Lot 122, Box 53

Memorandum Prepared by the Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far East


Japan: Freedom of Worship


The problem is whether or not the occupying forces should permit freedom of worship in Japan, in view of the difficulty of differentiating Shintoism, as a religion, from extreme Nationalism.95


The United Nations are committed to the principle of freedom of religious worship. Application of this principle in Japan is complicated by the fact that the Japanese nationalists have in recent times superimposed on the harmless, primitive animism, which was the original Shinto, a nationalistic Emperor-worshiping cult which has been used by the militarists to develop the present fanatically patriotic, aggressive Japan. It is necessary in any consideration of this subject to distinguish between these two aspects of Shinto. Ancient Shinto in itself is not injurious to our interests, but National Shinto, the cult of extreme militant nationalism, is a distinct source of danger to the peace of the Pacific and perhaps of the world. Just as the Institution of the Emperor is often condemned in the United States because of the misuse made of it, so ancient Shinto is condemned because of the nationalistic cult which has been grafted onto it.

It is therefore apparent that while ancient Shinto can without danger be allowed to be practiced, the practice of the new National Shinto should be carefully watched. There are some 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan falling into three categories, (a) Most of the Shinto shrines are of ancient origin and are dedicated to local tutelary deities. They are the scenes of local fetes and can be construed as strictly religious shrines; (b) a few, like the Grand Shrines at Ise, dedicated to the Sun Goddess, are also ancient religious shrines but with an over-layer of nationalistic symbolism; (c) some of the more recent shrines such as the Yasukuni, the Meiji, the Nogi, Togo and others dedicated to national heroes are not places of religious worship as we understand the term, but nationalist shrines dedicated to the veneration of nationalist militarist heroes and to the fostering of a militant national spirit. These last could be closed without any violation of the principle of freedom of religious worship, as the Japanese Government has repeatedly asserted that National Shinto is not a religion [Page 1208] but rather a manifestation of patriotism. It may well be, however, that tolerance of such shrines coincident with military defeat and the demobilization of the Army would do more to weaken the hold of the National Shinto cult upon the people than would the forcible closing of such shrines, which might tend to strengthen the cult.

The Christian churches in Japan in recent years have been subject to various restrictions and regulatory measures, in an attempt to assimilate them into the general scheme of a totalitarian state.


It is recommended that:

Freedom of religious worship should be proclaimed promptly on occupation.
Shrines of the ancient Shinto religion should be permitted to remain open except where it is found that such shrines are being utilized for subversive activities.
The Grand Shrines at Ise, dedicated to the Sun Goddess, should be permitted to remain open, unless experience indicates that it would be advisable to close them.
At the strictly nationalist shrines, ceremonies or gatherings which involve demonstrations or large crowds at such shrines should be forbidden. The staffs of the national shrines, other than physical caretakers, should be dismissed and not receive pay from the national treasury. These shrines should be permitted to remain open for individual worship, except in instances where such action appears to be contrary to public order and security. (CAA would be well advised to obtain the guidance of Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries in determining which are the nationalist shrines.)
Care should be taken that the troops of occupation do no damage to any of the shrines.
No action should be necessary in regard to Buddhist temples.
Christian churches should be liberated by restoration of complete freedom of organization and worship.

Prepared and reviewed by Inter-Divisional Area Committee on the Far East.

JA: ERDickover (drafting officer) ISO: QWright
LA: AMoffat  ”  ” JA: BRJohansen
FSO: EHDooman  ”  ” FSWilliams
TS: GHBlakeslee CA: JCVincent
HBorton ME: MBHall
PRJosselyn FMA: CFRemer
AVandenbosch LRD: JRFriedman
FE: JWBallantine
  1. Cf. paragraph 3h, p. 1192.