Section I. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
There are virtually no barriers to registering new religions, and organized religious groups enjoy generous tax benefits.
The Government does not require that religious groups be licensed. However, to receive official recognition as a religious organization, which brings tax benefits and other advantages, a group must register with local or national authorities as a "religious corporation." In practice almost all religious groups register. In response to Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attacks in 1995, a 1996 amendment to the Religious Corporation Law gives governmental authorities increased oversight of religious groups and requires greater disclosure of financial assets by religious corporations. The Cultural Affairs Agency estimates that nearly 5,000 religious groups across the nation appear dormant. In May 1998, the Matsuyama District Court ordered the dissolution of a registered Shinto religious group that had been dormant since 1982. This was the first time that a court had accepted the Cultural Affairs Agency's request to dissolve a religious body since the Religious Corporation Law went into effect in 1951. However, in June 1998, the Nagoya High Court upheld a lower court ruling ordering the Toyama prefectural government to pay monetary damages to 88 followers of a Buddhist group for violating their rights by ignoring for more than 10 years their application for certification as a religious group.
Some Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines receive public support as national historic or cultural sites. However, this situation may change in the aftermath of a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that a prefectural government may not contribute public funds to only one religious organization, if the donations supported, encouraged, and promoted a specific religious group. In July 1998, the Kochi District Court ruled that using village government funds to repair two Shinto shrines was tantamount to allocating public funds to a religious group, and therefore was unconstitutional.
Participation in religious activities by the public is low by international standards, and accurately determining the proportions of adherents to specific religions is difficult. According to statistics published by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in 1998, 49.2 percent of citizens adhered to Buddhism, 44.7 percent to Shintoism, 5.3 percent to so-called "new" religions, and 0.8 percent to Christianity. However, a 1996 Jiji Press Service poll showed that 46.6 percent of the population identified themselves with no particular religious group, 44.3 percent choose Buddhism, 3.2 percent Shintoism, 3.1 percent "new" religions, and 1.0 percent Christianity. A 1994 poll indicated that less than 7 percent of the population regularly took part in formal religious services. Shintoism and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive religions; most members claim to observe both.
The major Buddhist sects are Tendai, Shingon, Joudo, Zen, Nichiren, and Nara. In addition to traditional Buddhist orders, there are a number of Buddhist lay organizations, including the 8-million-plus-member Soka Gakkai. The three main schools of Shintoism are Jinja, Kyoha, and Shinkyhoha.
Among Christians, both Catholic and Protestant denominations enjoy modest followings.
Faiths classified as New Religions include both local chapters of international religions such as the Unification Church of Japan and the Church of Scientology as well as the Tenrikyo, Seichounoie, Sekai Kyusei Kyo, Perfect Liberty, and Risho Koseikai religions, which were founded in Japan.
A small segment of the population, mostly foreign-born residents, attend Orthodox, Jewish, and Islamic services.
There are no known restrictions on proselytizing.
The only religion under active government surveillance is the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which also was designated by the U.S. Department of State as a terrorist organization following the cult's 1995 Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system. Aum Shinrikyo lost its legal status as a religious organization in 1996 following the indictment of several cult members. In May 1998, a court sentenced Ikuo Hayashi, a leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, to life imprisonment for the killing of 12 persons in that incident. In October 1998, a court sentenced to death another leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, Kazuaki Okazaki, for the 1989 killings of four persons, including an antisect lawyer, his wife, and their 1-year-old son. Cases still are pending in district courts against two-dozen senior Aum members, including cult leader Shoko Asahara.
Members of the Unification Church have alleged that police do not act in response to allegations of forced deprogramming of church members (see Section II). They also claim that police do not enforce the laws against kidnaping when the victim is held by family members, asserting that Unification Church members are subjected to prolonged arbitrary detention by individuals, who are not charged by police.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
There are no significant problems in relations between various religious communities. While there were few reports of physical violence against members of religious organizations, a number of local communities have sought to block the establishment of new Aum Shinrikyo cult facilities through protests and public appeals. Members of the Unification Church also have alleged police indifference to allegations of forced deprogramming of church members by relatives and professional deprogrammers.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of 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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