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Articles

  1. Religion Nenbutsu

    Nenbutsu, commonly transliterated as nembutsu, is the invocation "namu amida butsu" (南無阿弥陀仏, "I take my refuge in the Buddha Amitābha) chanted in the hope of rebirth into Amida's Pure Land. While nowadays strictly of invocational nature (称名念仏 shōmyō nembutsu), there once were contemplative nembutsu (観念念仏 kannen nembutsu), the practice of envisioning the characteristics of a Buddha, and meditative nembutsu (憶念 okunen or 理觀 rikan), the meditation on Buddha-nature or the spiritual qualities of a Buddha. Nembutsu were not only directed to Amitābha but to other Buddhas as well and not always...
  2. Religion Pure Land Buddhism

    Pure Land Buddhism (浄土仏教 Jōdo bukkyō) is a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism and seeks rebirth into Amitābha Buddha's Western Paradise (the "Pure Land"), traditionally after death. Pure Land Buddhism achieved great popularity in China from around 800 CE, though it had existed there earlier. It never achieved the status of a separate school or sect in China, remaining a monastic cult and folk religion. Pure Land Buddhism was introduced to Japan along with other forms of Buddhism in the 6th century CE, but stayed dormant until it was picked up by the aristocracy during the middle of the Heian...
  3. Religion Kegon School

    The Kegon School of Buddhism (華厳宗 Kegon-shū) flourished in the early centuries of Japanese Buddhist history and was one of the largest of the Six Sects of Nara (南都六宗 Nanto Rokushū). It is based on the Huayan or Flower Garland school of Buddhism and was introduced in Japan by the Chinese monk Tao-hsüan (道璿 Dōsen, 702-760 CE) and the Korean monk Kor Simsang (審祥 Shinjō, d. 742). Rōben (Tōdai-ji, Nara) Rōben (良弁、朗弁、良辨、朗辨, 689-773 CE), a priest at the Tōdai-ji in Nara, who had invited Shinjō to give lectures at the temple, was an early expert on the Kegonkyō (華厳経), the Avataṃsaka Sūtra, one...
  4. Religion Shingon Buddhism

    Shingon (真言宗 Shingon-shū) is a major Buddhist sect and a branch of Mahāyāna Buddhism, founded by the Japanese monk Kūkai (空海) in the beginning of the 9th century. It is also referred to as the Shingon-darani (Sanskrit: mantra-dharani) sect, or the Dainichi (Mahāvairocana) sect, and generally as mikkyō (密教, esoteric Buddhism). The basic doctrines and patterns of practice were established by Kūkai, who combined Indo-Chinese esoteric Buddhism on the basis of Madhyamika, Yogācāra, and Huayan or Flower Garland school of Buddhism (華厳宗 Kegon-shū) thought. No significant innovations in the...
  5. Religion Tendai Buddhism

    The Tendai sect of Buddhism (天台宗 Tendai-shū) is the Japanese counterpart of the Chinese Tiantai (Tiāntái zōng) sect and was first brought to Japan by the Chinese monk Ganjin (鑑眞) in the 8th century. In 806, the Japanese monk Saichō (最澄; or Dengyō Daishi 伝教大師, 767-822) returned from China and re-introduced its teachings. Together with Shingon, it was the dominant sect of the Heian Period (794-1185). Although the popular Buddhist movements of the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) such as the Jōdō sect (Pure Land sect, 浄土仏教 Jōdo bukkyō) and Nichiren sect evolved from it, Tendai itself was closely...
  6. Religion Hachiman

    Hachiman (八幡神 Hachiman-jin or Yahata no kami) is a popular Shintō deity who protects warriors and generally looks after the well-being of the community. Since the Heian Period (794-1185) identified as the deified spirit of the legendary Emperor Ojin (応神天皇 Ōjin-tennō, the fifteenth emperor of Japan, he is worshiped as the central deity in Hachiman shrines (八幡神社 Hachiman-jinja or 八幡宮 Hachiman-gū), where he is usually flanked by two other deities, Empress Jingū (Okinaga-Tarashihime no Mikoto, the spirit of Ojin’s mother, the legendary Empress Jingū) and Hime-ōkami, Ojin’s spouse deified. The...
  7. Religion Buddhism in Modern Japan

    Statistically, Japan is a country of Buddhists. More than six-sevenths of the population profess the Buddhist faith, though three-quarters claim to be nonreligious. Buddhism in Japan, divided into 13 principal sects, maintains around 75,000 temples (86,586 in 2000, 85,994 in 2006) with over 100,000 priests. Several colleges and institutes in Kyoto and Tokyo are chiefly dedicated to the study of Buddhist theology. The following criticisms, however, may be made of present-day Buddhism: Buddhist influence on Japanese intellectuals has been rather insignificant; its dogmas have become...
  8. Religion Buddhist Rites

    Many Buddhist sects in Japan possess their own distinctive rites. The rites can be divided into two main categories: those which religious practitioners perform among themselves and those conducted on behalf of the laity. The first category may be subdivided into rites conducted with the aim of developing and deepening personal religious faith, such as offerings and daily recitation of sutras or mantras, and rites centering on devotion toward Buddhas, patriarchs, and sect founders. The latter include the services for Shaka Kōtan’e (Buddha’s birthday) on April 8 and Nehan’e (Feast of the...
  9. Religion Characteristics of Japanese Buddhism

    Several characteristics of Buddhism that are distinctly Japanese can be observed. First, Japanese Buddhism has a tendency to emphasize the importance of human institutions. While Indian and, in some measure, Chinese Buddhism tended to be reclusive, Japanese Buddhism has emphasized practical morality and its accompanying work ethic. Buddhism in Japan has been involved at every level of the complex, hierarchical society, stressing the importance of human relations, family morals, and reverence for ancestors. It has also tended to compromise with nationalistic tendencies in the name of chingo...
  10. Religion Japanese Buddhist Schools

    The major Japanese schools of Buddhism are the Tendai School Shingon School Pure Land Buddhism Nichiren Zen The Tendai School The Tendai School (天台宗 Tendai-shū) was introduced into Japan by the priest Saichō (最澄, 767-822), also knows as Dengyō Daishi 伝教大師). He had entered a monastery at an early age and been ordained at the age of eighteen, but left Nara to live at first in the solitude of Hieizan (比叡山), northeast of Kyoto, where he attracted a group of companions and established a small monastery, Enryaku-ji (延暦寺). In 804, the Japanese emperor sent him to China to search for the best...
  11. Religion The Advent of Buddhism in Japan

    The Nihon Shoki (日本書紀), one of Japan’s earliest chronicles, states that Buddhism was introduced to Japan in 552 CE, when the king of Paekche (백제), one of the three Korean kingdoms, sent a mission to the emperor of Japan that presented, among other things, an image of Śākyamuni (Sanskrit: शाक्यमुनि “Sage of the Śākyas”) in gold and copper, several banners and umbrellas used in Buddhist rituals, and a number of sutras. Nowadays, scholars place the official introduction of Buddhism into Japan on the year 538 CE. The reaction of the Japanese imperial court was mixed. While the emperor himself...
  12. Religion Amaterasu

    Amaterasu (天照), Amaterasu-ōmikami (天照大御神) or Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami (大日孁貴神), the “Great Goddess who lights up the Sky”, is the main Shinto kami, symbolising the sun and the light. According to the Kojiki (古事記, Japan’s most ancient chronicle), she was born out of Izanagi‘s left eye and governed the takamagahara (高天原, the “High Plain of Heaven”). The Nihon shoki (日本書紀, the “Chronicles of Japan”) mention that she was born from the union of Izanagi and Izanami. She opposed her brother Susanoo (須佐之男), the lord of Izumo. Her grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto (瓊瓊杵尊), descended to Earth and became the...
  13. Religion Sokushinbutsu: Japanese Mummies

    Sokushinbutsu (即身仏) refers to a practice of Buddhist monks observing austerity to the point of death and mummification. It is a process of self-mummification that was mainly practised in Yamagata Prefecture in Northern Japan by members of the esoteric Shingon (“True Word”) School of Buddhism. Shingon Buddhism (真言宗 shingon-shū) is one of Japan’s mainstream schools of Buddhism and one of the few remaining esoteric branches, based on the teachings of Kūkai (空海, posthumously known as Kōbō-Daishi 弘法大師, 774–835) who brought this practice from Tang China as part of secret tantric practices. The...
  14. Religion Kami

    In Shintoism kami 神 describes all spirits of divine nature, of essence or natural forces. The Chinese 神 (shin or jin) refers to traditional Chinese nature spirits and may have entered the Japanese language through the Ainu loanword “kamuy” (Ainu: カムイ, Japanese: 神威 or 神居, kamui), describing spiritual or divine being in Ainu mythology. Kami encompass natural spirits, thus displaying animistic aspects, as well as human-like deities resembling the gods of ancient Greece or Rome. The Japanese scholar Motoori Norinaga (本居 宣長; 1730-1801) defined them as “any thing or phenomenon that produces the...
  15. Religion Torii

    Torii are the traditional Japanese gates or archways to Shinto sanctuaries or other sacred areas. Torii (鳥居 【とりい】, literally “bird’s perch”) first appeared in Japan in the tenth century (Heian period) and are traditionally made of stone and wood, but more recent variations are also made of copper, reinforced concrete, stainless steel or other materials. They are either left unpainted or covered in a layer of vermillion. Commonly, a single torii is placed at the entrance of the shrine precinct. In case of multiple torii the first and largest one is called ichi-no-torii (一の鳥), with sometimes...
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