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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were a few restrictions.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.


The country has a total area of 145,884 square miles, and its population is an estimated 127 million. Regular participation in formal religious activities by the public is low, and accurately determining the proportions of adherents to specific religions is difficult. According to statistics published by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in December 2002, approximately 49.9 percent of citizens adhered to Shintoism, 44.2 percent to Buddhism, 5.0 percent to "other' religions, and 0.9 percent to Christianity. However, Shintoism and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive religions, and the figures do not represent the ratio of actual practitioners; most members claim to observe both. "Other" faiths include both local chapters of international religions, such as the Unification Church of Japan and the Church of Scientology, as well as faiths founded in the country, such as Tenrikyo, Seichounoie, Sekai Kyusei Kyo, Perfect Liberty, and Risho Koseikai. A small segment of the population, predominantly foreign-born residents, attend Orthodox, Jewish, and Islamic services.

There are 28 Buddhist schools recognized by the Government under the 1951 Religious Corporation Law. The major Buddhist schools are Tendai, Shingon, Joudo, Zen, Nichiren, and Nara. In addition to traditional Buddhist orders, there are a number of Buddhist lay organizations, including the Soka Gakkai, which has more than 8 million members. The three main schools of Shintoism are Jinja, Kyoha, and Shinkyoha. Among Christians, Catholic and Protestant denominations have modest followings.

According to an April 2001 Justice Ministry report, the Aum Shinrikyo group, which lost its religious status following its 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, was renamed Aleph and had an estimated 1,650 followers, a decrease from 10,000 in 1995. However, in October 2002, Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph claimed to have only 1,208 members.


Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there are a few restrictions.

In response to Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attacks in 1995, a 1996 amendment to the Religious Corporation Law gives the authorities increased oversight of religious groups and requires greater disclosure of financial assets by religious corporations. The Diet enacted two additional laws in 1999 aimed at regulating the activities of Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph.

Some Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines receive public support as national historic or cultural sites. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that a prefectural government may not contribute public funds to only one religious organization if the donations will support, encourage, and promote a specific religious group; however, no cases questioning the use of public funds in connection with a religious organization have been brought since 1998.

The Government does not require that religious groups be registered or licensed; however, to receive official recognition as a religious organization, which brings tax benefits and other advantages, a group must register as a "religious corporation." In practice, almost all religious groups register. The Cultural Affairs Agency listed 182,634 registered religious groups as of December 2002.

There are no known restrictions on proselytizing.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Aum Shinrikyo/Aleph group remained subject to the January 2003 decision by the Public Security Examination Commission that concluded the group still posed a danger to society and declared the group should continue under government surveillance for 3 more years.

Members of the Unification Church and Jehovah's Witnesses continued to allege that police do not act in response to allegations of forced deprogramming of church members. They claim that police do not enforce the laws against kidnapping when the victim is held by family members and that Unification Church members are subjected to prolonged detention by family members and deprogrammers, whom the police do not charge. By its own calculation, the Unification Church claims that kidnapping and deprogramming has declined significantly in recent years. It remains concerned, however, by the tendency of officials to judge kidnapping and deprogramming by victim's family members and deprogrammers as a family matter.

In August 2002, the courts declared "deprogramming" illegal in a case involving members of Jehovah's Witnesses. However, in 2003 the Supreme Court rejected the Unification Church's appeal in a case involving charges against the victim's family and the kidnappers for kidnapping and "deprogramming." In the Unification Church's case, the court determined that the causes of the appeal were not matters involving a violation of the Constitution. In January, the Yokohama district court ruled in favor of the defendant in a 1997 case in which two victims allege they were kidnapped and held in several apartments for nearly 5 months. The court cited a lack of evidence and peaceful conditions in captivity as reasons for the judgment. Also in January, however, the Osaka district court ruled in favor of a victim who claimed to have been abducted by her family in 2001 with the help of deprogrammers and held against her will for 2 months. Her parents and one deprogrammer were ordered to pay $2,000 (200,000 yen).

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.


The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.


The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights, including the promotion of religious freedom internationally. The U.S. Embassy maintains periodic contact with representatives of religious organizations.
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Publication:International Religious Freedom Report
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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