Story of Shinto and Buddhist Fusion

Vol. 48 

Shinto and Shintoism was born from full of natural disasters?

Story of Shinto and Buddhism Fusion

Since we had a series of stories about Tenkawa Shrine, we will tell you about Shinto and Buddhism (Shinnbutsu Shuugou)

The Shinnbutsu Shuugou: Shinto and Buddhism Fusion is a term calling on the state where Shintoism and Buddhism, which should be fusion, blend naturally and coexist in a single culture.

In Japan, the Meiji government tried to use Shinto for politics, and temporarily tried to forcefully destroy the Buddhism and Buddhism culture, At that time, a law was passed through, the law of the separation of kami, Shin and Buddha (At that time many temples were destroyed, but the culture of Shinbutsu survived among the common Japanese. Japanese still thought naturally “Somehow we are going along with both the shrine and the temple while sharing the Shinto culture and the Buddhism culture in our mind. We developed the life style and culture we live for a long period of time, combining these two religions. However, Shinto and Buddhism are originally quite different in principle

I have visited over 150 countries all over the world so far, but from the world viewpoint, one country often choose one religion, even if there are two or more religions, each religion will not mix each other. It is the actual situation that the area each religion occupies a majority, believing in precepts, keeping its teaching properly, while practicing, and living only within each religion. So, the situation like Japan is very rare.

So, I think the Japanese feel like this, I think the Japanese country has beautiful Nature. Wonderful distinctive four seasons, there are Mountains, Seas, Rivers, Forest, beautiful fields. It consists of really beautiful islands full of beautiful different landscapes and different seasons. But Japan suffers always each year full of natural disasters from long ago and I think that it has something to do with the origins of Shintoism.


Japanese receive many earthquakes. If you are in Japan, Tokyo for example, you feel the turmoil every week even you might be in a building. This is because the Japanese Island is sitting on the FOUR different Plates

Cause of the earthquake in Japan. Plate’s boundary inside and around the Japanese archipelago (edited by Yukio Hagiwara edition “Disaster Dictionary”, Asakura Shoten 1992)

Regarding Typhoons

Every year when Typhoon season comes, Japan is right on the direct roots.

Main route of typhoon in Japan. The summer typhoon turns around the Pacific high pressure and turns north to Japan properly. (From the Japan Meteorological Agency site)

Awe and awe to nature

Japanese understand the fear of natural disasters caused by nature. and “There is great power all the time, larger than human beings”, and for years we had awe fear and awe with respect to great nature. This year for example, there are so many natural disasters, but this is something that human beings cannot do anything anyhow. Since ancient times Japanese thought these disasters were God’s work. I think that the Japanese accepted these disasters spiritually and religious spirit began from here, praying, soaking up God’s anger, trying to calm down god’s anger and so on. This natural worship is Shinto. And its root.

Then the Japanese realized that they have a god of land which belong to god himself as Ujigami. And I always prayed to this local shrine, asking for a good harvest, deeply and humbly with thankfulness, from which the spirit of Shinto was made. I think that Shinto is the combination of deep thankfunees of both the mind of fear of Nature and the heart to appreciate Nature, both of them.

When Buddhism was imported in 538 AD, the Shito shrine accepted Buddhism first. The Japanese did not exclude Buddhism. On the contrary, by setting up a temple next to the shrine, they kept helping to understand it in a coexisting way. This spirit is most strongly running the philosophy of Tenkawa shrine.

Even today, every day a great lyrics of Mahayana Buddhism with the general mindset of Mahayana Buddhism (Heart Sutra) is chanted with the narration of Norito (Shinto chanting).

it is not uncommon for Japanese families to have both a Shinto-Kami alter shelf and a Buddhist altar in their houses. It is however interesting and meaningful that the shrine is at a high place near the ceiling, and the Buddhism altar is usually on the ground. Even today the Japanese visit the shrine, enjoy the festivals, and at the temple, they do funeral and pray for the spirit of the deceased ones.

The heart of ‘Japanese’ in Japan

What Prince Shotoku (574-622), the greatest Japanese who made so many historical revolutionary events, including the import of Buddhism and first constitution) spoke of the word harmony “Wa”. This is a feeling that anyone is welcome. So be kind to others, understand the feelings of others.

I think this actually leads to Dalai Lama’s “Compassion”. Compassion translates as “mercy “in Japanese, but not pathetic, or pity. It is to understand other minds, This is the Japanese heart and IS “Japanese”. That’s why Japan’s spirit is, that the core is, so strong that he will face over and over and rebound.

So there are lots of hardships both in war and natural disasters, but while swallowing it all, they will go forward. Accept all. The Japanese accept but it is strong, and accept with dignity. I feel that this strong souls are making a series of Japanese culture. Two religions coexisted in this way, and it has been continuing for over 1500 years. I do not think there are such countries in the world like Japan.

I think that Japanese can make use of this Japanese soul and contribute to world peace. We live in a modern age trying to exclude anything different with your own, the philosophy of Japanese Shintoism is necessary. People and people to coexist. It is the spirit of the Japanese to understand others and to think about things on the premise of what to do for coexistence.

Originally published as Vol. 48 in Weekly Biz, November 3, 2018; translated by Jim Luce.

See: Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura Column in Japan’s Weekly Biz



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About Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura

View all posts by Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura
Dr. Kazuko was born into a distinguished old family in Kyoto, Japan, and graduated from Toho conservatory of Music in Tokyo. In 1961 she came to U.S. as a pianist sponsored by the Boston Symphony. She studied at Boston University, New York University, and received her Ph.D. in Oriental Medicine from New York State University and the International Academy of Education in Tokyo. From 1968 to 1992, she promoted cultural exchanges from East to West and vice versa, and became a world famous impresario, producing 2,000 events each year all over the world encompassing over 140 countries. In this connection, in 1972, she went to Dharamsala to find the lost Tibetan Folk Opera, and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with whom she remains a lifelong friend. In 1973 and 1991 she arranged and funded personally the tours of the Folk Opera of Tibet to the West. She has received many medals and honors from different countries. Her tireless life long work in Philanthropic field is vast and well known ranging from Save the Beacon Theater, Save the Boat People, Help the Homeless, natural disasters of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as relief to AIDS and HIV positive children in Africa. She has been a dedicated Board Member to both the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International for years. Her work focuses on the Tibetan people; Tibetan children remain especially strong in her heart. She raised fund for the new academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang, India and supported many aspects of the school. See HuffPo pieces entitled Japanese Holistic Healer in NYC to Build School for Tibetan Orphans in India, A Japanese Dinner with Raul Castro’s Daughter, and NYC Gala in Support of Tibetan Orphans Set for January.

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