All rules have exceptions or the flexibility of believing

You may be surprised, but in a country of strict rules and norms, there is some flexibility, and you may never guess where. Religion! Even though religion is one of those topics that are considered inappropriate to ask and discuss about, here come some observations from my side.

In France, when doing population census questionnaire, you may not be asked about your religious beliefs (or absence of them). To say better, you may be asked, but you do not have to reply. As a result, there is no reliable statistics in that respect.

In Japan, soon after arriving, I received a similar questionnaire form the local government asking about everything, including which floor of the building I live, who is paying for the rent and etc. Religion is one of the questions as you may imagine. As people follow the rules, they do answer. Here starts the interesting part. According to some publications, when they add the numbers of all who mark their religion as Buddhism, Shinto, Christianity and etc., the total adds up to more than 200 million. If you recall, the total population of Japan is approx. 136 million. How is that possible?

Shinto shrine in the distance. They can be distinguished by Torii gates in front. (Hakone)

Here is where the flexibility comes into play. Apparently, many people say they are flexible with religion, which means they consider themselves as following more than one at a time and use the one that better fits the specific occasion.

Buddhist temples will have Buddha statue. (Kamakura)

To explain a bit further: when a baby is born, he/she would generally be taken to a Shinto shrine for a blessing; for a wedding it is fashionable and popular to do it in Catholic tradition with a white dress and a (often fake) chapel, and a funeral would mostly be held in the Buddhist temple. Of course, it is a very simplistic illustration as many other life events and occasions in between would also fall into one of the above.

Paparazzi in action: wedding on the rooftop, Catholic style.

Another traditional wedding at Meiji Jingu Shrine. (Tokyo)

As they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and so once the New Yearโ€™s champagne is over, I go to a Shinto shrine to witness the crowds and to throw in a few coins for a good year. A wish for a good year is a wish for a good year and as long as it comes from your heart it does not matter what you believe or where you do that after all, don’t you think?

January 1st and the queue to get to Shinto shrine to wish for a good year.

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