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Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Japan

Ethnicity

Japan is very homogenous as nearly every person in the country is ethnically Japanese. The ethnic origin of the Japanese is debated since the people have inhabited the islands for thousands of years and over time this isolation has made them a very distinct ethnic group. The prevailing opinions are that they are most closely related to the Koreans, Southeast Asians, or a combination of both.

Language

Japanese is the only official language in Japan and its origins are unknown. Japanese is a fairly unique language and has no close linguistic relatives. It is perhaps a part of the Altaic family, which includes languages such as Mongolian and the Turkic languages, but there is doubt this relationship is accurate. Japanese may also be related to neighboring Korean, whose origin is also unknown, but again the relationship is questionable.

English is the most commonly taught second language in Japan and many young people speak at least some English. English is also a popular language in the business sector as well as in tourism, but outside these sectors English speakers may be difficult to find.

Religion

Nearly all the Japanese practice Shintoism, Buddhism, or a combination of these two systems, which are closely connected. Over half the population considers themselves both Shinto and Buddhist. Among the remaining people, religious beliefs are widely divided as there are adherents to numerous systems, including a small Christian population.

Shintoism is a religion or philosophy that is centered on respect and bettering one's self through purification. Followers of Shintoism believe all objects have a kami or spirit that should be respected. It is believed that acts of impurity must be remedied through purification for one's own benefit, not out of obligation to society or the religion itself. Shintoism has no entrance rites and anyone can be a member of the Shinto community as there are no true organizational structures dictating the religion, although Shinto priests regularly perform purification rituals for anyone who seeks it. Not having any solid scriptures or political hierarchy, Shintoism is almost a way of life as opposed to a religion and many followers of Shintoism incorporate aspects of other religions into their lives as needed. For example, many Japanese follow a number of Buddhist traditions, including burial practices.

Buddhism is a religion or philosophy that encourages people to strive for enlightenment. Adherents believe that each being is reborn until enlightenment is reached, at which time they escape the cycle of birth and death. To accomplish this, every being must speak, act, and live in a positive manner; this is magnified with the force of karma, which dictates an individual's later life and/or their rebirth.

This page was last updated: May, 2014