A rare freedom.

Japan and America are both first-world countries with ample freedom for everyone. However, Japan enjoys one sort of freedom I find I sometimes take for granted: freedom of — and from — religion.

Sure, religious freedom exists in much of the world, but in countries like the USA, there’s still a predominant Christian influence. While Christianity does have a minor foothold (at best) here in Japan, it’s barely noticeable, and has had no impact on society. Japan’s native religions, meanwhile, are pretty hands-off. For example:

  • In America, many stores close or keep abbreviated hours on Sunday.
  • In Japan, businesses can and do choose their hours and days of operation based on their own criteria. (That said, many seem to choose Sunday, but I suspect that’s due to having a consistent weekend day off for the proprietors.)
  • In the US, alcohol has regulations: beer and wine can be bought almost anywhere that sells food, but only between certain hours of the day (even stricter on Sunday), while liquor can only be bought at specialty stores, and never on Sunday.
  • In Japan, you can buy beer, wine, or liquor at a convenience store any time of day or night, and can even find a broad selection of alcoholic beverages of all sorts at places like big-box department stores.
  • In the States, churches have regular services that the faithful are expected to attend, and members are often encouraged to spread the faith to others.
  • In Japan, Buddhist monks and their live-in faithful observe prayer, Shinto priests have their own thing, but neither group much cares if you believe or not.
  • Back home, fundamentalist groups will often point to roleplaying games, harder music genres, and fantasy stories as un- or anti-Christian, while the more extreme groups say any television or literature that isn’t directly religious is dangerous to one’s faith.
  • In Japan, these groups simply don’t exist. Everyone’s free to play Dungeons & Dragons, listen to heavy metal, or read Harry Potter without judgement.

I understand that certain US states have looser restrictions, and that there may be examples above that don’t stem directly from Christianity, but you get the idea. The good news is that Christians in Japan can still practice the way they like — there are plenty of churches, especially in major cities — but those of us who aren’t religious can live our lives without the societal restrictions of an organized faith.

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