LOS ANGELES Six percent of Japan's population now claim to be Christians, according to a new Gallup survey that is described as the most extensive ever taken there. One pollster called the results "stunning," much higher than reported in previous polls.
The Gallup Organization also said that researchers were surprised by the high numbers of teens who claimed the Christian faith, while the traditionally dominant religions, Buddhism and Shintoism, though still claimed by many adults, suffered declines among teen-agers.
Some respondents answered that they belonged to more than one religion.
"In my 50 years of polling, there has been no study that I would consider as important as this one, because it provides insight into a fascinating culture," George Gallup Jr. said in a news release.
The poll, conducted in association with American Trademark Research and MJM Group in 2001 for use in a documentary that is expected to be released later this year, yielded some surprising statistics on Japanese attitudes toward religion, morality and spirituality, they said.
Of the 30 percent of adults surveyed who claimed to have a religion, 75 percent considered themselves Buddhists, 19 percent Shintoists, while 12 percent considered themselves to be Christians. Adjusted for the entire population, including the non-religious, 6 percent are Christians.
Researchers were especially surprised at the large number of Japanese youth who claimed the Christian faith. Of the 20 percent who professed to have a religion, 60 percent called themselves Buddhists, 36 percent Christians and followers of the traditionally dominant Japanese religion, Shinto.
In using the "stunning" label, Gallup, who assisted with the poll, noted of teen-agers: "these projections mean that 7 percent of the total teen-age population say they are Christians."
The poll also delved into popular attitudes toward a variety of subjects related to morality, spirituality and general views about life.
"According to the social scientists in Japan, this was the single largest study ever attempted," said Bill McKay, one of the documentary's producers and project research director. "The entire study examined preteens, teens, young adults, adults and seniors."
McKay said they were warned by Japanese experts that the design of the questionnaire, which included socially delicate and highly personal questions, would not be answered by their targeted group.
"However, it was our professional hunch that the Japanese were ready to talk and when they did they told us more than we had asked for," McKay said. "The data is the most revealing look behind the face of Japan and shatters many WWII myths of the Japanese culture."
Pollster Gallup agreed.
"Most Japanese, judging by their responses to scales on happiness, are neither "very happy," nor "very unhappy," he said. "There is a degree of fatalism in their somber mood. Teen's perspectives on life tend to a sense of nihilism to an alarming degree. A note of hopelessness is found in the responses to a number of questions. And there is little evidence of eternal hope, although a considerable number do believe in some form of life after life."
On matters of morality, Gallup noted a strong relativistic streak.
"Like much of the rest of the world, the Japanese tend to take relativistic views on ethical matters," the pollster said. "There is little belief in 'absolutes,' and this is true across the all-generational groups. In the 'hierarchy of crimes,' those related to economic and family matters far outweigh those related to sexual activity."
Researchers were also surprised by teen attitudes which reflected an especially pessimistic outlook on life. While 22 percent of U.S. teens in previous Gallup surveys often wondered why they existed, the number for Japanese teens was 85 percent. Similarly, while 76 percent of U.S. teens always see a reason for their being on Earth, only 13 percent of Japanese teens agreed with the statement.
A surprisingly high 11 percent of Japanese teens wished they had never been born, a figure that comes in at 3 percent for U.S. teens.