Religious influences

A variety of religions influenced the samurai culture. These religions included Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity, but religion was not a dominant force in Japan until the nineteenth century. As a result, religious practices in Japan took a very different form than in other cultures.


The Shinto influence on Japan’s samurai culture can be seen in various forms. These traditions arose in response to Buddhism, the main religion of the time in Japan. This indigenous religion became known as Shinto, a way to distinguish itself from the Buddhist religion.

The earliest Shinto shrines enshrined were associated with clans or villages. The shrines held seasonal festivals to worship the gods and community participation. The concept of ‘ujigami’ involved the interest of the entire town, and something like a guardian, while ‘personal faith’ dealt with individual matters. Shinto promotes purification before deities face the gods.

A Mosaic of Shinto
A shrine for Shinto

The Shinto religion has no recognized founder, but its early practitioner’s incorporated animistic beliefs, worshipping their ancestors and communicating with the spirit world through shamans. During this time, the Japanese people began to worship the gods of nature, including the mountains and rivers.

Shinto has been deeply embedded in Japan’s culture for nearly two millennia. While most Japanese do not know its origin, many observe Shinto rituals out of respect for their culture and ethnicity. 

Before the Meiji era (1868-1912), Shinto did not form a state. Before that, the Tokugawa era characterized the separation of farmers and samurai. This separation separated the samurai from the rest of society and resulted in a distinct social and physical hierarchy. As a result, rural areas became a world unto themselves. In the Edo era (1603-1868), at the height of popularity, there were 111,000 shrines, approximately two shrines per village dedicated to Shinto beliefs.

The Shinto influence on Japan’s samurai culture can be seen in the various religious and political organizations that ruled the country. In the past, Buddhist and Shinto religions were closely intertwined, and Buddhist figures were revered as kami. 


Buddhism was influential on Japan’s samurai. Shinto remained the predominant religion. Buddhism was introduced to Japan via Korea. Zen Buddhism became popular among samurai, emphasizing inner and contemplative life. Buddhist figures included the Amida (ruler of the Pure Land), Kannon (protector of souls), and Hachiman, a warrior god.

Buddhism influenced many aspects of the samurai culture in Japan. Some of the samurai practiced meditation and learned philosophy from Zen monks, and Buddhism served as a conduit for artistic and cultural activities in Japan. For example, the fourth Ashikaga shogun commissioned the famous painting “Catching a Catfish with a Gourd.” This painting shows the connection between Buddhism and samurai culture in Japan and is still widely recognized in modern Japan. The picture contains inscriptions written by over 30 eminent Zen monks at the time, who were all asked what the best method available to catch a catfish was.

Historically, Buddhism was shaped by three influential men. The first, Xuanzang, was from China, and the second was the Dosho of Japan. Also, the monarch of what was known at the time as the Korean kingdom of Baekje sent a formal mission to Japan bearing gifts, including an image of the Buddha, several objects for custom rituals, and sacred texts.

Buddha Statue in Japan
Traditional Buddha Statue

These men were primarily concerned with developing spiritual practices to help the commoner achieve enlightenment. Wealthy and influential men of the time founded institutions of immense wealth and power, which were influential in shaping Japanese Buddhism.

Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China in the 12th century. This religion stressed seated meditation and the pondering of paradoxical statements to attain enlightenment. The rapid acceptance of Zen in Japan was due to the widespread search for religious alternatives during the Latter Day of the Buddhist Law. In particular, the military leadership in Kamakura welcomed the teachings and sponsored several significant temples in the eastern region during the thirteenth century.

Although Buddhism is not native to Japan, it has greatly influenced its culture. Most of these schools were based on Chinese Buddhism. In addition to this, the esoteric Shingon and Tendai sects were influential in influencing the samurai’s religious beliefs.

Buddhism is an extremely important part of Japanese culture. Many samurai were Buddhists, and they were often also Buddhist monks. There are many temples dedicated to Buddha in Japan. These temples also have Buddhist statues inside them that, even today, you can visit in some places.


Japanese culture is also largely influenced by the principles of Confucianism. The philosophy was widely popular in ancient times and even predated the Tokugawa shogunate, which reorganized society on Confucian principles. For example, merchants were considered greedy, and knowledge of Confucian classics was an essential part of the education of the samurai elite.

During the Tokugawa era, Japan enjoyed economic prosperity, especially in the great urban centers. The rising merchant class sought to improve their social status by studying classical philosophy. This also gave them the qualifications for government bureaucracy posts. There was a significant increase in private schools and a host of new teachers with different philosophical approaches in society.

Confucius statue in japan (1)
Confucius Statue in Japan | Source

Confucianism’s influence on Japanese culture began in the 6th century, along with Buddhism. Initially, this philosophy was only taught to a select few ruling class members. However, over time, the culture spread to other areas, and people even learned basic Confucianism political ideas and protested against leaders who ignored the needs of the majority.

The Japanese emphasis on moral and academic education is another aspect of Japanese culture. As a result, most Japanese business and political elites owe their success to hard work and achievement in the country’s relatively meritocratic educational system. Even in the feudal era, people owed their lord and the country’s ruler a duty.

The emergence of education and the spread of Confucianism were essential factors in the development of modern Japan. As a result, the Japanese became increasingly concerned about observing the world around them, which led to the development of complex systems of observation and categorization. This tendency continued into the nineteenth century when Western science and technology were introduced to Japan.

However, despite the widespread influence of Buddhism also, Confucianism is still an essential aspect of Japanese society. The result of the philosophy is difficult to quantify, but it is believed to have contributed to Japan’s relatively stable society.


Christianity is a significant influence in Japanese culture. Japanese intellectuals believed that Christianity had helped Western societies develop and that it would be beneficial to introduce it to Japan. Okuma Shigenobu (1838-1922), who founded the University of Waseda, regarded Christianity as a valuable moral education but not as more than a useful fiction. The Japanese people wanted practical teachings, not mere theory; therefore, Christianity was limited to education and public morality.

Japan's oldest Christian church
The oldest church in Japan | Source

Japan is predominantly Buddhist, but Christianity has influenced many aspects of Japanese culture. While Buddhism and Shintoism are the primary religions of the country, less than half of Japanese people identify as active members. However, based on the Buddhist tradition, most follow traditional practices like praying to kami, visiting shrines, and carrying out funeral rites.

In the 16th century, Francisco Xavier, a Catholic missionary in Japan, preached the gospel to many Japanese. The Catholic missionary helped convert many people to Christianity, and over one million Japanese were converted.

Christianity is a minor influence in Japanese culture but is also present in many parts of the country. The Kingdom of Portugal was a major trading partner of Japan, and its Christian community was tremendous. The first Jesuit mission was sent to evangelize Japan in 1548. These Christian missions were run by Japanese-speaking people and were the most significant overseas Christian community.

The Christian holidays have gained popularity in Japan since the Second World War. Today, they are major commercial events, but they still emphasize the importance of spending time with loved ones and close relatives. This is not true of Easter, which is usually not celebrated in Japan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *