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Religious study to combat 'spiritual vagrancy'

Japan's new education minister plans to reintroduce religious studies and patriot classes into schools for the first time since the end of World War Two.

Religious studies, although they are banned by law, are seen as an answer to some of the country's social woes.

The teaching of the state religion Shintoism was dropped from the curriculum, and then all religion was later banned, after pressure from occupying US forces. The adherence to Emperor worship was considered one of the main spurs to Japan's wartime ambitions.

But now the climate is changing. "Japanese society is closed to religion and people risk becoming spiritual vagrants if things continue as they are.

A minimum level of religious education should be considered a type of public good," said Professor of education Makoto Oishi of Kyoto University.

The new minister, Takeo Kawamura, said he wants schools to adopt some religious studies along with a teaching of "love for one's country". He is viewed as a nationalist even by the deeply conservative ruling Liberal Democractic party.

But such a change will not come easily. His predecessor's attempt to introduce a similar bill was defeated by the LDP's coalition partner Komeito.

"It is important (for the Japanese) to regain patriotism," Mr Kawamura told the Japan Times. "It is unfortunate that people came to connect the concept to war." Japan's constitution drawn up during its American occupation in 1945 forbids schools from teaching any one religion. Since then most teachers have steered clear of religious studies altogether, though some teach it as part of social studies.

Kawamura said he had no plans to reintroduce the study of Shinto, which has its roots in animism and whose chief minister is, historically speaking, the Emperor.

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