Buddhism in Japan (日本の仏教)

Buddhism in Japan

Japan is one of the largest Buddhist countries with about 96 million adherents (Agency for Cultural Affairs, 'Shukyo Nenkan' [Annual Statistics of Religion]). There are estimated to be about 75,000 temples and more than 300,000 Buddhist statues, more than those of other Buddhist countries. Japan also has the oldest wooden temple in the world, Horyu-ji Temple, as well as the oldest Buddhist scriptures. On the other hand, most Japanese these days do not have a specific religion or religious beliefs, and have few opportunities to be conscious of themselves as Buddhists.

Genealogy and Sects

Japanese Buddhism includes many sects. This section describes the genealogy and sects of the thirteen sects of the traditional so-called thirteen sects and fifty-six schools.

For sects other than the thirteen sects, those which split and became independent from the thirteen sects or other sects, the fifty-six schools or other schools, and relatively recent new religions derived from Buddhism, refer to the respective articles.

Nara Buddhism line (Nanto Rokushu, or the Six Sects of Nara)
Kegon sect: founders (in Japan) included 'Shinjo', head temple is Todai-ji Temple. Hosso sect: founded by 'Dosho' (his name could be written 道昭 or 道照), head temples include Kofuku-ji Temple and Yakushi-ji Temple. Ritsu sect: founded by the high priest 'Jianzhen' (Ganjin in Japanese), head temple is Toshodai-ji Temple.

Heian Buddhism (the Two Heian Sects) and Esoteric Buddhism lines
Shingon sect (Tomitsu): founded by Kobo Daishi 'Kukai', head temples include To-ji Temple on Mt. Hachiman and Kongobu-ji Temple on Mt. Koya. Tendai sect (Taimitsu): also called the Hokke En Sect, founded by Dengyo Daishi 'Saicho', head temples include Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei.

Hokke line (the Hokke line of Kamakura Buddhism)
Nichiren sect: founded by Rissho Daishi 'Nichiren', head temples include Kuon-ji Temple on Mt. Minobu.

Jodo line (the Jodo line of Kamakura Buddhism)
Jodo sect: founded by Enko Daishi 'Honen' (also called Genku, Kurodani Shonin and Yoshimizu Shonin), head temples include Chionin Temple on Mt. Kacho, Komyo-ji Temple on Mt. Hokoku (Nagaokakyo City), also known as Awafu Komyo-ji Temple, and Zenrin-ji Temple on Mt. Shojuraigo (Kyoto City). Jodo Shinshu sect: also called the Shinshu sect or the Ikko sect, founded by Kenshin Daishi 'Shinran' (Shinran Shonin), head temples include Hongan-ji Temple on Mt. Ryukoku (Nishi Hongan-ji Temple) and Shinshu Honbyo Mausoleum (Higashi Hongan-ji Temple). Yuzu Nenbutsu sect: also called the Dainenbutsu sect (it is also regarded as of the Heian Buddhism line), founded by Shodaishi 'Ryonin,' the head temple is Dainenbutsu-ji Temple. Ji sect: founded by Shojo Daishi and Ensho Daishi 'Ippen' (also called Ippen Shonin or Chishin), the head temple is the Shojoko-ji Temple on Mt. Fujisawa (Yugyo-ji Temple).

Zen (the Zen line of Kamakura Buddhism) and Zen sect lines
Soto sect: founded by Joyo Daishi 'Dogen' (Dogen Zenji), head temples are Eihei-ji Temple on Mt. Kissho and Soji-ji Temple on Mt. Shogaku. Rinzai sect: founders (in Japan) included Senko Kokushi 'Eisai' (Eisai Zenji), head temples include Kennin-ji Temple, Enkaku-ji Temple, Myoshin-ji Temple, and Tofuku-ji Temple. Obaku sect: formerly the Obaku school of the Rinzai sect, founded by Shinku Daishi and Kako Daishi 'Ingen' (the origin of the Japanese word for kidney bean, 'ingenmame'), the head temple is Manpuku-ji Temple on Mt. Obaku.

Asuka Period

According to "Nihonshoki" (The Chronicles of Japan), Buddhism was introduced during the Asuka period when, in 552, King Seong of Baekje sent a gilt bronze statue of Buddha, sutras and other items. However, based on the phrases "the twelfth day of the tenth month in the year tsuchinoe-uma (583), during the reign of Emperor Kishishima (Kinmei)" in "Jogu Shotoku Hoo Teisetsu" (a biography of Prince Shotoku) and "the twelfth month of the year tsuchinoe-uma, the seventh year of the reign of Emperor Amekuni Oshiharuki Hironiwa (Kinmei)" in "Gango-ji Garan Engi" (a history of the origins of Gango-ji Temple), many people seem to think that Buddhism was introduced in 538. History textbooks show this year (for details, refer to the Official Introduction of Buddhism).

According to "Nihonshoki," the introduction of Buddhism caused an uproar. When Emperor Kinmei asked retainers about the pros and cons of Buddhism, Shintoists such as MONONOBE no Okoshi and NAKATOMI no Kamako were against it. On the other hand, SOGA no Iname said, "All people in countries to the West believe in Buddhism. How can Japanese people not help but believe in it?" and told him to convert to Buddhism. On hearing this, the Emperor gave Iname the Buddha statue, sutras and others. Iname changed his residence into a temple and worshipped the Buddha statue. After that, plagues became prevalent and Okoshi and the others, believing that 'because he worshipped a foreign god (Buddha), he has brought the wrath of the gods of the land down upon us', set fire to the temple and threw the statue into a canal at Nanba. The dispute over the pros and cons of Buddhism was continued by MONONOBE no Okoshi and SOGA no Iname's children (MONONOBE no Moriya and SOGA no Umako) and lasted until MONONOBE no Moriya was killed in the conflict concerning Emperor Yomei's successor. In this battle, Prince Umayado (later called Prince Shotoku) fought on the Umako side. Prince Umayado prayed to the Four Heavenly Kings ('shitenno' in Japanese) for victory in the battle and had Shitenno-ji Temple built in Settsu Province (Tennoji Ward, Osaka City) when his prayers were answered. Umako also prayed to various 'tenno' and 'shinno' (guardian deities), vowing that he would have temples built for them and spread the three treasures of Buddhism, or 'sanpo', if he were victorious. For this reason, Umako had Hoko-ji Temple (also known as Asuka-dera Temple, and called Gango-ji Temple after it moved to Nara) built. Prince Umayado played an active role in the introduction of Buddhism, writing the "Sankyogisho" commentaries on the three sutras of "Hokke-kyo" (the Lotus Sutra), "Yuimagyo" (Vimalakirti Sutra) and "Shomangyo" (Srimala Sutra) and the second article of the Seventeen-Article Constitution, which states, "Sincerely revere the three treasures; the three treasures are the Buddha, his laws and the priesthood". After that, Buddhism became a tool for the protection of the nation and the Imperial family willingly had temples built.

Emperor Tenmu had Daikandai-ji Temple (later Daian-ji Temple) built and Emperor Jito had Yakushi-ji Temple built. Such movements reached a peak during the reign of Emperor Shomu.

Nara Period

In accordance with the development of Buddhism in China and Japan, the 'soni-ryo' or Monks and Nuns Act, which determined the regulation of monks and nuns (not of Buddhism itself) was introduced as part of Ritsuryo law. However, it is interesting that, while in China the priesthood was persecuted for opposing Confucian ethics by destroying the order of the 'family', in Japan it was incorporated into the bureaucracy through the 'soni-ryo' and the Sogo (Office of Monastic Affairs) and official certification system under the concept of 'nation protection' (priests with ranks such as 'Sojo' or 'Sozu' were government officials, or 'sokan', literally 'priest officials', under the Ritsuryo system). In addition, it is also thought that such regulation was different between official temples built by nation and private temples built by nobles and common people. It is controversial how regulation against the latter was implemented.

As a result, the Sanron, Jojitsu, Hosso, Kusha, Ritsu and Kegon sects, known as the 'Nanto Rokusho', became dominant. In addition, Emperor Shomu abdicated in favor of Emperor Koken and became a priest. Emperor Shomu, influenced by Empress Komyo, was deeply religious. Therefore, he ordered the construction of provincial monasteries and nunneries and had the statue of the Buddha Vairocana (Birushana in Japanese) made in Todai-ji Temple, a provincial temple in Yamato Province. The retired Emperor Shomu became a priest and even called himself 'a servant of the three treasures'. As Buddhism became established, there arose the theory of 'honji-suijaku' in which Japanese gods were held to actually be incarnations of Buddha. The 'honji' (true form of the Buddha) for various gods were decided upon and sometimes images of gods were based on monks. However, as Buddhism gained popularity, the number of priests who ignored religious precepts increased, so that Jianzhen was invited during Emperor Shomu's reign. Jianzhen set up a 'kaidan' (ordination platform) at Todai-ji Temple and gave precepts to priests. The Emperor Shomu was also given precepts by Jianzhen. Jianzhen had the Toshodai-ji Temple built and lived there.

Heian Period

Later, these temples began to get involved in politics. Emperor Kanmu moved the capital to Heian-kyo (present-day Kyoto) in order to weaken their influence and sent Kukai and Saicho to China with the Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty to learn Esoteric Buddhism. He wanted to use new Buddhism to oppose the old Buddhism of Nara. He gave Mt. Hiei to Saicho (the Tendai sect) and Mt. Koya to Kukai (the Shingon sect), and made them found temples to spread Esoteric Buddhism. The middle of the Heian period saw the two thousandth anniversary of the Buddha's death. It was thought that after one thousand years of 'Shobo' (True Dharma) and one thousand years of 'Zobo' (Imitation Dharma), the age of Mappo (Final Dharma), the dark age when Buddhism perished, would begin. In the age of Mappo, nobody would be able to attain enlightenment no matter how hard they tried. The country would decline, the people's hearts would become barren and they could not expect happiness in this world. This situation led to the popularity of Jodo-shinko (Pure Land Buddhism), which prayed for happiness in the after life. The nobles relied on Amida Buddha and, hoping to be welcomed to the Sukhavati paradise, had many 'raigo-zu' (images of the Amida Buddha's descent to welcome the dying) drawn and ultimately had Byodo-in Temple built at Uji. The temple's Hoo-do Hall (Phoenix Hall) was a copy of the Amida Buddha's palace in Sukhavati. However, towards the end of the Heian period, social unrest spread and there was an increased risk of large temples, which owned vast tracts of land and had grown wealthy, attracting thieves. As a result, both priests and the laity took up arms, becoming known as 'sohei' (warrior monks), to guard against invaders from outside. However, the sohei themselves, aiming to expand their power, gradually developed into armed forces. This use of military force to attack opposing sects and temples and to influence the Imperial Court became another source of social unrest. In addition, fortified temples with stone walls and moats within the precincts began to appear.

Kamakura Period

In the Kamakura period, disturbances which had continued from the end of the previous period resulted in a change in Buddhism. Although mainstream Buddhism had emphasized ceremonies and study for the nation and nobles under the name of 'nation protection,' it gradually changed to emphasize salvation of the common people. Centered on the priests who studied at Mt. Hiei, a popularization of Buddhism popular was planned and new sects were established. Unlike conventional sects, these sects preached a simple teaching ('igyo', literally 'easy progress') which could be practiced by lay believers in their spare time instead of difficult theories and severe ascetic practices. These sects included the Nichiren sect, which taught that people could find salvation by reciting the nenbutsu (Buddhist invocation) 'Nam Myoho Renge-kyo'; the Jodo sect, which taught that people could find salvation by reciting 'Namu Amidabutsu' continuously (Invocation of the Buddha's Name); the Jodo Shinshu sect (the Ikko sect), which taught Akuninshoki, a teaching that 'if good people, that is, pure people without any Bonno, or earthly desires, can be reborn in the Pure Land, how much more so for evil people, that is, people with Bonno'; the Yuzu Nenbutsu sect, which recommended reciting the nenbutsu while dancing; and the Ji sect. In this way, a flood of new sects appeared during the Kamakura period. These sects had all been suppressed by conventional sects until they had become established but, at the same time, they led innovations in the old religious sects. Even amidst all the denunciation, Nichiren of the Nichiren sect was famous for his radicalism. Since it criticized other sects and insisted that the nation would be ruined without reciting the Nichiren chant, it was strongly suppressed by the shogunate. However, after it spread down to the common people, this suppression was gradually reduced.

The Kamakura period was a time when the samurai were usurping power from the nobility and gradually gaining strength. In this period, the two Zen sects of the Rinzai sect and the Soto sect were introduced from China one after another. Since these sects were favored by the increasingly powerful samurai, many Zen temples were built in Kamakura and other places, where they flourished.
Among them, the five major temples were called the 'Kamakura Gozan Temples.'
In addition, Kokan Shiren wrote "Genko shakusho", a history of Buddhism.

Moreover, criticism of the existing situation increased among conventional Buddhism sects. Some sects, in particular the Ritsu sect and its off-shoot the Shingon Ritsu sect, were even more reform-minded than the new sects, for example, not only did they participate in the salvation of the common people through social work but also rejected the state-proscribed kaidan and began their own original 'jukai' (handing down the precepts) ceremonies.

Northern and Southern Courts period to Muromachi period

The Kamakura shogunate fell in 1333 and, from the period of the Northern and Southern Courts to the Muromachi period, the center of politics moved to Kyoto. After the fall of the Kamakura shogunate, Emperor Godaigo instigated the Kenmu Restoration. The Gozan system was changed from Kamakura temples to Kyoto temples, becoming the Kyoto Gozan. After Takauji ASHIKAGA established a military government in Kyoto, the five temples of the Zen sect, which had long been popular among samurai, were established and the Rinzai sect came under the protection of the shogunate. At the beginning of the Muromachi period, the Zen sect, such as Nanzen-ji Temple, and the old Buddhist groups, such as Enryaku-ji Temple, often clashed, causing political problems for the new shogunate. In addition, Soseki MUSO and his disciple Myoha SHUNOKU, who cooperated with Takauji's dispatching of trade vessels to the Yuan dynasty in order to raise funds to build Tenryu-ji Temple, also had political influence. When the third Shogun, Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA, opened trade between Japan and the Ming Dynasty in China, their disciples worked as advisers on diplomacy. This coming together of samurai and Buddhist society influenced both aristocratic and samurai culture. This fusion can be seen in the Kitayama culture, such as Rokuon-ji Temple (Kinkaku-ji Temple), of Yoshimitsu's rule and the Higashiyama culture, such as Jisho-ji Temple (Ginkaku-ji Temple), of Yoshimasa ASHIKAGA's rule. The culture of the Muromachi period also saw the birth of many aspect of Japanese culture that remain today, including 'suibokuga' ink-wash painting, the 'shoin-zukuri' style of residential architecture, the Japanese tea ceremony, ikebana flower arrangement and dry landscape gardens. In addition, in order to secure a stable income, some temples entered the money lending business, using revenue from their territories and from 'shidosen' (mortuary donations) as capital. Moreover, some people entrusted their money to temples, which at that time were becoming fortified, and this money was also used as capital. However, sometimes people who could not bear the high interest rates rose up demanding cancellation of debt (tokusei ikki) and attacked the temples.

The Soto sect was influential in the provinces and among common people. The Nichiren sect spread amongst the merchants and traders of Kyoto. In addition, Rennyo of the Jodo Shinshu sect and Nisshin of the Nichiren sect were famous propagandists of the time. Later, the Honganji Kyodan organization, which was revived and established by Rennyo of the Jodo Shinshu sect after overcoming obstructions from Mt. Hiei amongst others, set up a powerful lay organization called Monto, which came to be equal to the sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lord) who replaced the shugo daimyo after the Onin War. Moreover, under the name 'Ikko sect' (although 'Ikko sect' can also refer to sects other than the Jodo Shinshu sect) and united by faith, they reduced the power of the traditional shugo daimyo. Most notably, the well-known uprisings (Ikko Ikki) by Ikko sect followers, such as that in Kaga Province put pressure on the shugo daimyo and led to expanded autonomy (mainly in jurisdiction and the right to collect taxes). For this reason, sengoku daimyo who hoped to expand their control, were forced to choose between compromise or conflict with these groups, with most of them choosing to compromise.

Among the Ikko Ikki in various provinces, Gansho-ji Temple in Nagashima, Ise Province in particular fought against Nobunaga ODA with great tenacity. Later, Nobunaga slaughtered the inhabitants and destroyed the temple. Moreover, Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple, the headquarters of Ikko followers, grew into an organization that was a strong as the sengoku daimyo families. However, during Kennyo's time, it became mired in war, (known as the 'Ishiyama War'), for ten years (including a ceasefire) and withdrew from Ishiyama. Additionally, in Mikawa Province, where Ikko followers were especially powerful, they were suppressed by the young Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, causing a conflict that split the movement in two. There is also a famous story that Nobunaga ODA held a religious debate (known as the Azuchi shuron) between priests of the Nichiren sect and priests of the Jodo sect, declaring the Jodo sect the winner. It is said that in this debate he handed down a judgment favorable to the Jodo sect because he was tired of the aimed Nichiren sect's conflicts with other sects.

Azuchi-Momoyama Period

Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI built Osaka-jo Castle on the site of Ishiyama Hongan-ji Temple, but he basically tried to remain on good terms with temples. For example, he dispatched his younger brother, Hidenaga TOYOTOMI, to Yamato Province, where war had caused a great deal of damage to the temples but the warrior monks still held a lot of influence, and was able to bring about a peaceful settlement. In addition, he carried out a 'Sword Hunt' confiscating the weapons not only of peasants but also of temples, which played apart in the disarmament of temples. The regulation and disarmament of temples would also be a big issue for the Edo shogunate.

Edo Period

Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, who seized power after the death of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, regulated Buddhism by enacting the 'jiin shohatto' (temples law) and assigning jisha-bugyo (magistrates of temples and shrines). In addition, under the 'terauke seido' (temple guarantee system), people were forced to register with any temple. The results of this can be seen in Buddhism's position as the primary religion for performing funerals. Ingen, who came to Japan from Ming China in 1654, spread the Obaku sect. Taking advantage of a succession dispute within the Jodo Shinshu sect, which was the largest Buddhist sect at the time, he made it split into 'east' and 'west', which resulted in the weakening of the sect.

Meiji Period

In the latter part of the Edo period, the study of Japanese classical literature was begun by Norinaga MOTOORI, which led to the Meiji restoration. The Meiji government, which was influenced by the study of Japanese classical literature, was established by people from the former Choshu Domain. For this reason, the restoration of imperial rule and the transfer of political power back to the Emperor saw the new government introduce policies promoting Shinto, which together with the nationwide anti-Buddhist haibutsu-kishaku movement, led to a decrease in the number of temples. In 1871, the Meiji government issued a 'Dajokan tasshi' (Grand Council of State proclamation) abolishing the Fuke sect to which the mendicant 'komuso' monks belonged. In addition, the propagation of Fuju-fuse School, whose members believed nothing should be received from (fuju) or given to (fuse) those of other beliefs, and Christianity was legalized. Each Buddhism sect promoted modernization and undertook social welfare work and educational work such as establishing universities.

Showa Period to Today

The modern government had controlled religion by Daijokan proclamation, fragmentary laws and regulations, and administrative notifications since the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order. The Religious Organization Law of 1939 was the first integrated law. In the process of establishing the State Shinto system, shrines were treated under public law as artificial corporations rather than religions. However, religious bodies such as Buddhism, Sect Shinto and Christianity were not treated as public interest corporations under civil law. The necessity of a law on religion was also recognized in political world. The first draft law on religion was proposed in the House of Peers in 1899, but was rejected. Another draft law of religion was proposed to parliament in 1927 and 1929, but they never got to the debating stage. With the enactment of the Religious Organizations Act, general religious groups became legal entities for the first time and Christianity also gained legal status for the first time, but it was a very restrictive and controlling law.

After World War II, the Religious Corporation Ordinance was established and enforced on December 28, 1945, and the regulations on religious corporations were abolished. The Religious Corporation Ordinance was abolished in 1951 and the Religious Corporation Act, which introduced a certification system, was established. The Aum Shinrikyo incident triggered amendments to the Religious Corporation Act in 1995.