Why Did Rei Go to a Christian School?

Rei, the Shinto Priestess

Rei, the Shinto Priestess

One interesting issue regarding the character of Rei that is often pointed out among fans as an “inconsistency” is the slight oddity that a Shinto priestess would be attending a Christian junior high school. As we can see in multiple issues in the manga and continuously throughout the anime, Rei is a rather gifted young woman with mystical powers allowing her to sense evil, have premonitions, and otherwise engage in other experiences we’d typically describe as a “sixth sense.” Beyond that, Rei frequently performs fire readings and performs the role of a miko (巫女; shrine priestess)1 in carrying out Shinto rituals at the shrine. Taking all of this together, it may seem a bit strange at first glance that Rei would attend a Christian school. However, taking the situation and status of private schools in Japan, it’s not actually all that surprising. Let’s take a closer look!

Rei's School in the manga

Rei’s School in the manga

First off, we should establish some of the basic facts on religion in Japan. As you may already know, Shintoism and Buddhism are the two major religions of Japan, which 79.2% and 66.8% of the population believes in, respectively, with Christianity pulling up a distant third place at 1.5%.2 Now, what you probably noticed right away is that these numbers exceed 100% (by quite a bit), and that is where the first interesting detail comes up: though the above numbers would imply that the vast majority of the Japanese population identifies with a religion, according to a survey carried out by the Yomiuri Shimbun in 2005 asking “Do you believe in a religion?”, over 75% of respondents answered that they do not.3

It’s actually incredibly common in Japan for families to integrate parts and traditions of various religions into their lives as they see fit without particularly thinking too deeply about it. In fact, there’s a common saying in Japanese that (paraphrased):

神道で生まれ、キリストで結婚し、仏教で死ぬ
You are born Shinto, marry Christian, and die Buddhist

The idea here is that you take what you like about the customs and tradition of a variety of religions and apply them to your life as may be applicable. Shinto is a religion which celebrates life in nature and the world around you, Christianity holds many romantic notions concerning marriage and the bond between you, your spouse, and an eternal bond, and Buddhism teaches that you will either be reincarnated after death or live on as a spirit to watch over your relatives — all of which are desirable for each major life event. In fact, despite Christianity making up a tiny 1.5% of the self-identified beliefs in Japan, 55% of brides surveyed in 2014 stated that they held a Christian wedding.4

Rei – Not Terribly Christian

Rei – Not Terribly Christian

It’s probably obvious at this point that what we’re getting at is that the fact that Rei is a not only a believer in, but a practitioner of Shintoism and yet attends a Christian school at the same time is not terribly significant. In fact, though, if we look into this further it actually makes sense that Rei would attend a Christian school and not one in line with the beliefs found in Shintoism or even Buddhism.

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As with wedding ceremonies mentioned above, though belief in Christianity is an incredibly small minority in Japan, 1.5% of all of the schools in Japan (from elementary to university/college) are Christian, compared to 0.03% and 0.64% for Shintoism and Buddhism respectively.5 When you consider that, taken as a whole, only 8.63% of Japanese schools are private (2.27% of the total being affiliated with a religion), nearly one in six private schools in Japan is affiliated with Christianity. Seeing that Rei’s father was a politician in the manga,6 it would make sense that he would want his daughter to attend a well-regarded and highly ranked school.

As we discussed previously, Toyo Eiwa Junior High School / High School is the basis for Rei’s school, TA Gakuin. The school is located on a beautiful campus in the Minato ward area near where the events of Sailor Moon take place and boasts a respectable point differential (偏差値; hensachi) score of 68 — a score given to schools throughout Japan used for determining relative difficulty and rank, with the statistical baseline average being 50.7

Last but not least — though not necessarily involved in Rei’s choice in choosing to attend a Christian school over some other religion-affiliated private school — is an anecdote in Toshiaki Tachibanaki’s book “Religion and Schools,”8 which reads:

信者作りには失敗したが、シンパ作りは大成功。学校設立の目的は十分達せられたというべきだろう。そんな雰囲気は現在もつづいており、進学を前にした女子中学生たちの間で好ましい進学先、そうでない進学先として「3K」「3B」がいわれているそうだ。

Though [religious schools] have failed in creating followers, they have achieved massive success in creating sympathizers, which you could say is a significant success in creating these schools. This atmosphere continues even today among junior high school girls when choosing desirable and undesirable schools, which they refer to as the “3K” and the “3B,” respectively.

He goes on to explain:

Kは「キリスト教系・かわいい・かねもち」、Bは「仏教系・ぶす・びんぼう」。
K meaning “kirisutokyo (Christian), kawaii (cute), kanemochi (rich)” and B meaning “bukkyo (Buddhist), busu (ugly), binbo (poor).”

So, going back to the original question, it actually makes a lot of sense why Rei isn’t attending a Shinto school, and moreover it makes sense that she would be attending this respected Christian school she ended up in, especially when you consider how Japanese culture tends to look at religious affiliation as more of a series of traditions and customs and less of a way of life or actual belief. It’s actually pretty interesting when you look into it!

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17 thoughts on “Why Did Rei Go to a Christian School?

  1. I think it’s interesting how they decided Rei would attend a different school from the others… wasn’t it more simple, logistically speaking, to have all of the senshi attend the same school? I understand Minako would attend another school partially to preserve her mysterious aura as Sailor V and it also makes sense she’d be on her own considering all of her backstory, etc. But Rei was one of the first three senshi, she was a big part of the first season along with Usagi and Ami… wasn’t it more simple to have her at Usagi and Ami’s school to include her in all of the school’s dynamics? Still, they always try to plug her in somehow, but some times it seems clunky as most of the dynamics start from conversations they had in school, etc.
    But then in Stars, Minako is attending the same school as the others… Rei still isn’t!
    I get the fact that attending a private school would add more charm to her character for the japanese audience but, other than that… I think, even in Stars, they tried to include Rei in some of the dynamics with the Three Lights, but it seems a bit… forced, should I say? I even remember an episode when she’s like ‘i’m skipping my class to go to Usagi’s school because the Three Lights are here”… I mean…
    We might also add that in season 1 most of the dynamics start at school with Naru and Umino being more prominent there (so no need for an Usagi/Rei/Ami interaction?) then, as time pass, most of the dynamics start somewhere else where all the senshi are together (example: at Unazuki’s cafè or at Rei’s shrine). Then in Sailor Stars, school is again a focal point with the Three Lights being there. Oh, well…

  2. I always felt sorry for the fact Rei went to a different school, and as a result was a bit left out of the others class antics. It made her feel more like an outsider. Been nice if at least one of the others say, Hotaru had joined her.

    That said, I did find her ‘popping up’ at random, amusing.

    • The added reality check that not all of them went to the same class was nice, but I agree that it kinda sucked that Rei was pulled out of the story by not being able to interact with the rest of the cast during and immediately after school.
      Even though Minako also went to another school, they often just kinda completely glossed over the fact. I always found that to be really weird.

      • Well, Minako went at least to the same high school, which makes poor Rei even more of an outsider. And didn’t go Haruka and Michiru to that school in the end?

        Btw. may I ask where you got the percentage of private schools from? I’m not implying in the least it’s wrong. I was just so surprised to read it because Tokyo and other major cities have so many of them that I’d guessed a percentage closer to 30%.

        • No worries about asking about the source – the information comes from the same source as footnote 5, so I didn’t bother to credit it twice (but I could have been more clear)!
          (page 4 at this source)

          Also, thanks for calling my attention to this. It seems the download link was broken, but it should be fixed now.

          • Thank you for your reply. Very interesting, indeed.

            When I happen to have some time, I should try to calculate the percentage just for Tokyo-to or Tokyo 23 Ku.

            By the way, I’m surprised that there are Shinto schools at all. I do wonder what they base their specific education guidelines on. Christianity has “Love thy neighbours” (I don’t mean the stupid anti-LGBT doctrine), Buddhism its “Show love and mercy towards all”, new religions have their rules of conduct on which to base education. But shinto? Which is more a bundle of traditions and customs than giving people rules how to be in daily life. (And, believe me, I don’t mean it derogatory. I’ve just never heard of any conduct rules usable for education.)

          • I was curious about the accuracy myself, so I re-ran the numbers for all of Japan using stats from here (source), which relies on statistics from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

            Excluding universities and kindergartens, we get the following numbers:

            Elementary school: 74 national; 21,713 public; 213 private (= 1% of schools are private)
            Junior high school: 75 national; 9,982 public; 758 private (= 8% of schools are private)
            High school: 15 national; 3,780 public; 1,321 private (= 35% of schools are private)

            Total: 164 national; 35,475 public; 2,292 private (= 6% of schools are private)

            So! I’d say the numbers check out, more or less, but you’re right that Japan seems to have a lot of private schools. However, that only applies once you get to the high school and university level. Down at junior high school, where Rei is, it should be around 8%-ish.

            As for being baffled about there even being Shinto schools at all? =p I totally agree. Shinto is only a religion in the loosest sense of the term, having no real tenets.

          • Ohayou and thank you. There you got me. Of course, Rei is still a jhs student. And as jhs is compulsory, the municipalities had to set up public schools, whether they liked it or not. So, of course, the number should be far lower.

            But hs was and is an option so there was no reason to set up a kenritsu or kokuritsu or so koukou for every kid. So that is where missionaries and others came in and started to offer further going education especially for girls.

  3. The live action series adds another layer by having Rei’s mother buried at a Christian church. Rei prays at her mother’s grave, and the attending priest seems familiar with Rei and her family. This would heavily imply that Rei’s mother was Christian, possibly making the choice of school more personal than academic.

    Minako also visits and prays at the same church (for her own reasons), which was never really explained unless Minako was messing with Rei some more.

    • The live action series definitely makes this whole thing all the more complicated with the whole Christian angle.
      What’s more, her grave marker is in the form of a cross (and there’s even another cross above where her name is inscribed), so I think it’s pretty clear that her mother is Christian. So confusing!

      • Actually not. Especially if her mum also went to T.A. or another Christian school, she could easily have been converted to Christianity. Some hs girls I knew who went to a Lutheran school in my town got baptized, too. I would have been more surprised if there had been a foreign character or a hafu raised abroad who had suddenly become the miko of Hikawa Shrine.

        As for the praying, it’s Japan! As simple as that. My own daughter loves to go to church on Sundays, still she has no scruples whatsoever and do her hand clapping at the local shrine to say hello to the god or goddess there. You may not think too American or whereever you are from.

        • As for someone as deeply spiritual as Rei, I’m not sure I can agree that she would look at praying as casually as “just something to do.” We see plenty of scenes of her meditating before the fire at the Hikawa shrine. I’m pretty sure she thinks of it as an important, spiritual way of communing with the spirits.

          • I don’t know, I always just saw it as an ohaka-mairi. Christianity seems to have been important to her mum, and she knows the customs due to her school and respects her mum’s belief.

            My Japanese family knows I consider myself Christian, still they want me to give my due respects to their butsudan and an ojiichan whom I only know from stories. I do it every time to make them happy and pay my respect to his eternal soul, still that doesn’t make me a Buddhist as praying at her mum’s grave wouldn’t compromise Rei’s spirituality.

          • It’s pretty clear that Rei herself isn’t Christian. Spirituality appears to be very important to Rei across all versions, so it makes sense she observes Christian traditions when mourning her mother because that’s what her mother believed in (aka honouring her mother). It just adds another layer to puzzle about Rei. PGSM is a separate canon from all other versions, but it is an elaboration to a minor character with no conflicting history in any other version. Naoko Takeuchi was also definitely involved with PGSM, although I don’t think there’s much information about how much creative input she had. It’s possible that Risa Hino’s religion is consistent across all versions and simply never came up. What a headache. XD

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