Japanese people generally practice a combination of Shintoism and Buddhism. Many houses will have both a Buddhist altar and a Shinto shrine in their house. Sadly, most JETs don’t spend much time with Japanese families, so the best way for JETs to experience religious events in Japan is to visit the many shrines, temples, and religious festivals, particularly around the New Year. JETs sometimes have the opportunity to help carry a mikoshi, or portable shrine, in a parade. If you get the chance, do it!
I would encourage JETs to attend events at temples and shrines, if only for a greater understanding of the culture. Always treat these events respectfully. The best tip is to follow the lead of the people surrounding you. When visiting a shrine, first wash your hands and mouth at the basin near the front of the shrine. Once you reach the temple offering box, toss in a coin and ring the bell once or twice. Step back, bow, clap twice, and bow again.
Last year, I had a student who was a Jehovah’s Witness, and thus couldn’t participate in class parties at Christmas or Halloween. During these days, the teacher would send the student to the library to study- not very fun, right? If you find out you have a student who can’t participate in fun activities, consider making a small but fun un-related activity for them to complete by themselves. Ask the teacher for permission, however- the student may want to study for University exams, for example, or the teacher may feel a separate activity for one student is unfair.
Many JETs come to Japan and hope to find a church to attend, but find it impossible to find one. When I tried to find churches on Google Maps, most of the results were wedding chapels! The best option is to contact JET Christian Fellowship and ask for information on churches in your area.
English-speaking services exist, but are few and far between. The pastor and/or parishioners, however, may speak some English. The two cultural differences between western and Japanese churches is that parishioners take off their shoes before entering the building, and everyone assists in cleaning the church once a month. Churches commonly offer lunch once a month- a great place to try Japanese home cooking! Consider getting involved in other activities with them, such as clubs for children.
Written by Renata Janney- Fukushima Prefecture