Myanmar student’s observation of life in Japan

Japanese and Religion

Each country has its own religion. Japan is a part of Asia, so it has the influence of Buddhism. But Buddhism in my country is different from Buddhism in Japan. And although Myanmar is a Buddhist country, many people believe in Islam and Christianity, too. Despite my prior knowledge that Japan is a Buddhist country, I realized that Japan was not exactly a Buddhist country after living in Japan.

Index

  • Temples in Japan
  • Shintoism
  • Even money counts in Hell
  • Summary

Temples in Japan

There are few big statue of Buddha in Japanese temples. There are famous big statues of Buddha in Kamakura and Nara, but not every temple has a big statue of Buddha. Moreover, I have an impression that people go to famous temples for sightseeing rather than going to pray.

In Japan, I rarely saw monks in town or in temples. I always wondered where they were. But I did not have a chance to ask the question to anyone. In Myanmar, we often see monks everywhere. Every morning, monks walk with a bowl, so people offer food to monks as magpies.

Myanmar is a devout Buddhist country, so every temple (Pagoda) has the Great statue of Buddha, and there are many pagodas everywhere in the country. Myanmar people often go to temples to pray on special days and on their birthdays. Japanese Buddhism is Mahayana, and Myanmar is a Hinayana, even I knew that I realized that they are actually so different.

Shintoism

I learned that there is a indigenous religion called Shinto in Japan which existed well before Buddhism came in Japan. There is no religion similar to this in Myanmar. So Shinto is interesting.

I have been to a shrine in Chiba Prefecture while I was studying at Tsukuba Univ. People offer incense sticks to a 800 year-old tree and a powerful stone. They treat them as if they were divine and tie a sacred straw rope called Shimenawa.

I heard the story of the powerful stone. It is said that many people were saved from the tsunami because the stone informed people of attention at the time of the tsunami. When I went to the shrine, I learned that Shinto is animism.

Last year, when I went to Japan for the Japan Foundation’s Japanese language teacher training, I did research as part of a training project at a shrine near the training center. The content of the research was what Japanese people think of religion. As a result, many young people usually don’t go to shrines, but many people answered that they would go to a shrine when there was a festival or at cherry blossom viewing. It is also interesting that the distinction between Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines was ambiguous.

I think it is like a young men of Myanmar who do not usually go to Pagoda so much. Myanmar people often go to temples (pagodas), but young men don’t go there very often. In Myanmar, it is mostly women who strongly believe in Buddhism, and often go to temples.

Even a small girl prays in the temple

Even money counts in Hell

Even though Japanese people don’t usually go to temples or shrines, when they are in trouble, they seem to go to temples to ask for favor. Especially on New Year’s Day, many people line up and go to ask for a favor. Why do you go to pray only on New Year’s Day suddenly when you don’t usually go to pray? What surprised me was that the Japanese give money when they pray to God. You can pray at a temple in Myanmar without money offering. I thought that the Buddha in Myanmar was much more kind and ungreedy. The God of Japan does not seem to fulfill the wish if money is not offered. By the way, the New Year in Myanmar is not January 1st, but it has recently been decided that it is a national holiday. The New Year in Myanmar is in April according to Buddhism. It is a Western way of thinking that January 1st is a New Year’s day.

Summary

I think that it is better to say Japan is a country of Shintoism rather than Buddhist country. However, it is strange that Buddhism and Shinto are not clearly distinguished. I observed that shrines and temples in Kyoto are more like a touristic place than a place of religion. And I don’t think young people in Japan think much about religion.

Written by Htet Aung