When looking at the landscape of violence, you find many American cities are extremely violent compared with their Eastern counterparts. Tokyo in particular has an outstanding record for low violence. When a terror event happens, as in the subways, the police run down the terrorists and bring them to justice. But terror, itself, is not typical of Tokyo nor is it an expression of Japanese history.
The main reason Tokyo is so much safer than Western cities is its three religions -- Shinto (native religion), Buddhism, and Confucianism. Japan has been importing foreign religions and culture for thousands of years, except for the Sakoku period (a policy of seclusion in the 17th & 18th century that allowed trading only with China and Holland.)
These three religions are harmonized and greatly affect daily life and moral education although one study shows that over 60% of Japanese say they don't believe in a particular religion. They may say "I don't believe in anything" or "I'm a Buddhist, but I don't know much about Buddhism... I think I am because my grandparents are Buddhists and we have a small Buddha statue in my house." One can only conclude the Japanese way of life and thinking is based on religious traditions more than on any one religion itself.
I remember when I was little, my mother always told me that I should not waste even a single grain of rice in my bowl because 88 gods are living in it. That saying came from Shinto, but my mother is not a Shintoist.
Another study shows that there are 95 million Buddhists, 105 million Shintoists, and 1.8 million Christians in Japan. These numbers sum up to almost twice Japan's population. Most people believe in more than one religion!
There's a phrase in the Japanese language that people use when they pray for a miracle; "Kamisama, Hotokesama" meaning "Please my god, and my Buddha". They pray to Shinto gods and Buddha; the Christian God could be included, too.
What you find in Japan is not conflict among religions but their integration. Many households have "Butsudan" (a closet where they put Buddhism stuff and pray to Buddha and ancestors) and "Kamidana" (a small shelf where Shinto gods are enshrined) in the same room. Parents teach kids to respect old people, which is a teaching of Confucianism. After celebrating Christmas, we go to Shinto shrines and Buddhism temples in new year to pray for good luck. I believe that this peaceful and forgiving nature created the safest urban area in the world; it is also the largest.
There just may be a strong lesson here for the rest of the world. While other parts of the world have made religious strife, terror and war a millennia-long affair, our Japanese friends find harmonious integration of several religions.
Japan culture also focuses on rearing law-abiding and moral citizens. For more on that, see: Japan: Lessons in Peace
See Peaceful Cities for editorial comment.
Kuhara is an English speaking native Japanese dedicated to peace for all humanity.
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Posted by RoadToPeace on Thursday, August 04, 2005.