Official introduction of Buddhism (仏教公伝)

The expression "Official introduction of Buddhism" refers to the introduction of Buddhism through official negotiation between nations. In Japan, it generally refers to the official introduction of Buddhism from Baekje to Wa (ancient Japan) in the era of the Emperor Kinmei which was in the middle of the sixth century. This article describes this official introduction. Although it is sometimes called simply 'introduction of Buddhism,' the expression 'official introduction' is often used because it had been already introduced as a private belief before the official introduction as mentioned below.

The situation before the official introduction
Buddhism, which began in northern India as a world religion, is mainly categorized into Theravada Buddhism (Nanden bukkyo [Buddhism that spread from India to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia]) which spread in southeast Asia (Khmer Dynasty, Sriwijaya Kingdom), and Mahayana Buddhism (Hokuden bukkyo [Buddhism that spread from India to northern Asia]) which spread to China, the Korean peninsula, and other regions through the western regions of China (Central Asia). The one which was introduced to Wa was the latter. The Buddhism which was introduced to China around the first century A.D. developed independently in the aspects of religious precept and interpretation of dharma without regard to a literal succession of original Buddhism. Especially, the fulfilling Chinese Buddhist scriptures translated by Kumaraju in the fourth century gave a great impact on the spread of Hokuden bukkyo in the surrounding countries where kanji (Chinese characters) was used as common international writing. In the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (China), keigaku (study of Keisho in Confucianism) such as the Sanron sect and the Jojitsu sect became popular, and such stream was further transmitted to east. There appeared emperors who eagerly worked for the spread of Buddhism, such as the Emperor Kobun in the Northern Wei Dynasty and Sho En in the Liang (Southern Dynasty) who was called 'the Emperor Bosatsu' (Bodhisattva), which accelerated the spread in the surrounding countries.

The acceptance of Buddhism in the three Korean countries
In the Korean peninsula, which was split into three countries in ancient times, official introduction of Buddhism was implemented separately in the respective countries. It is said that it was introduced to Koguryo, which was the northernmost country, as early as in 372 during the era of the King Shojurin from Former Qin. In 375, Shomin-ji (肖門寺) Temple, Ifutsuran-ji Temple, and others were built.

In Baekje, which became an ally of Wa, the King Chinryu invited a high priest Marananta from the Eastern Jin in 384, which was a little later than the spread to Koguryo. In 392 King Ashin (阿シン) declared an order to believe Buddhism within the country. However, it was at the beginning of the sixth century, one century later, that Buddhism was really spread in Baekje.

In the other country, Silla, it is said that Buddhism was introduced from Koguryo around the beginning of the fifth century, which was later than the introduction in the above two countries. After it was officially admitted in the era of King Hoko, Buddhism promotion policy was implemented by the nation combined with exchange with the Liang of the Southern Dynasty.

Private worship by toraijin (people from overseas, especially from China and Korea, who settled in early Japan and introduced Continental culture to the Japanese)
In the ancient Japan, toraijin had continuously come to Japan and most of them were from the Korean peninsula. When they settled in Japan, they formed a clan. It seems that they brought Buddhism as a private belief inside the clan, and that some people worshipped Buddha. It seems that Buddha statues and Buddhist scriptures had been already brought by them before the official introduction of Buddhism. Datto SHIBA (the grandfather of KURATSUKURI no Tori), who was considered to have come to Japan in 522, was a good example.
According to "Fuso Ryakki" (A Brief History of Japan), he placed honzon (principal image of Buddha) at the Takaichi County in the Yamato Province and worshipped 'Chinese god.'

Official introduction of Buddhism and international situation at that time
After the latter part of the fourth century, Koguryo, Baekje, and Silla repeated cooperation and conflict each other. King Sei, who was enthroned in the early part of the sixth century, was conferred 'Jisetsu, Totoku, Military affairs of Baekje, Suito Shogun, Kudarao' (持節・都督・百済諸軍事・綏東将軍・百済王) by Han Wudi of the Liang of Southern Dynasty of China and held out against Koguryo with Silla at first. However, he had gradually been oppressed by Silla and the situation became tight as he was forced to change the capital from Ungjin to Shibi in 538. In order to fight against Silla, he often requested Wa to send reinforcements. Baekje's transmission of Buddhism to Wakoku (Japan) had an aspect that he utilized it as a tool to take an advantage in diplomacy with deepening the relationship by introducing the latest culture to Japan and gaining the favor of Han Wudi of Liang, who was fascinated with Buddhism, with a result of propagation to the eastern country.

Various theories on the year of official introduction
It is known that there are two kinds of theories on the year of official introduction of Buddhism to Japan, 552 and 538. Generally, the theory of 538 is more influential. However, not only these two theories but also various theories on the official introduction of Buddhism have been proposed to date. But it seems that there is little doubt that it was introduced in the era of the Emperor Kinmei, judging from the descriptions of various historical materials.

The theory of 552 (Jinshin)
According to "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) (hereafter, written as Shoki), the King Sei of Baekje sent a messenger in November 552 and presented Johyobun (memorial to the Emperor) to praise kudoku (merit) of propagating Buddhism with Buddha statue and Buddhist scriptures. This Johyobun is highly possible to be a modification in later years and there is a great doubt whether or not the descriptions of Shoki focused on Johyobun are reliable. However, some people say that the fact of the introduction in 552 must be true, because even if there was a modification of contents in later years, it cannot deny the existence of Johyobun itself immediately.

The theory of 538 (Bogo)
According to "Jogu Shotoku Hooteisetsu" (Biography of Shotoku Taishi) and "Gangoji Garan Engi" (The origin of the buildings of the Gango-ji Temple), Buddhism was introduced by Sho Myoo of Baekje in the 'Bogo year' during the era of the Emperor Kinmei. However, since there was no Bogo year of the Oriental zodiac during the reign of the Emperor Kinmei (540-571), it is thought that the nearest Bogo year, 538 (according to Shoki, the third year of the Emperor Senka) was most possible.

Various discussions on the two main theories
For the reason why Shoki described 552 as the year of introduction, various theories have been discussed since ancient times. In research of the Sanron sect line in later Nanto Buddhism, there appeared the reasons that that year was the 1501st year after the death of Shakyamuni and the first year of Mappo (Age of the Final Dharma), and that it corresponded to the first year of the second segment (Tazo toji kengo [the age of building temples and stupas]) of Zobo (Age of the Semblance Dharma) based on the separation of 500-year periods in "Mahsamnipata sutra." Therefore, the description of Shoki is considered to be fact-based and the theory of 538 is more influential. In addition, Han Wudi of Liang of the Southern Dynasty, who was dedicated to the spread of Buddhism, was confined at the Kokei's (侯景) War (548) and died in the following year, 549. This means that there was no more diplomatic meaning of the transition of Buddhism against Liang by Baekje as mentioned above, so that the theory of 552 by Shoki seems to have a problem.

However, some recent research considers that "Jogu Shotoku Hooteisetsu" and "Gangoji Garan Engi," which were thought to be written before Shoki and to have little modification, were written after Shoki (partly because the title of 'emperor' which was used in later years was already seen), so that their positions have not been established.
In addition, the emperor of Wa in 538 was the Emperor Senka, according to Shoki, which is inconsistent with the descriptions of books as 'Buddhism was officially introduced in the era of the Emperor Kinmei.'
As a result, Tatsusaburo HAYASHIYA and others even insisted a theory that Shoki modified the year in order to hide the fact that the Imperial Court was split into a group which supported the Emperor Ankan and the Emperor Senka and another which supported their younger half brother Emperor Kinmei (a theory of collateral two Imperial Courts) (For details, refer to the article on the Emperor Kinmei). The Emperor Keitai, who was those three emperor's father, was suspected of legitimacy because of his origin, so that he could not set a palace at Yamato for 20 years. In addition, in Shoki there is a description that 'The Japanese Emperor, the crown prince, and a prince were died at the same time,' which was cited from "Original records of Baekje." There is a contradiction of the years of the Emperor Ankan's and Kinmei's enthronements among the above three historical materials. For the above reasons, there are various theories.

Other theories
At one time, there were various theories on not only the year of the Emperor Kinmei's enthronement but also that of Shoo of Baekje, ranging from 513 to 527 ("Samguk Sagi" [History of the Three Kingdoms], Shoki, "Book of the Liang dynasty," "Shusho" [one of Nijushishi, 24 dynastic histories in China, in which a history of Northern Zhou is given], and "History of Northern Dynasties"). This has been one of the reasons for the difficulty in defining the introduction year of Buddhism. However, some people say that the Baekje side considered 'the 26th year of Shoo' was the introduction year of Buddhism to Wa, because 538 corresponds to the 26th year of Shoo based on the theory that he was enthroned in 513, and 552 also corresponds to the 26th year of Shoo based on the theory that he was enthroned in 527. Recently, it is almost sure that Shoo was enthroned in 523, according to which the 26th year of Shoo corresponds to 548, so that some people say that this is the year of the official introduction of Buddhism.

In addition, in Shoki there is a description that a Baekje king had a Buddha statue of 4.8m height produced for a Japanese emperor and presented it to Mimana in September 545. If this is true, it shows that the Wa side had already prepared to accept Buddhism, so that some theories emphasize this year. On the other hand, other people say that it is not so important to define any official introduction year among various theories, because the gifts of Buddha statue and Johyobun of the Baekje King were only a symbolic incident and the Buddhism itself was intermittently introduced many times without regard to the distinction between official or nonofficial.

In any event, each theory above has an advantage and disadvantage and it is difficult to say that the year of the official introduction of Buddhism has been defined. It would be an overall understanding to say that 'Buddhism was introduced by Shoo of Baekje in the era of the Emperor Kinmei around the sixth century' by integrating the common points of the respective theories.

The process of acceptance
The process of acceptance of Buddhism, which was introduced from Baekje through the above process, was not necessarily smooth in Wa after that.

Adashinokunokami (God believed in by foreigners) and Imakinokami (new god)
It seems that before Buddhism was introduced to Wa, there existed primitive Shinto (the Ancient Shinto) as a local religion (faith). It is not difficult to imagine that incarnations of Buddha, such as Nyorai (Tathagata), Bosatsu (Bodhisattva), and Myoo in newly coming Buddhism, were understood as the same entities as these gods. It seems that these were understood as 'Adashikuninokami,' 'Imakinokami' or 'Butsujin' by common Japanese people. Partly because the process of acceptance took the following twists and turns, the dharma of Buddhism itself as a different religion from Shinto began to be understood mainly after the seventh century.

Dispute on the worship of Buddha (Buddha worship)
Among Gozoku (local ruling family) of Yamato sovereignty (the ancient Japan sovereignty), there were many clans who were in charge of primitive Shinto. The Mononobe clan and the Nakatomi clan were famous among them and it is said that they were negative against the acceptance of Buddhism which was newly introduced. On the other hand, the Soga clan, Daigozoku (big local ruling family), was said to work together with toraijin group, to have an international vision, and to be aggressive to accept Buddhism because of the relationship with the countries of the Korean peninsula.

The Emperor Kinmei, who was introduced to Buddhism by the Baekje's king, was especially moved by the beauty of Buddha statue and asked his retainers, '"Buddha" of west countries has a look of dignity which I have never seen. I wonder whether we should worship it or not.'
Against this, SOGA no Iname recommended to accept it; 'All people in west countries believe in Buddhism. How can only Japanese people be against it?'
On the contrary, MONONOBE no Okoshi, NAKATOMI no Kamako, and others were said to oppose this as 'There are 180 gods in the world of this county under the king. If we worship Adashinokuninokami, we might suffer from the anger of this country's gods' (The dispute on the worship or the exclusion of Buddha). Seeing the difference between the two groups, the Emperor Kinmei gave up believing in Buddhism. He gave a Buddha statue to SOGA no Iname and allowed him to worship it in private and build a temple.
However, after the prevalence of plague just after that, the Mononobe clan, the Nakatomi clan, and others told the emperor that the plague broke out because the country's god got angry against 'Butsujin.'
It is said that the Emperor Kinmei gave a tacit approval to their abolishment of Buddha statues and the burning out of temples.

This is a common theory. However, a discovery of ancient structural remnants of Uji-dera Temple (temple built for praying clan's glory) (Shibukawa abolished temple) from the site of the residence in Kawachi, which was the base of the Mononobe clan, raised the possibility that even the Mononobe clan, whose official job was performing Shinto rituals, believed in Buddhism in private. The conventional idea to see the Mononobe clan simply as an anti-Buddhist faction deserves a new look. As a result, there are some theories which suspect the conventional common theory; for example, a theory that the dispute on the worship or the exclusion of Buddha was not a conflict on the acceptance or rejection of Buddhism, but a difference on whether or not to define Buddhism as an official 'national religious service', and another that the difference of the opinion against Buddhism was only a superficial problem and it was actually a power struggle between the Soga clan and the Mononobe clan in the Imperial Court.

A situation of acceptance after that
A conflict between SOGA no Iname and MONONOBE no Okoshi over Buddhism succeeded to their children SOGA no Umako and MONONOBE no Moriya. Umako received a support of toraijin and deepened the degree of acceptance of Buddhism. Tokudo (entrance into the Buddhist priesthood) of monks and nuns such as Zenshinni, a daughter of Datto SHIBA, was implemented. However, a plague prevailed again at the end of the era of the Emperor Bidatsu (Umako himself was affected). MONONOBE no Moriya, NAKATOMI no Katsumi, and others insisted that the plague was caused by worship of Buddhism by the Soga clan, and implemented a large-scale Haibutsu-kishaku (a movement to abolish Buddhism). It is said that they not only abandoned Buddha statues and burnt down temples but also violently took clothes of nuns and beat them with rods at Tsubakichi (or Tsubaichi) market place. However, it could be said that this was not a problem over Buddhism, but a conflict between the Soga clan and the Mononobe clan combined with the selection of the next emperor as a root. The next emperor, Yomei, was deeply interested in Buddhism and when he was dying he asked his retainers whether or not he should believe in Buddhism. However, by the same reason as the one in the age of the Emperor Kinmei, MONONOBE no Moriya was strongly against it (the second dispute on the worship of Buddhism). After all, the conflict between the Soga clan and the Mononobe clan was concluded by the Teibi War in 587 when SOGA no Umako, who gained adherents from some princes, destroyed MONONOBE no Moriya with military force. After that, the Emperor Suiko, who the Soga clan supported, was enthroned. There were not any more groups who were against the acceptance of Buddhism. In the era of the Emperor Suiko, Umako had Asuka-dera Temple, a half official Uji-dera Temple which had a full-scale building, built. In addition, it is said that Prince Shotoku (Prince Umayado), who was famous for the construction of the Shitenno-ji Temple and the Horyu-ji Temple, carried out politics based on the ethics of Buddhism. However, only a part of Imperial family and Gozoku, who supported the Imperial Court, worshipped Buddhism. It is difficult to say that Buddhism became a national religion (of course, this did not mean that common people had no relation with Buddhism).

In the Nara period, provincial monasteries had been built and monks and nuns were placed in various provinces under the idea of nation protection. In addition, the Great Buddha of the Todai-ji Temple was constructed and the Ritsu sect was introduced by inviting Jianzhen from China, but Buddhism was not spread very widely. In the Heian period, Esoteric Buddhism became popular in accordance with the introductions of the Tendai sect by Saicho and the Shingon sect by Kukai, and Mappo-shiso (the "end of the world" belief) and Jodo-shinko (the Pure Land faith) were in full flourish, and as a result, more and more nobles and people around the capital came to believe in Buddhism. However, after all, it was after the medieval period that Buddhism was spread among common people all over the country. The appearance of Kamakura Bukkyo (new Buddhist movements of the Kamakura Period) triggered the prevalence of Buddhism among samurai and common people all over the country, and Japan's own Buddhism was developed after that.