusta and her twin could be the sudden recession of the Japanese economy which began in the early to mid nineties... I could, however, be completely wrong!
    Awwww, that stinks :( Oh well.
    I've heard of Shizuoka ^^

    Thanks, Iawa! I found a lot of cities I've heard of, just didn't know the location.

    *saves site*
  • edited August 2006
    So, Springtime, who do you work for? I teach for KTC, which is connected with Chuo Publlishing. I`m in my third year teaching English here.

    Beside opting at times for silence, another reason I post only sporadically is that I don`t even have a phone line in my apartment let alone an internet connection. All of my posting has to be done from public access Internet. But I do hope to eventually post things concerning my experiences with Buddhism here, for example on my experiences in Shikoku visiting a couple of Shingon (Mantrayana) temples on the 88-temple pilgrimmage.(The moss-bearded Buddha image is from there, and the photo was taken with my mobile phone camara. )

    Point of note: I feel rather fortunate because I recently found a Shingon temple near my house with a kind priest who offered to teach me Buddhism in exchange for a little English lessons.

    Q: I was wondering if the "Trip to Kyoto" thread might not be moved to this section of the forums, now that it exists....
  • edited August 2006
    deep bows to you all..
    i to just discovered this site..
    interesting.. and im looking forward to reading more
    thanks
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