“What religion do you belong to?” This is what I was asked many times when I was in the U.S. I was not able to give them a clear answer, since I had never thought of it in my life. In Japan, we seldom think of our religion, right? The U.S. is a heterogeneous society, where Caucasians, Black, Asians, Mexicans, Indians, etc., who belong to different religions, are mixed. Whereas Christians celebrate Christmas, Jewish celebrate Hanukah, instead, so you cannot invite your Jewish friends to a Christmas party. So religion does matter in the USA! Japan, on the other hand, is a homogeneous society, so the Japanese share common feelings, customs, and norms more than Americans do. But that is NOT the only reason that the Japanese have a less sense of religion. Yes, we do go to shrines on the New Year’s day, but we visit there for the different reason than the reason why Christians go to Church every Sunday. Unlike Christians, we go to shrines not because God or the Bible tells us, but because it is a Japanese custom, or tradition. It is a traditional custom, where families get together and have a good time, just like the Americans get together and watch football games with families. Watching football games with families or friends has nothing to do with religion, right? We celebrate Christmas not because we are Christians, but it’s a custom. We just get together, have parties, and have fun; nothing to do with Christianity or any other religion. Therefore, we are not really aware of our religion, although some think that Japanese are Buddhists or Shintoists, and that’s why I was not able to give a clear answer when I was asked to what religion I belonged.
Religion, anyway, has a very important role necessary for today’s American society. Although religion is one of the causes of many of the conflicts and wars happening in the world, it actually contributes to the integrity of the American people and security in American society. Unlike Japan, the USA is inhabited by different people who share common things less than the Japanese people do, and therefore USA needs something to unite the people, that is, religion. At religious rituals and meetings, people get together and meet new other people who are similar to them, at least in terms of religion they believe in. By getting to know one another, they get to share more and more feelings and become integrated. Religion prevents people from committing crimes because their religious document such as the Bible tells you to do good things and not do bad things.
Although religion is sometimes criticized as being a cause of conflicts, it has an important role that unites people and contributes to security for the society as a whole.
by Yutaro Nishioka