Until the 1990s, a commonly held view in Japan was that Buddhism had withdrawn from public space, or that Buddhism had become a private concern. Although Buddhist organizations conducted relief and support activities for the people affected at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995, they were often seen to be out of place, and little attention was given to them by the media. However recently there are areas in which Buddhism can be seen as playing new roles in the public sphere. Religious organizations seem to be expected to perform functions in fields that lie outside the narrow definition of religion. These expectations are becoming stronger among Buddhist organizations as well. In this paper, I describe some areas in the public sphere in which Buddhist groups are starting to play important roles including disaster relief, support of the poor and people without relatives, provision of palliative care and spiritual care, and involvement in environmental and nuclear plant issues.