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!
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):
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
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.
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:
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 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!
- See Miko (Wikipedia) ↩
- See CIA World Factbook: Japan ↩
- See Religions of Japan: Current Situation (Wikipedia) ↩
- See 2014 Wedding Trends Survey carried out by Zexy ↩
- See Tokyo University Department of Education Material Summer – Vol. 53; 2013 ↩
- As noted in the special issue in volume 11 of the manga, Casablanca Memories ↩
- See Shiritasu Private Junior High School Evaluation ↩
- For a summary of the book in Japanese, see Daily Shincho ↩