“Something Spiritual” Attracting the Japanese

From ISSP Survey on Religion

May 2009

The NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute is a member of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), an organization engaging in international comparative studies, which has members in 44 countries and regions. ISSP has long been conducting annual surveys with common themes that are translated into each local language. The 2008 theme was “consciousness of life” focusing on “religion.” People’s attitudes towards religion and frequencies of religious activities such as “visiting graves” and “New Year’s visit to a shrine” were surveyed. The author reports the results of the Japanese version of the survey conducted in November 2008, along with the comparison with the previous survey conducted in 1998, ten years ago.

As to religious faith, 39% of the respondents said they “follow a religion” while 49% “do not follow any religion.” Of those who “follow a religion,” more women do so than men do and more elderly people do so than young people do. Among many types of religions, Buddhism was cited by the highest percentage of the respondents (65%) as a religion they “feel positive about.” It was a significant increase, up from 49% in 1998.

Regarding religious activities, more than 50% of the respondents “often” visit “graves” and/or “shrines at the New Year.” Combined with those who “have visited” them, approximately 90% of the Japanese “have visited these places.” One out of two respondents has “had good luck charms or talismans” or “drawn sacred lots.”

When asked if they believe in “spiritual things” such as “spiritual power of ancestors,” “life after death,” and “reincarnation,” 40% of the respondents answered “yes.” Younger groups had higher ratio of those believing in something spiritual, and this trend declines among the elderly. In particular, more than 70% of female respondents in their 30s answered “yes.” The results showed a stark contrast to a trend which shows that the older they become, the more people believe in a religion.

The NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research