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127,368,088 (July 2012 est.)


$35,200 (2011 est.)


Shintoism 83.9%, Buddhism 71.4%, Christianity 2%, other 7.8% note: total adherents exceeds 100% because many people belong to both Shintoism and Buddhism (2005)



Interviews (22)

The religious landscape of contemporary Japan is characterized by a dynamic combination of syncretism, secularism, and new religious movements. Mahayana Buddhism arrived in Japan during the sixth century and blended extensively with Shinto, the indigenous tradition of Japan. State Shinto evolved in the nineteenth century with the advent of the Japanese Empire and came to be characterized by emperor worship and the suppression of non-Shinto faiths. The imperialistic tendencies of State Shinto led to a constitutional separation of religion and state after World War II. The emperor remains the highest authority of Shinto but his role is purely ceremonial, and Japanese politics are firmly secular. Many Japanese practice Shinto rituals, but also hold Christian-style weddings due to the influx of Western popular culture. Despite engaging in faith-based rituals, seventy percent of Japanese identify as belonging to no religion. New religious movements, often rooted in Shinto-Buddhist concepts, have started to emerge in Japan during the late twentieth century with the overwhelming majority of these groups oriented towards spirituality and peace. However, one of these new religious movements, the Aum Shinrikyo cult, became infamous in 1995 when its members carried out a deadly terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway.

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  • August 24, 2010
    Michael Scharff and Augustina Delaney met with Heng Monychenda and Mike Clarke in Battambang in October 2009, as part of WFDD's review of faith and development in Cambodia. Their discussion focused on what unique attributes Cambodian Buddhism offers for the development process, and, more specifically, on the origins and current work of Buddhism for Development (BFD, the organization that Monychenda founded and where Clarke serves as Management and Business Advisor). The text was finalized...
  • July 1, 2010
    Background: As part of the Religion, Conflict, and Peacebuilding Fellowship, Christopher O'Connor interviewed Talatu Aliyu, Communications and Monitoring and Evaluations Officer at the Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC) in Kaduna, Nigeria. In this interview Aliyu discusses her work at IMC spearheading an overhaul of its monitoring and evaluation procedures, as well as the impact of the diverse peacebuilding programs led by IMC.
  • June 30, 2010
    Background: This discussion (on June 30, 2010) focuses on the Women PeaceMakers Program at the University of San Diego, which Dr. Aker created and directs. It involves intensive efforts to document and share the work of women from all world regions who are practitioners working for peace. While religion is not an explicit element of the program, Aker observes that very different world religions often provide a common unifying thread among the women and many cite the personal inspiration of...
  • June 8, 2010
    Background: This June 2010 exchange between Kathleen Kuehnast and Susan Hayward focuses on Kathleen's experiences working in Northern Ireland and in Kyrgyzstan, which in turn led her into the field of conflict resolution, with a particular focus on gender dynamics in conflict. Kathleen presses for religion to be better understood and examined as it relates to gender dynamics in conflict and peace.
  • June 5, 2010
    Background: This June 2010 exchange between Manal Omar and Susan Hayward highlights Omar’s experiences and insights into religion and its intersection with women's empowerment, development, and peacemaking, particularly with respect to Muslim women in the Middle East. She speaks to the challenges she herself faces as a spiritually devout Muslim woman operating in an often secular-biased development field, and she emphasizes the need to build relationships between secular and religious women.
  • May 27, 2010
    Background: This May 2010 telephone discussion with Katherine Marshall focuses on Ogega’s work to support and develop the Religions for Peace Women of Faith network and her ongoing research in Kenya. That research investigates roles women of faith have played as peacebuilders in the ethnic conflicts among the Gusii and Masaai. Her analysis builds from the argument that women's multifaceted roles are important and often invisible, underplayed, or ignored. She sees peacebuilding as extending...
  • April 7, 2010
    Background: This May 2010 exchange between Dena Merriam and Katherine Marshall highlights Ms. Merriam’s pioneering work in creating a Global Initiative for women that centers on women. She recounts how she has come to see women's spiritual voices as critical to global peace, and why their voices and the agendas and energy they reflect result in differences in approach and outcome. Her initiative has taken shape over the past decade, born of the glaring gap in women's roles at the pivotal...
  • April 1, 2010
    Background: Etienne De Jonghe's career has focused on working for world peace. He was Secretary General of Pax Christi International for nearly 30 years. (Pax Christi is a Catholic international peace movement, autonomous with respect to church authorities with a very strong lay input. Its international secretariat is currently located in Brussels.) In the first part of the interview, De Jonghe reflects on the evolution of Pax Christi over the years and his role in guiding and shaping the...
  • February 16, 2010
    Background: This discussion between Milton Amayun and Katherine Marshall recounts Dr. Amayun's extraordinary career in international public health that is continuously and across many dimensions inspired by Christian faith. Dr. Amayun was trained in medicine in Manila, Philippines and later received his Master's degree in public health from Harvard University. He has just taken up a position directing USAID's public health programs in Benin, after a career largely spent working for World...
  • November 25, 2009
    Background: This discussion between Dr. Gene Reeves and Katherine Marshall took place in Tokyo as part of preparatory work for a December 2009 conference organized by the Berkley Center and WFDD on "Global Development and Faith-Inspired Organizations in Southeast Asia." In the interview, Dr. Reeves explores the origins and contemporary face of socially engaged Buddhism in Japan and throughout Asia, highlighting the significance of the concept of harmony to the Buddhist approach to social...
  • November 25, 2009
    Background: Gunnar Stålsett pursues world peace through many routes and he is a leading global advocate for international development and for engaging religious communities on social justice and solidarity issues. In this interview he speaks about his long and varied career, above all through this lens of peace and social justice.
  • November 16, 2009
    Background: This discussion took place in preparation for a consultation on faith and development in Asia held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on December 14-15, 2009, an endeavor of the World Faiths Development Dialogue (WFDD) and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, with support from the Luce Foundation. Its aim was to take stock of the wide range of ongoing work by different organizations that are, in varying ways, inspired by religious faith; but...
  • November 11, 2009

    Background: This discussion took place as part of preparations for a consultation on faith and development in Southeast Asia, held December 14-15 2009 in Phnom Penh. The interview was conducted by telephone between Heng Monychenda and Michael Bodakowski. Heng Monychenda, Director of Buddhism for Development, works to bridge the teachings of engaged Buddhism with development, contributing his personal understanding of the Cambodian context, the training he received at Harvard University, and...
  • November 6, 2009
    Background note: This discussion complements the parallel exploration with Professor Steinberg about broad faith roles and issues across Asia. Both were part of preparatory work for the December 2009 Phnom Penh consultation. Here, the focus is Myanmar/Burma and the roles of religions in that context. The conversation took place at Georgetown University between David Steinberg and Michael Bodakowski. Dr. Steinberg reflects on the role of Buddhism in Burmese society, its influence across both...
  • November 1, 2009
    Background:This exchange with Augustina Delaney in Phnom Penh was part of a WFDD review of development and faith in Cambodia; it was supplemented by an email exchange with Katherine Marshall. The interview focuses on the history and evolution of KEAP's work in Cambodia and its role in helping to restore the Buddhist culture and institutions after the Khmer Rouge period. More broadly, it explores the continuing challenges to Cambodia's Buddhism as it is confronted by both politics and...
  • October 19, 2009

    Background: Bernard Liese has focused over a long career on global public health issues. In this discussion the focus is on tuberculosis but reaches beyond to broader issues of international engagement on priority public health. He describes the “rediscovery” of tuberculosis in the 1980s and 1990s, as it had largely disappeared from view in wealthier countries. New challenges include: powerful evidence of high TB HIV/AIDS co-infection and drug resistant TB. The remarkable performance of the...
  • October 15, 2009
    Background: Augustina Delaney and Michael Scharff met Father Kike in Battambang on October 15, 2009, as part of the World Faith Development Dialogue's review of development and faith in Cambodia. The interview was updated in September 2010 by Katherine Marshall, in an email exchange with Father Kike. The discussion explores the links between faith and works in Battambang. Father Kike touches on tensions between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Battambang, Buddhist-Catholic...
  • September 9, 2009
    Background: Cornelio Sommaruga held many leadership posts over a long career, including in the Swiss Diplomatic Service, president of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), and President of Initiatives of Change (IofC). Since his formal retirement from the ICRC in 1999, he has headed numerous nongovernmental organizations and undertaken several public service tasks. In this interview, he reflects on his career and above all questions how, across his different challenges,...
  • May 25, 2009
    Background: As part of the Peacebuilding Practitioners Interview Series, Jason Klocek interviewed Kazuyuki Sasaki, a Japanese expatriate living in Rwanda since 2005, who is currently the Planning and Development Officer for REACH Organization in Rwanda. In this interview, Sasaki speaks about REACH's work in Rwanda promoting restorative justice. He also discusses how his previous career in development work piqued his interest in reconciliation and peacebuilding.
  • May 3, 2009
    Background: In 1992, Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, an Anglican priest in Uganda, became the first African religious leader to openly admit to being HIV-positive. Following his disclosure to the public, he began to speak widely to other leaders about the need to reduce stigma associated with the disease. In 2000 he founded the Africa Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS. In the following discussion between Rev. Byamugisha and Thomas Bohnett, he describes...
  • April 18, 2009
    Background: Rajmohan Gandhi, the President of Initiatives of Change International (IofC) and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, reflects in this interview on his more than 50-year association with IofC; he first met Moral Rearmament, as the organization was then known, in Scotland in 1956. Gandhi sees IofC's work as well as his own as intimately connected to his grandfather's vision of social change; both are grounded in commitment, discipline, and courage. The simplicity of the idea behind...
  • February 26, 2009
    Background: Thomas Getman, until March 2009 the director of international relations for World Vision, traced his career working for President Gerald Ford, in the U.S. Senate, and then for 25 years with World Vision in South Africa, Palestine, and Geneva. Getman talked about the gradual movement of World Vision, which has traditionally been a Christian-inspired organization, towards a pluralistic organization fueled by the social justice and humanitarian impulses of people of a range of faith...