Buddhism in Japan

Buddhism in Japan

Buddhism in Japan was introduced to Japan in the 6th century through China and Korea. At first, as there was already a local creed, Shintoism, it was difficult for the Japanese to accept this new religion. However, when the Imperial Court recognized it as a religion that “has the power to protect and maintain the peace of the State,” they gradually began to accept it. The Japanese did not believe in original Buddhism, but in retouched Japanese-style Buddhism, that is, Buddhism influenced by Shintoism: thus Japanese Buddhism developed into its own shape.

When Buddhism was introduced in Japan, in order to spread rapidly, the Buddha was conceived as a Shinto deity and is part of the Shinto belief.
Buddhism, accepted by the Imperial Court and the general public, began to have great power until it was mixed with politics in the 8th century. Under the pretext of praying for the prosperity and peace of the state, the monks built several Buddhist temples and statues (for example, the Todaiji Temple and its large Buddha statue) in Nara, where the Imperial Court (capital) was located. This power of Buddhism rivaled even the imperial power and fearing this power, the emperor decided to move the capital to Kyoto in 794 AD.

Buddhism in Japan
Buddhism in Japan
Buddhism in Japan

Buddhism, which gained more power through syncretism with Shintoism, propagated the idea that the Shintos deities were in fact the Buddhist deities of the Heian period: in other words, the Buddhist deities were the original form and the Shintos deities appeared as Buddhist deities to save the Japanese. But in the thirteenth century, the opposite idea was born, that is, that the original form of Buddhist deities was Shinto deities.
During the Edo period, so that Buddhism did not take too much power, the Bakufu (government) increased control over this religion and turned the temples into government organizations.
And finally, in the Meiji era, in 1868, Shinto became a state religion and the government decided to separate Shinto from Buddhism and unfortunately due to the government’s oppression of Buddhism, many temples were destroyed at that time. .

Now Buddhism has become one of the major religions in Japan along with Shintoism.

Belief in Japanese Buddhism

Japanese Buddhism is based on two main ideas: “the celebration of a service for the souls of the dead” and “a beautiful earthly life.”
Before the introduction of Buddhism, there were popular beliefs (origin of Shintoism) that considered the soul of the dead to be impure and cause misfortune. So the Japanese held ceremonies to calm these impure souls. For the Japanese, the idea of ​​the world after death did not exist. It was Buddhism that introduced the idea of ​​paradise after death and the way to get to paradise in Japan. This idea attracted the nobility and instead of the ancient ceremonies, Buddhist mourning gradually spread. Emperors and nobles were buried in the burial mound, but since the Nara period (8th century), mourning was performed in the temple by a monk and their bodies were later buried in a temple tomb.
Buddhism gained ground through the idea of ​​praying for a good life today: what people in power asked of Buddhism was lasting peace and political stability, and to achieve this they asked monks to pray for it. This prayer for a good present life became so widespread that monks began praying for good rice harvests, good health, or even an easy delivery for women.


Most of the temples They are made of wood, like Shinto shrines: the biggest difference from a shrine is the use of tiles that were introduced to Japan through China at the same time as Buddhism.
The temples are called in Japanese Tera (寺) or Jiin (寺院) and there are more than 75,000 temples in the Japanese country.
At the entrance to the temple, there is a main gate called Mon (門) in which statues of Ni-o (仁王), guardians of the temple, are sometimes found. There are 3 essential buildings within a temple compound:
-Pagoda (寺院): often has between 3 or 5 floors. The pagoda was built to represent the stupa where the rest of the Buddha’s body was laid. But from the 8th century, the idea of ​​the pagoda changed and the pagoda is now considered as a tower that represents the components of the world: earth, water, fire, wind and sky.
-Main building: it can be a Kondo (金堂, literally: Golden Hall), a Honden (本 殿, literally: main palace) or a Butsuden (仏 殿, literally: Buddha’s palace) depending on the school. It is the most important building within the enclosure of a temple, since it is where the deities are worshiped.

Different schools (sects)

There are 13 main schools (宗, shu) for Japanese Buddhism and these 13 schools are divided into 56 smaller schools (派, ha). There are 3 main streams of Buddhism in Japan and these are the 13 schools:
Nara period:
Hosso-shu (Kofuku-ji temple in Nara)
Kegon-shu (Todai-ji temple in Nara)
Heian period:
Tendai-shu (Enryaku-ji Temple in Kyoto, founded by Saicho)
Shingon-shu (Mount Koya, founded by Kukai)
Kamakura period
Yuzu Nembutsu-shu
Jodo-shu (Chion-in Temple in Kyoto)
Jodo-shin-shu (Nishihongan-ji Temple in Kyoto)
Rinzai-shu (Golden Pavilion, founded by Ei-sai)
Soto-shu (Eihei-ji Temple in Fukui)
Edo period
The most common schools are Jodo-shin-shu and Jodo-shu.

Politics Danka (family under the authority of a Buddhist temple)

Christianity came to Japan in 1549 and gradually spread to the Samurai Rand. The Edo military government, led by the Tokugawa family, believed that behind the introduction of Christianity was the colonization of Europeans; so out of fear of invasion, the government decided to ban Christianity. To avoid conversions to Christianity and to strengthen Buddhism as a religion, the government adopted the Danka policy, that is, the entire family was required to register at the temple closest to their home (the Tokugawa government wanted to make Buddhism the state religion ). The temples had a role similar to that of the current town councils, taking care not only of mourning but also of issuing passports, for example.
This Danka policy was abolished in 1871, but the temples are still guardians of the graves and carry out the duels.

The emperor and Buddhism

It is said that the japanese emperor it has always existed and we don’t really know the history of this imperial family. In the 8th century, Kojiki and Nihon Shoki (considered the oldest texts in Japan) were written to clarify the legitimacy of the emperor’s reign and inform the public inside and outside the country. According to these texts, the emperor is considered the descendant of the supreme Shinto deity, Amaterasu, so at the time of the arrival of Buddhism, many large families were against this religion because they considered that a deity was being introduced that he was not the emperor. But the Imperial Prince Shotoku-Taishi (574-622) favored Buddhist belief and had several temples built in Nara, including the Horyu-ji. Buddhism became an indispensable belief for the imperial family and thanks to the Shinto-Buddhist syncretism, a kind of new belief was born: after the abdication, the conversion of the emperor into a monk was legitimate and until the Edo period, the tombs of several emperors were in a temple.
After the defeat of the Second World War, the emperor lost all powers and became the symbol of the country. You no longer have the right to express your thoughts, so we cannot know anything about your beliefs.

Juzu – rosary

Juzu is a Buddhist rosary that is used to count the number of recitations. It is made up of 108 wooden balls. The number 108 represents the number of wishes (bon-no). It was introduced to Japan in the 7th century from China. The monks use this rosary to count the number of recitations and the faithful or the Japanese who attend the duel hang it in their hands during prayer.

Buddhism in Japan
Buddhism in Japan


It is a Japanese branch of Buddhism. There are 3 schools that practice Zen: Rinzai-shu, Soto-shu and Obaku-shu. It is a teaching that consists of meditation from the sitting posture called zazen.

Jizo or Jizo-bosatsu

These are statues that can be found very often on the street or in temples. Jizo often wears a bib and is considered to help unhappy people in general, so he is very close to people. He is also considered a protector of children, hence he normally wears bibs and hats.

Buddhism in Japan
Buddhism in Japan