October 27, 2011
The Ryoanji (ryou an ji, Peaceful Dragon Temple) was originally a country villa belonging to members of the powerful Fujiwara clan, which dominated the government during the Heian Period. After the clan and the estate fell on hard times due to a series of civil wars, the last owner willed it to the Zen Buddhist sect in 1450 to be converted into a temple.
October 26, 2011
I am making a single post for the Kiyomizudera Temple and Jishu Shrine since these popular sites are located right next to each other and anyone who visits one of them will probably visit both.
17 October 2011
The Shitennouji (Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings) is Japan’s oldest surviving Buddhist temple. It was built by Prince Shoutoku (574-622), one of the country’s earliest and most important converts to Buddhism. As with most such ancient structures it has been burned down and rebuilt several times.
At about the same time that Kuukai was establishing the Shingon sect, another sect was being established that would prove even more influential. This was the Tendai sect, established by a monk named Saichou, also called by his posthumous name of Dengyou-daishi (Great Teacher of the Traditional Doctrine.)
I’m not sure whether anyone is interested in any more long posts about Japanese Buddhism. This doesn’t even have too much relevance to anime. Anime often has references to Buddhism in general but it rarely singles out specific sects. (Exceptions: X (TV) has a lot of references to Shingon, and Air (TV) makes oblique references to the history of the Tendai and Pure Land sects.)
Nevertheless I ended up with a lot of notes on this subject and I think it’s worthwhile to post them somewhere. Some of this stuff is actually pretty cool, even if you don’t find it referenced in anime.
The first Buddhist missionaries arrived in Japan from the mainland in the middle of the 6th century CE, and by the early 7th century six sects had built temples in and around the capital. These were the Ritsu, Joujitsu, Kusha, Sanron, Hossou and Kegon sects. None of them made much effort to convert the common people. They were primarily sponsored by wealthy courtiers who hoped that by financing the construction of temples and monasteries they would gain spiritual benefits and worldly success. These sects are not particularly important in Japan today.
“Ritsu” means “rules for monastic living.” This is also the name of a character in K-ON
, which is probably intended ironically.
In 794 Emperor Kammu moved the capital from Nara to Kyoto, then called “Heian-kyo,” thus beginning the Heian period of Japanese history (794-1185). The move undercut the sects that built their temples around Nara, and opened the way for the rise of some new, more broadly-based sects.
The Chuang Yen Monastery in Kent, New York doesn’t really belong in this blog’s “Japanese Culture” category since it was built by Chinese immigrants. However there is a huge amount of overlap between Chinese and Japanese Buddhism, so I’m going to treat it as “close enough.”
The Bodhi Path at the entrance is lined with statues of Gautama Buddha’s original male disciples.
I’ve been meaning to write a long post about Japanese ideas about death, but I can’t seem to deal with that without discussing the Buddhist religion first. I’m not going to try to write a definitive introduction to Buddhism. That could fill libraries and I’m hardly an expert on the subject anyway. I’m just going to try to explain the Buddhist ideas and symbols that you might encounter in anime
About 90 million people in Japan (out of a population of 128 million) identify themselves as Buddhists today, though most are probably not very devout and many also engage in Shinto practices. Buddhist rites are used at almost all funerals.
Only a few anime series contain explicit Buddhist messages (examples include Air (TV), Kino’s Journey and Planetes) but Buddhism permeates Japanese culture to such an extent that a Buddhist subtext can show up in almost any anime.