Traditional Japanese religion had been Shinto, an animistic religion, however Buddhism was imported from China and soon became popular. Formal education in Japan began with the study of Chinese language and literature. Philosophical, legal and religious works were written in Chinese. Common people embraced Buddhism, also a Chinese import. Japanese Shoguns promoted neo-Confucianism with its emphasis on filial piety and loyalty to superiors. Neo-Confucianism was the official ideology of Tokugawa Japan by the early eighteenth century.Some scholars, however, sought to establish a uniquely Japanese identity. They scorned neo-Confucianism and even Buddhism and promoted Shinto for Japanese identity. Scholars of native Japanese learning considered the Japanese as superior to others and all foreign influences as perverse. They glorified the purity of Japanese society before it was adulterated by Chinese and other influences. A popular culture developed because of the prosperous merchant class. Middle class culture blossomed in Kyoto, Osoka, and Edo. "Floating worlds’ (ukiyo) were established which provided teahouses, theaters, brothels and public baths to escape the rules of conduct that governed public behavior.
Japanese Buddhism is a derivation of Mahayana Buddhism which came to Japan from China in the 7th Century. This school of Buddhism (its title means "the Greater Vehicle") the particular form practiced in Japan is known as Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes wisdom gained through experience as the key to enlightenment.