AUTHOR: Yoshimi Fujimura

Danubius, XXXII- Supliment, Galati, 2014, pp. 119-136.


Most Japanese consider themselves to be non-religious or secular. “Ritual, but not religious” might be a useful term to describe Japanese religious characteristics. Indeed, we celebrate many religious rites throughout the year and throughout our lives, some of which are closely related to Buddhism, others are related to Shinto, and others are related to Christianity. For most Japanese, religion is not a specific belief system but a pragmatic instrument for daily life. Although Christian faith does not root itself in the Japanese community, when we look back at the history, we find that some Christian missionaries took tremendous efforts to bridge the gap between Buddhism and Christianity.
In this paper, I would like to trace these efforts. First I will present some demographic facts about religion in Japan. According to the annual reports of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Cultural, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan has had more religious adherents than its total population. Next I will trace how the dialogues between Christians and Buddhists developed. In the Meiji Era, although the Meiji Constitution guaranteed the long-cherished freedom of religious belief, the Christian churches entered a period of hardship, persecution, and retarded growth. 1896 is a remarkable turning point for the relationship between Christianity and Buddhism, because the first Buddhist-Christian conference was held in Tokyo. That was a social gathering of Buddhists and Christians for the purpose of exchanging opinions.
The next turning point is the lectures on Zen-Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki, who found something common between Christianity and Zen-Buddhism. In the end, I will reach the most important figure –Father Hugo Lassalle. He was a Jesuit priest who tried to bridge the Zen-Buddhism and Catholicism through the practice of meditation. His effort bore fruit and gave impacts on people not only in Japan but also overseas.
What do Catholicism and Zen have in common, then? I might say it is the practice of meditation and mysticism. I would like to close my paper by citing a passage from W. Johnston – “What united us was not philosophy but religious experience.”