| Religious Freedom Ranking:
3 out of 5 stars: Needs Improvement
The Japanese Constitution provides for religious freedom. Religious groups are generally free to worship and spread their beliefs without interference. However, there have been reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation. There have also been complaints that the government fails to enforce laws designed to protect religious minorities and fails to investigate missing persons reports related to forced conversion attempts.
The country has a population of 127.5 million. Interestingly, the Agency for Cultural Affairs in 2007 estimated that religious groups claimed a total 206 million people as members, indicating either a large number of residents who were affiliated with more than one religion and/or a good deal of exaggeration by religious groups. According to the agency’s 2009 annual yearbook, 105 million identified themselves as Shinto, 89 million as Buddhist, two million as Christian and nine million follow “other” religions. The Islamic Center estimated that there are 100,000 to 110,000 Muslims. The Unification Church estimates it has as many as 500,000 believers, although many of them also adhere to Shintoism or Buddhism.
There have been no reports of religious detainees held by the government. However, forced conversions have been widely reported, usually involving members of the Unification Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of smaller sects.
The Unification Church reported that thousands of its followers were kidnapped, held against their will and pressured by family members and “deprogrammers” to abandon the church over the last four decades. The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported more than a hundred such cases, mostly in the 1990s. Police often turn a blind eye to missing persons reports, taking the position that they should not involve themselves in “family matters,” even when the victim is an adult. Human rights activists point out that such an attitude by the government makes a mockery of the Japanese Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom and the universally-recognized right to choose one’s own religion or belief. Currently approximately 10 UC members per year are reported missing. About half return to the church after either being released or making good their escape. No criminal prosecutions have resulted.
According to sworn testimony, including the statements of ex-UC members who sued the church after being successfully de-converted, Christian ministers are usually involved in the faith-breaking process. Detainees report being required to attend “rehabilitation” in Christian education centers, or else remain confined indefinitely. These facts have led to the charge of “forced conversion” to traditional Protestantism.
In 2008 a member of the Unification Church, Toru Goto, was released in a state of severe malnutrition after 12 years of confinement by family members in consultation with a Christian minister and a professional deprogrammer. Prosecutors dismissed the case, citing inadequate evidence. Mr. Goto is now pursuing the matter in the civil courts.
The Japanese Association of Religious Organizations, an interfaith NGO, continues to encourage religious culture and peace. Members of the Islamic Center Japan have attended interfaith peace prayers with Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist groups. In November 2009 the World Conference on Religions for Peace Japanese Committee co-hosted a meeting to discuss how to promote peace in Afghanistan with diet members and in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This meeting was held with diplomats from 18 countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom on Japan