CESNUR - center for studies on new religions
Department Seal 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000


The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

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

Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally 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. Aum Shinrikyo, officially renamed Aleph in February 2000, lost its legal status as a religious corporation in 1996 following the indictment of several members.

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.

Religious Demography

Participation in 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 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.

Governmental Abuses of Religious Freedom

In September 1999, the Jehovah's Witnesses alleged that police maintain surveillance of church activities. The Government denies that it monitors the activities of the group or other recognized religious groups.

The only religion under active government surveillance is t