Source: The Japan Times
'The Japanese are, it is true, commonly said to be an irreligious people. They say so themselves. . . . The average, even educated European strikes the average educated Japanese as strangely superstitious, unaccountably occupied with supra-mundane matters. The Japanese simply cannot be brought to comprehend how a 'mere person' such as the Pope, or even the Archbishop of Canterbury, occupies the place he does in politics and society."
The above is a fascinating account of the Japanese outlook on religion, as accurate today, to my mind, as it was when Prof. Basil Hall Chamberlain, the pre-eminent British Japan scholar of his day, published it with The Rationalist Press Association of London in 1912.
The Japanese, as of 2007, may not be the only developed nation of people who would call themselves "irreligious," or, at least, "areligious" (the Chinese are certainly in this category), but they were undoubtedly the first.
Development since the very earliest years of the Industrial Revolution was powered by the Judeo-Christian ethic; and the Europeans in its vanguard were just as keen on converting those they conquered in the name of "progress" as they were in exploiting them.