International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice; however, there were some restrictions. The Aum Shinrikyo group, which lost its religious status following its 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, remained under government surveillance.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 145,902 square miles. The population is an estimated 127 million. Regular participation in formal religious activities by the public is low, and the accurate determination of the proportions of adherents to specific religions is difficult. According to the latest statistics published by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, 44.8 percent of citizens adhered to Buddhism, 49.5 percent to Shintoism, 4.8 percent to so-called "new" religions, and 0.8 percent to Christianity in December 1999. However, Shintoism and Buddhism are not mutually exclusive religions, and the figures do not represent the ratio of actual practitioners; most members claim to observe both. All other faiths are classified as "new religions" and include both local chapters of international religions such as the Unification Church of Japan and the Church of Scientology as well as the Tenrikyo, Seichounoie, Sekai Kyusei Kyo, Perfect Liberty, and Risho Koseikai religions, which were founded in the country. A small segment of the population, mostly foreign-born residents, attend Orthodox, Jewish, and Islamic services.

There are 28 Buddhist sects recognized by the Government under the 1951 Religious Corporation Law. The major Buddhist sects are Tendai, Shingon, Joudo, Zen, Nichiren, and Nara. In addition to traditional Buddhist orders, there are a number of Buddhist lay organizations, including the Soka Gakkai, which has more than 8 million members. The three main schools of Shintoism are Jinja, Kyoha, and Shinkyoha. Among Christians, both Catholic and Protestant denominations enjoy modest followings.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government does not require that religious groups be registered or licensed; however, to receive official recognition as a religious organization, which brings tax benefits and other advantages, a group must register with local or national authorities as a "religious corporation." In response to Aum Shinrikyo terrorist attacks in 1995, a 1996 amendment to the Religious Corporation Law gives governmental authorities increased oversight of religious groups and requires greater disclosure of financial assets by religious corporations. The Diet enacted two additional laws in December 1999 aimed at regulating the activities of Aum Shinrikyo. In practice almost all religious groups register. The most recent available statistics from the Cultural Affairs Agency listed 182,935 registered religious groups as of December 31, 1999. However, the Cultural Affairs Agency estimates that nearly 5,000 of these groups are dormant and has taken legal action in an attempt to remove dormant groups from its registry. In 1998 the Matsuyama District Court ordered the dissolution of a registered Shinto religious group that had been dormant since 1982. Since 1998 courts have accepted requests by the Cultural Affairs Agency to dissolve three dormant religious bodies that had been registered under the Religious Corporation Law.

Some Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines receive public support as national historic or cultural sites. This situation is subject to change in the aftermath of a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that a prefectural government may not contribute public funds to only one religious organization if the donations supported, encouraged, and promoted a specific religious group. In 1998 the Kochi District Court ruled that using municipal government funds to repair two Shinto shrines was tantamount to allocating public funds to one religious group and therefore was unconstitutional. However, no additional cases questioning the use of public funds in connection with a religious organization have been brought since 1998.

There are no known restrictions on proselytizing.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

The Aum Shinrikyo organization, which officially was renamed Aleph by its leadership in February 2000, is under active government surveillance. Aum Shinrikyo lost its legal status as a religious organization in 1996 following the indictment of several hundred cult members for the group's 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. From June to November 2000, the Tokyo District Court sentenced five senior cult members to death and two others to life imprisonment in connection with the 1995 Sarin gas attack, as well as the 1989 killings of an Aum Shinrikyo member who attempted to leave the organization and a lawyer who had assisted several individuals who were trying to persuade their family members to leave the organization. Cases still are pending in district courts against seven other senior Aum members, including its leader Shoko Asahara. In March 2000, the Tokyo District Court ordered Aum/Aleph to pay $640,000 (688 million yen) to survivors and next-of-kin to those killed in the attack. In July 2000, lawyers representing senior Aum Shinrikyo officials reached agreement to pay $37.4 million (40 billion yen) in compensation.

In December 1999, the Diet enacted two laws to enable authorities to monitor and inspect facilities of groups found to have committed "indiscriminate mass murder during the past 10 years" and to uncover assets of companies associated with these groups. The new laws are subject to review, including possible repeal, in 2005. The Public Security Examination Commission placed Aum/Aleph under continuous surveillance for a 3-year period on January 31, 2000, on the basis of one of the two laws. The Public Security Investigative Agency conducted at least 19 on-site inspections of Aum/Aleph facilities around the country in connection with the surveillance order during the period covered by this report. According to an April 2001 Justice Ministry report, Aum/Aleph has an estimated 1,650 followers, a decrease from 10,000 in 1995. However, under the 1999 laws, Aum is required to file a report every 3 months listing member names and addressees and claimed to have only 1,019 members in February 2001.

In September 2000, municipal officials from Saitama prefecture publicly revealed that they had taken action earlier in the year to reverse their decision to block two daughters of Aum founder Shoko Asahara from attending a local elementary school. However, in November 2000, the Supreme Court upheld a decision taken by Ibaraki prefecture to block the school registration of three other children of Asahara.

Members of the Unification Church continued to allege that police do not act in response to allegations of forced deprogramming of church members. They also claimed that police do not enforce the laws against kidnaping when the victim is held by family members and that Unification Church members are subjected to prolonged detention by individuals, who are not charged by police.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There generally are amicable relations between the various religious communities; however, there is some societal discrimination against followers of Aum Shinrikyo.

In April 2001, the Tokyo District Court sentenced a defendant to 6 years' penal servitude for firing shots into a Tokyo apartment building where followers of Aum Shinrikyo live. He reportedly remained in official custody at the end of the period covered by this report. At least four municipalities in which Aum facilities are active refused to register Aum group members as residents. Other communities continued to block the establishment of new Aum settlements or demand that Aum members leave their municipalities through protests and public appeals.

Members of the Unification Church alleged in June 1999 that police do not act in response to allegations of forced deprogramming of church members.

In May 2001, approximately 250 Muslims from various regions of the country traveled to Toyama prefecture to protest an incident in which a defaced copy of the Koran allegedly was thrown at a place of business owned by a Muslim foreign resident. Local police officials were investigating the incident at the end of the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of the promotion of human rights, including the promotion of religious freedom internationally. The U.S. Embassy maintains periodic contact with representatives of religious organizations.

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