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An Adventure In Japan


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Hey everyone!


I used to be a member of this forum years ago, but kind of stopped using it at some point (I don't even remember my username). For the last couple of years I've mostly been lurking, reading interesting threads, or accessing my favorite podcasts (Atheist Experience) from the podcast section. I've decided to re-join because I've just had a... hum, interesting experience that I thought might be worthy of sharing with the people here.



A few weeks ago, an old acquaintance contacted me and asked me if I wanted to meet her sometime for lunch. It was a person with whom I used to work; we were at the same school (I live in Japan, and teach English communication to children and teenagers through games and role-playing situations). We got along very well, but were never super close friends, so I was a bit surprised, and wondered what had prompted her to call me out of the blue after 2 years.

...to be honest, she was kinda hot, so it didn't take me long to accept the invitation.


So anyway, I met her in front of the train station today, and she had brought a friend along, who was a bit older than her. She introduced her to me, and then we went to a cafe and started chatting about what we'd been up to for the last 2 years. It was ust small talk about work and life in general. Or at least, so I though.


You see, it turns out they were both members of some buddhist sect (whose name I didn't quite understand well enough to be able to type it here), which happens to be the only true way to happiness (of course), brings you luck, and supposedly makes everything that's bad in your life turn awesome. All you have to do is say a little prayer for 5 minutes in the morning, and some god called Hotoke Sama has got your back covered no matter what happens.


Normally, I would've left as soon as they started telling me about that stuff. However, this was a person who had always been kind to me when we used to work at the same school, and also, like I said, she was kinda cute, so I didn't really want to leave on bad terms. I was also planning to sneak in some questions like “that's interesting, are you sure that's really true” or “how do you know this is true?”, basic stuff to see what kind of justifications they'd be able to come up with to explain their beliefs.


The problem is, my Japanese isn't quite good enough to engage on that kind of level, so I decided to just bite my tongue and feign interest while I ate (the food was good, so what the hey.) As we were talking, her friend, the older one (who was the more pushy one of the two), started showing me pamphlets while doing her “pitch”. Did you know that long ago, there was a huge earthquake in Japan, and everything was destroyed by huge tornadoes of fire? There was even an artist's rendition in the pamphlet, it looked like something out of a disaster movie. Here, I thought, “wow, they're just like the Christians with their scare tactics”. China's going to invade Japan within 6 years, Japan is gonna be hit by a huge earthquake that's gonna kill everyone (except of course, followers of Hotoke), Hotoke will protect me from viruses, diseases, protect my loved ones (“you do want your wife to be safe if there's a war or a disaster, don't you? DON'T YOU??? and your parents back home who think about you every day”) and so on and so on.




After lunch, my friend asked me if I wanted to go see their temple; I KNOW I should have declined (by that point, I was sure that this stuff was AT LEAST as messed up and crazy as christianity), but cute women have a certain way of asking stuff that makes men do anything they ask. So I thought hey, it's not far, I'll go check it out if it makes them happy, tell them it was pretty interesting, tell them that I'll think about it, and then be on my way. 



At the building, they asked me to fill out a form where I was supposed to write, among other things, my name and phone number. That was the point where I said “hey, sorry, this is going to far.” I had come along to make them happy or, at the very least, see what kind of crazy cult my friend had gotten herself into... but I wasn't about to give them my personal information on some application form. I gave the excuse that I needed to “think about it” first.


At that point, the older one of the two started getting even more pushy, explaining to me that maybe the big earthquake would hit TOMORROW, and wouldn't I be sorry if that happened? And what if I got hit by a car on my way back? (ohhh the scare tactics). This is about my eternal happiness, it's not something you really have to “think about”, it's just something you need to go ahead and do it in order to see that it really works.


Unfortunately, that woman's English was non-existant, and my Japanese level was completely inadequate to counter these kind of childish arguments. What I WANTED to say was that if Hotoke was god and had made the universe, why would he even need me to write my contact info on that sheet? Wouldn't he already know it? At the very least, he should prove that he is real by appearing in front of me BEFORE asking me to become his follower. Furthermore, he comes off as a jerk because he made a planet where earthquakes/diseases/etc DO exist in the first place. If I was a god, I'd make a planet where it's impossible for people to die and suffer, and if I wanted for them to worship me (which I probably wouldn't even care about, but if I did), I'd at least be good enough to appear to them and show them that I'm real. This makes me superior to their god.


Any of these objections sound familiar? It's no wonder she told me it "wasn't something to *think* about", because when you DO think about it, it crumbles faster than a house of cards. Just like Christianity.


In the end, I did tell her that this was how it was gonna be, and that's that. After that my friend walked me to the station and I told her that I'd contact her again if I was interested (fat chance of that...) The bottom line is, if you've left christianity and are thinking about checking out Buddhism... don't, it's the same load of crap, except with different character names/situations. It's the same promises, scare tactics, threats, the same dissing of other religions (at least I agreed with her on that; they all suck), and requires the same mental gymnastics as christianity does.

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Thank you for sharing your story.  It was very interesting, and I did not realize there were Japanese people all fired up the same way fundamentalist Christians are over here.


I do agree with your last paragraph in part - it is a mistake to think that faith is not required in Buddhism and that its strictly rational and all scientific- but Buddhism has a lot of wiggle room.  Generally there is not the "you must believe or else" angle.  Yes, you encountered it, but I don't think it is typical.


Although I could be wrong about that because I have never visited a Buddhist country.


Another thing about Buddhism is that it has taken different forms in the different countries it has spread to. For example in Tibet, Buddhism was influenced by regional religions of Tibet circa 8th century. So there you have various mountain deities people pray to that predate Buddhism, also Buddhism came out of India, where Hindu gods are worshiped. These gods are still present in Tibetan Buddhism - some of the names are different, but the same deity.


I suspect that in Japan the Buddhism that these folks are promoting is a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism.  Anyway, Buddhism in the east as it is practiced is a lot more superstitious and mystical than most people in the west seem to realize.

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That was a really really interesting story. Good, but terrible to know that we're the same the world over. I don't relally think of something like that happening in Japan, it's interesting to get another perspective. Thanks for sharing!

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*It's good, but terrible, to know that we're the same the world over.

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 but Buddhism has a lot of wiggle room. Generally there is not the "you must believe or else" angle. Yes, you encountered it, but I don't think it is typical.


Yeah, I suppose that's true. But you could also say that about some christians I guess. Like, the type that doesn't really believe the jesus stuff, but thinks that it's a nice idea, and that we should treat each other the way we would want to be treated, and so on. The type that only goes to church on christmas because it's tradition.



I didn't post these on the original post, since it was getting a bit long, but here's some other stuff that they told me:


-You have to face the direction of Mt.Fuji when doing the incantation (similar to how muslims must face a certain direction when saying their magic words).  Apparently many people even in foreign countries are joining their group and they all face towards the direction of Japan when doing it.


-One day, everyone in the world will be in their group, and then there will be world peace. The implied claim here was that if you don't join, you don't want world peace, so you're a bad person. This wasn't said explicitely but I got that message out of the way she said it.


-Now that I've heard their message, Hotoke will shun me if I don't invite him into my life. This strikes me as similar to the christian claim that those who have refused Jesus will have the warmest spot in the lake of fire. Another way to pressure me into joining right then and there.


The more I think about it, the more I REALLY wish I would have tried a little harder to raise some objections (even in my so-so Japanese). This is all really basic stuff that's really easy to counter... you just need to know how to communicate well with that language.

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Obviously she is not a True Buddhist.


Seriously, all the major religions I know anything about seem to have sects that are only nominally religious and other varieties that increase in weirdness all the way up to obnoxious fundamentalism. The fundamentalists and extremists of any religion are a pain in the ass. In my limited experience, American Buddhists, particularly native converts, are pretty mellow. We probably have some Buddhist wackos lurking somewhere, but they must be rather uncommon here.

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I think those sound like Amida Buddhists, or Pure Land Buddhists. Basically, one heart-felt repetition of the phrase "Hail, Amida Buddha" has you covered for rebirth in your next life in the Pure Land, when you die in this one. Kind of like an "Admit One to the Pure Land Free" card. Off and on popular, historically. Sometimes, with rabidly militant private armies (Ikko Ikki). Touch and go popularity, though, with the warrior class on account of: 1) high probability of sudden death, 2) not much of a strain on time to worship, with 3) ties with temples and said militias as a drawback. Warriors liked the ability to make decisions on their own, hence the later, explosive popularity of Zen Buddhism, which philosophically encourages independence.


Of course, that's "historically speaking" - today, these are still just two versions of Buddhism in Japan. Shinto doesn't really recruit. Over-religiosity has a bad reputation in Japan, due to associations with Right-Wing militarism, and the humiliation of WW II. Today, get into whatever floats your boat, and steer clear of those that don't. "New Religions" have also sprung up, in variously cult-like forms, however (although they sound like generic Amida Buddhists, they could be one of those, too, I guess, or a new-ish variant). Just make sure you stay the HECK away from Aum Shinrikyo. Those guys are terrifying: responsible for a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995...

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