Religion in Japanese animation

In Japan, many people don’t have a particular faith to some religion. Japan is said a country without religion. However, Japanese enjoy some religional event, Christmas, Halloween, 墓参り, 七五三, 初詣. Christmas and Halloween are, as you know, Christian event. 墓参りis Buddhism and Shinto event. Japanese enjoy its surface without faith. So it may be possible to say Japan is multi-religion country.

Region in Japan is so unique. This is because Japanese history of religion. Japanese believed that there are Kami in Mother Nature, this is 自然宗教 or 神道. They believed there were kami in lake, sea forest, ground, and mountain. However, in late fifth century, Buddhism was conveyed in Japan and Japanese religion has changed. It was so influential to 19century. By this religion, people have done 墓参り and loved 寺、仏像. But still, 神道 are remained. In addition, late 19 century, Christianity began to influence Japanese religion. It influenced culture rather than faith like clothes, food, events and furniture, so called lifestyle. This is a reason why Japanese animation reflects regional aspects. Religion has influenced Japanese lifestyle strongly. it is natural that Japanese anime use religional stuff.

Animation based on Christianity.

1. とある魔術の禁止目録→ parody of Roman Catholic, resistance and the cross appeared in this anime. (十字教, ローマ正教) this anime is full of words of Christianity.
2. 青のエクソシスト→ the main character was rose in the monastery. Devil in this anime are appeared in bible. There are some satires of religion.

3. HELLSING→ this is story about battle between vampire and HELLSING. In this anime, Protestant is appeared.
4. ロザリオとヴァンパイア→ main characters are Vampire. The Campus is like a Western-style house. Bible, God.
5. デビルマン→ this anime was inspired by the Divine Comedy by Dante and there are concept of witch-hunting in anime

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Animation based on Buddhism

1. Buddha→ about a life of Buddhism
2. 一休さん→ about childhood of Japanese monk called Ikkyu
3. 屍姫→ view of the world is Buddhism. 光言宗, 穢, 僧.
4. 鬼灯の冷徹→ story setting is Japanese hell appeared in Japanese myth. 閻魔大王, 菩薩, イザナギノミコト. It may say this anime is based on Japanese myth and Buddhism.
5. 聖☆おにいさん→ about Buddha and Jesus Christ happened to be transported to the present age.

Animation based on Shinto

1. 千と千尋の神隠し→ story setting is hot spring where Kami come to clean 穢.
2. かんなぎ→ 穢れ, 神木, 修験者 this story is about a girl, who has another character who come thorough shinboku.
3. もののけ姫→ battle between materialistic people and Mother Nature (神)
4. 犬夜叉→ about inuyasya ,who is half youkai. He tries to get 四魂の玉. 神, 巫女, 精霊, 七宝.

However, in some part, almost all these animation has mixed some religion. For example, ぬ〜べ〜, 聖☆おにいさん, 火の鳥. In 聖☆おにいさん, although main character is Buddha, Jesus Christ, 八百万の神々(神道) or Zeus appear. In addition, this anime is a comedy. They do a lot of stupid things. How do serious believers feel about it? Think from believer’s view, Japanese use religion carelessly and easily without thinking deeply. I thought the reason why producer used religional stuff in animation is just to attract pay attention. They do not seem to convey some lesson or messages thorough religion. Japanese may not consider religion so important.

However, Miyazaki anime is serious toward religion. There is a clear message, which he wants to convey through religion.

1. もののけ姫
In this anime, story is based on Shinto. Story setting is Muromati era, and at that time, still there were a lot of nature, virgin forest. In Shinto, people believe there are Kami in Nature. This is a presupposition of this anime. This is because when their nature was destroyed, a lot of Kami who symbolize nature appeared.
The center of this anime is battle between people make living by producing iron at the Tataraba and Kami. People at Tataraba destroy forest to widen their work place. This is the reason of battle. Miyazaki tries to offer that it is true that we need to destroy a nature to live comfortably but keeping nature is also important. The problem is how people should live with the nature. I thought by using thought of Shinto, Kami become more mysterious and fear and become existence, which people should not look down on.

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2. となりのトトロ
In terms of living with nature, となりのトトロ is also important. In this anime, a big shrine, beautiful mountains, a paddy appeared. I thought beautiful nature description was used to make people think of good old childhood and feel nostalgia. In addition, Totoro, who is a kind of Kami symbolize big wood called Kusunoki, can’t be seen only during childhood. This also helps to remember happy childhood with beautiful nature an d after watching this anime, people consider nature precious. This leads to Animism. In my opinion, by making people remember childhood with nature, Hayao tried to evoke Animism, which was forgotten.

3. 千と千尋の神隠し
This anime is about a girl who happened to come another world. In the world, she began to work at hot spring where all Kami come to clean 穢. According to Shion Kabasawa, physiological doctor, in this anime you can see “kotodama”. Kotodama is belief that words are living, so Yubaba could control Chhiro by losing the name. In addition, Haku can be released by remembering his name. I thought this anime wants to say if you face an absurd situation(Kamikakusi), don’t lose yourself(name). However, from view of religion, this anime is not perfect. Yubaba is western witch and only her clothes and room are western style. This may indicate even Hayao Miyazaki, who was serious to religion, don’t care about small mistake about religion to make better atmosphere of this anime. In fact, this anime got more income than other Jiburi animation.

I found that in Japan, although there is no particular belief, Japanese are not interested in religion. I was surprised that a lot of animations are influenced by religion. In addition, I thought the fact that Japan doesn’t have particular religion makes Japanese animation unique and attractive. Writing this report, I could find animation is just one of the tool for convey something. In particular, when it comes to religion, it is easy to express religional stuff when use animation.

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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