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In Japan it is quite curious to learn that almost 80% of the population is Shintoist, but also 80% (approximately) of the population is also Buddhist . Where religions tend to oppose each other in the West and the Middle East, in Japan more than coexisting one could even say that they complement each other and have done so for more than a millennium. We therefore wish to compare some of their respective characteristics in order to help you differentiate these two religions.

Torii gates

When you arrive in Japan without really knowing the local culture and religions, you often have difficulty differentiating Buddhist buildings from Shinto ones. However, there is a very simple way to know if the place of worship you have in front of you is a Buddhist temple or a Shinto shrine: the Torii gates .

torii holder

They are the recognition marks of the nearly 80,000 Shinto shrines located on the Japanese archipelago. They act as a demarcation between the profane world and the sacred world which is the area where the sanctuary is located. Always, to access a Shinto shrine you will have to pass underneath otherwise you will openly trample on traditions.

The time of appearance

Buddhism is today fully integrated into the territory, which can be seen with the strong presence of Buddhist temples and schools or accessories on Buddha , but this was not always the case. However, Shintoism, which is the original religion of the country, is so old that even historians are not able to date it precisely. Its appearance dates back to the Jomon period which extends from -13,000 to -400 BC. JC.

Buddhism was integrated into the country by China but only in the 6th century. However, he also has a very strong influence on the country because he was welcomed and integrated into the territory very quickly. Indeed, shortly after its establishment, temples and schools emerged under the leadership of powerful clans during the Yamato period (250-710) and the Nara period (710-994).

The beliefs

The Shinto religion is an animist religion, which means that its followers believe in life in all living things but also in all inanimate things. Rocks and trees thus have a real spirit according to the Shinto religion. These objects are called kami and the most important ones are revered by the Japanese Shinto people. Conversely, Buddhism is a monotheistic religion which seeks enlightenment through its practice. Humans who achieve enlightenment, like Buddha, are then venerated by Buddhists. Note that there are several different Buddhist schools in Japan.


As we can see by looking at the Shinto sanctuaries and Buddhist temples, each of the buildings has its own architectural style. Apart from their Torii gate, Shinto shrines are often guarded by statues of foxes, dogs or many other animals.


The temples are more neutral in terms of their exterior color, but the interior is generally decorated with gold-colored decorations as well as Buddha statues . There is also an incense burner outside for purification, while the sanctuaries have a basin of water for washing your mouth and hands before entering.

Life after death

Despite their cohabitation, beliefs in life after death are not the same between the two religions. Buddhists believe in a cycle of life and death that continues until a person achieves an enlightened state. According to Shinto tradition, after death, a person's kami passes to another world and watches over their descendants. This is why ancestor worship is still an important part of modern Japanese culture.