R U Global—Resources for World Leaders: Japanese Religions

Japanese Religions, by Michiko Yusa.
London: Routledge, 2002

Reviewed by Georgianne Bordner, University Librarian

In order to understand another culture, it is important to know something about its religion, since religions and ideologies generally play a central role in any civilization. Michiko Yusa’s Japanese Religions, part of Routledge’s Religions of the World series, helps the reader gain a greater understanding of Japanese culture by presenting a brief introduction to the history, beliefs, and practices of the major religions practiced in Japan, highlighting their influence on the modern world.

Yusa takes a chronological approach to the subject, placing significant religious developments in the context of Japanese history, including Japan’s interactions with the Western world. Beginning with Shinto, Japan’s native religion, the book then surveys the arrival of Buddhism, the development of various Buddhist sects, the spread of Confucianism, and the introduction of Christianity. Yusa concludes with a description of the current popular religion in Japan, which is a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism, with elements of Confucianism, Daoism, and folk religions. Along with the religious history, the author includes informative descriptions and histories of aspects of Japanese culture such as the Japanese garden and the tea ceremony, which are closely linked to religion.

The book’s narrative style makes it accessible to those who have no prior knowledge of the subject, and several additional features add to its usefulness as an introductory text. A timeline chart summarizes the key facts of religious, Japanese, and world history during each of the main historical periods from 11,000 B.C. to the present. A glossary and pronunciation guide help readers who may be unfamiliar with the Japanese terms used throughout the book. A list of major festivals and holidays gives further insight into the dates and events that the Japanese consider to be important. Finally, a list of books, journals, and websites recommended for further reading will be appreciated by those who are interested in going beyond the basic text and learning even more about Japanese religion and culture.

A well-rounded global citizen needs to know something about as many world cultures as possible. Japanese Religions is a good place to start.