Throughout the history of Japan, foreign religions such as Buddhism, Christianity and Confucianism have been introduced. These three religions have had their share of successes as well as failures. However, the fates of these religions have completely different endings due to conflicting beliefs of religious men and the presence of political influence. Buddhism arrived in Japan around the 6th century. It was brought by Korean immigrants who wanted to escape fighting in their homeland. However, the religion did not spread throughout the country.
It finally came to the attention of the Japanese people because a Prince named Shotoku thought he could use it as a tool to make the Koreans follow him. Shotuko had temples constructed where people could practice Buddhism. In the late 7th century when Temmu came to the throne, he wanted to re-establish the native Japanese religion called Shinto. His decision was not because he thought Shinto was the correct religion, he just wanted to end the influence of a foreign culture. For the next several centuries, Buddhism would fall in and out of favor with political leaders who looked for ways to gain power and control of Japan.
As time went on, Buddhism manifested into several new forms because men who were truly religious believed they found new and better ways to become enlightened. For example, Ten-tai Buddhism was a form of Buddhism that said meditation was the way to obtain enlightenment. In contrast to Ten-tai, Pure Land Buddhism said that a person only needs to recite the Nembutsu to obtain salvation, and meditation was unnecessary. The formation of new Buddhist sects aided in the success of the religion. People could choose which form of Buddhism they wanted to follow, thus allowing the religion to spread throughout Japan.
Even though Buddhism was flourishing, it would be politics that would kill Buddhism in the heart and souls of the people. In the 17th century, the Shogun Tokugawa wanted to create stability in a unified Japan. In order to do this, Tokugawa believed that everyone should have the same religion. He chose Buddhism as that religion and forced all the people to register as Buddhist practitioners. Since Buddhism was being forced on the people, and they had no choice, the people became Buddhist out of command and not because they believed it was the one true religion. Christianity had a different fate than Buddhism.
In the 16th century, the Europeans brought Christianity to Japan. The first missionary was St. Francis Xavier. In just two short years, Xavier had converted over 2000 Japanese into Christians. However, these followers of Christianity were not true followers. During the 16th century, the reign of kings and Emperors laid way to military rulers called Shoguns. Every town had their own Shogun, and these Shoguns told their people how they could and could not live. Xavier went to these Shoguns and told them if they became Christians, the European ships would trade goods with them.
Some Shoguns agreed, not because they believed in Christianity, but because it was a great economical trade off. The Shoguns then told their people to be Christians. Shoguns were at constant rival with each other, so Shoguns of the same religion would align themselves to fight those who supported other religions and were considered enemies. For example, Oda Nobunaga didn t care for Christianity, but his enemies were Buddhist so he agreed to be a Christian so he could claim reason to kill his Buddhist enemies.
By the late 16th century, a Shogun named Tokugawa Ieyasu became the controller of Japan. He wanted a unified religion for the people of Japan and he didn t believe Christianity contributed anything worth value to his people. This led to the decision to abolish the religion. The abolishment of Christianity and the forcing of Buddhist practices was a result of a new religious influence called Neo-Confucianism. The Tokugawa government didn t care for the theories and value system of this new religion, but they were concerned with the organizational power that surrounded it.
Neo- Confucianism said that, there is a rational principle in the universe, and this principle works in the material world to give rise to human beings and all things. (1). The Tokugawa took this Neo-Confucian idea and used it to create conformity, uniformity, and state control. Once again, a religion had been used as a political tool. Religions have been introduced into Japan since the 6th century. The success and failure of these religions were a direct result of political involvement and religious redefinition. In the end, each introduced religion had fallen to their own fate.