The Death of Japanese Buddhism

The story of declining adherence to Buddhism in Japan is certainly old news. I was used to hearing about “funeral Buddhism” in Japan, where families only go to temple for funerals. But apparently even that’s on the decline, according to this article in the New York Times.

The lack of successors to chief priests is jeopardizing family-run temples nationwide.

While interest in Buddhism is declining in urban areas, the religion’s rural strongholds are being depopulated, with older adherents dying and birthrates remaining low.

Perhaps most significantly, Buddhism is losing its grip on the funeral industry, as more and more Japanese are turning to funeral homes or choosing not to hold funerals at all.

When I talk with other American Buddhists about the decline of Buddhism in Japan, I’m almost guaranteed to hear a comment along the lines of, “It’s a shame that Japanese can’t see the true beauty in their Buddhist heritage.” This sort of thought is also common in the Asian American community, where many Asian American kids choose not to participate in their parents’ religion. I wonder if the two are related…

Of course Japanese Buddhism will eventually die out, like all other forms of Buddhism, just probably not within our lifetime. It’s the inevitable truth that all things are changing. But as a side thought, when the last practitioner of a religion finally dies, who holds the funeral?

Update: I suggest checking out Scott’s thoughtful response.