I was walking up Winthrop Street during a particularly warm day last week when I noticed a single snowbank on the sidewalk.

Sun shines—

One snowbank left

Peers melted away

During this week’s reading and lecture discussions I couldn’t help but think about how different the nature of religion in Japan is compared to our Western understanding of the term. Culture and tradition seem to have the strongest influences in the way the Japanese understand the things around them. They live under the “gentle tyranny of ‘tradition’” and have no desire to rebel against these long standing customs (Kitagawa 213). As a result they dominate the rules and acceptable approaches to interacting with one’s environment. I agree with Kitagawa’s description of Buddhism as often being a “supplement” to existing religions rather than a “contestant” (Kitagawa 204). This seems to be why Japan was so receptive to the introduction of Buddhism. In the end, Japan altered their understanding of the teachings and doctrines to agreeably fit their sacred customs. This is the striking fact I’ve noticed that contrasts the Western understanding of religions. The lines of Japanese religion (a word that may not even be fitting) are blurrier. Self-identifying American Christians seems to have a very strong self-concept that is usually outlined by doctrine and characterized by separation from those that are not part of this group. In Japan even strict rationalists respect the practices of tradition. It appears to have a ubiquitous presence in the country, and can even be coupled with more traditional concepts of religion. A self-identified “Japanese Buddhist” implies not only that the individual is a practitioner of Buddhism, but also that he/she is also Japanese (Kitagawa 219). To me, it’s the latter identifier that appears to be the most influential in how the person behaves and understands their environment.

- Nicholas Economos


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