Religious Beliefs

Have the Japanese ever worshipped the emperor? And is the emperor still a religiously important figure?

In early modern times, especially since the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japanese governmental policy included the veneration of the divine Emperor as a central element. Major institutions enshrine twenty of the total number of one hundred and twenty-four emperors, as well as eleven princes, and focus on their worship. Seven of the imperial shrines are dedicated to honoring the spirits of rulers who died unfortunate deaths. Since the end of World War II, the role of Japan’s imperial family has undergone dramatic changes from its former centrality to culture and religion. People still revere the emperor and his household as noble people who continue to represent and uphold ancient Japanese tradition. Many venerable and arcane Shinto rituals still occur only behind the walls of the imperial palace. But fewer and fewer Japanese have much interest in those ceremonies, and the emperor no longer has the national priestly status he once enjoyed. Still, many hope a royal son will continue the imperial line long into the future, and some even dream nostalgically of an eventual return to the days when the emperor wielded considerable political power. On the whole, though, it is safe to say that most Japanese no longer regard the emperor as divine and do not think of him or his family as significant religious symbols.


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