Buddhism and Shinto are the two major religions in Japan. In fact, these two religions are closely inter-related. The Buddhism-Shinto practice evolved over the years incorporates both religion harmoniously, although initially, there were some contradictions between the religions. The history of Buddhism in Japan can be roughly divided into three periods, namely the Nara period (up to 784), the Heian period (794–1185) and the post-Kamakura period (1185 onwards). Each period saw the introduction of new doctrines and upheavals in existing schools.
Buddhism started in India by Siddharta Gautama, an Indian prince who attained enlightenment after meditating under the Bodhi tree and thus, he is called the Buddha or the Enlightened one. The religion consists of His teachings, which consists of the 8 fold path and the 3 Gems, to which his disciples are to understand and the 5 precepts to which they are to follow. Buddhism is divided into two branches; Theravada and Mahayana. Mahayana is the branch that found its way to Japan from China and Korea.
Buddhism was imported to Japan via China and Korea in form of a present from the friendly Korean kingdom of Kudara (Paikche) in the 6th century. While Buddhism was welcomed by the ruling nobles as Japan’s new state religion, it did not initially spread among the common people due to its complex theories.
Buddhism did not have a straightforward root to the Japanese culture. It was once almost eradicated during the Meiji Period where the emperor re-installed Shinto as the state religion. However, after the fall of Meiji, Buddhism somehow gain it’s stand again in Japan and now co-exist with Shinto almost harmoniously. A great statue of the Buddha can be seen at Kamakura.
People in Japan either consider themselves, Shintoist, Buddhists or both. That said, the Japanese are not very religious in the sense that they do not live their life according to their religion. The average Japanese typically follows the rituals from their religious beliefs on matters like birth, weddings and death only. Today, there are 90million people in Japan who consider themselves Buddhists.