Japanese religious practice is notable for its syncretism—that is to say, its weaving together of different religious traditions. Although most Japanese identify as adherents of Shinto, many of them also practice Buddhism.
This is despite the fact that these religions are actually quite different in many respects. Whereas Shinto is concerned with spirits and ancestor-worship, Buddhism is based on the moral teachings of its founder, Gautama Buddha, the ancient Indian philosopher.
Even so, a recognizably syncretistic popular religion has nonetheless emerged from the fusion of Shintoism and Buddhism. And it has a number of features common to both religions.
For one thing, it places great store by the performance of rituals. In Shintoism, rituals play a very important role, and its adherents display their commitment to the religion by carrying out rituals such as making offerings at the shrines of dead ancestors.
In Buddhism too, rituals are considered very important. They represent an outward sign of the individual believer's commitment to the journey of spiritual enlightenment.
A second feature of Japanese popular religion is its non-dogmatic nature. Unlike certain Christian denominations, there are no dogmas or articles of faith in Japanese syncretism and no sacred texts that must be followed to the letter in the same way that Protestant fundamentalists follow the Bible.
This leads us on to the third feature of Japanese popular religion. If some forms of Christianity are concerned with dogma and belief, Japanese popular religion deals primarily with practice. We've already seen the importance of practice in relation to rituals. The same applies to moral conduct.
Generally speaking, there is a close correspondence between the moral practices endorsed by Japanese popular religion and traditional Japanese values. Indeed, one could argue that it is precisely because Japanese popular religion is so firmly rooted in traditional Japanese values that it has become so prevalent in society.