September 2023
27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30


A. Matsui: Religions in Japan

Address to the UPF Interfaith Assembly
October 10,2010, Tokyo, Japan

As an ordinary Japanese I would like to discuss very briefly religions in Japan.

In ancient Japan it is said that there were 8 million gods. Some gods lived in mountains, big rocks, trees, forests, the sea, and rivers. Among them were strong warriors, foxes, snakes, the moon, the wind, and the thunder. The most important of them was the sun, the origin of Shintoism.

In the middle of the 6th century some Buddhist statues and documents were first brought to Japan from Korea. Buddhism was favorably received, and frequent communications began between Buddhists in Japan and China. Christianity came to Japan in the middle of the 16th century, and some believers lost their lives because of their faith.

After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when Japan opened its door to foreign cultures and sciences, oppression of foreign religions was lifted. Since the end of the Second World War, when drastic political reforms were introduced, we feel no restrictions about what to believe, and we may convert to any religion we like.

Two weeks ago my family members gathered at our ancestors’ Shintoist grave as usual. We purified our hands with clean water and prayed for their peaceful rest. In that cemetery are there not only Shintoists but also Buddhists, Catholics, and other Christians. It is open to anybody, to any family whose members respect their ancestors regardless of their religion.

During my 40 years of service as a Japanese diplomat, I saw oppression against religion in the Soviet Union as well as many interreligious struggles and conflicts in the Philippines, former Yugoslavia, India, Nigeria, and the United Nations.

Twenty years ago the Cold War ended and the ideological partition between the East and the West disappeared. It became possible for people, commerce, religion, and money to freely move around the world. At that time, we thought the world had finally become peaceful and stable. But religion came to the surface of world politics, and we experienced more wars and conflicts than during the Cold War.

If one thinks there should be only one God, then there is no space for other gods to exist and no place for other believers. To live peacefully and happily together, therefore, we have three choices: One choice is to deny all gods, and then there would be no conflicts among gods or religions. The second is to allow for and respect other gods and religions for the purpose of peaceful coexistence. The third is to create one common or universal God or unite all existing religions or gods into one.

As an ordinary Japanese, I prefer the second choice because it reflects the Japanese situation. It is very difficult for me to understand why we have to kill each other because of differences in religion.

But since the present world situation is this way, it becomes more important to promote dialogue and communication. The United Nations is an international organization consisting of nation states, and the different interests of member states conflict with each other; thus, it is necessary to carefully avoid mixing or combining religion with politics. It is better to proceed with this task outside the framework of governments or states. On a grassroots basis, we can deepen our understanding each others' position and easily find very basic undeniable common ground as human beings following principles such as do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, etc.

It may seem very naive but I hope that by continuing to exchange ideas about self-discipline, morals, creeds, beliefs, and faith in meetings of non-governmental organizations such as UPF, we can reach a common understanding about how we can live together peacefully and pursue development for happiness and prosperity.