Wa-pedia Home > Japanese Culture > Religion >Japanese Buddhism
Japanese Buddhism

The history of Buddhism in Japan can be roughly divided into three periods, namely the Nara period (up to 784), the Heian period (794-1185) and the post-Kamakura period (1185 onwards). Each period saw the introduction of new doctrines and upheavals in existing schools.

1. Nara Buddhism 2. Heian Buddhism 3. Kamakura Buddhism 4. Timeline
Buddhist priest in Tokyo

Nara Period

Buddhism was first introduced to Japan via the Korean peninsula in 552, when Baekje monks came to Nara to introduce the eight doctrinal schools. Initial uptake of the new faith was slow, and Buddhism only started to spread some years later when Empress Suiko openly encouraged the acceptance of Buddhism among all Japanese people. In 607, in order to obtain copies of Sutras, an imperial envoy was dispatched to Sui dynasty China. As time progressed and the number of Buddhist clergy increased, the offices of Sojo (archbishop) and Sozu (bishop) were created. By 627 there were 46 Buddhist temples, 816 Buddhist priests, and 569 Buddhist nuns in Japan.

There were traditionally six schools of Buddhism in Nara Japan Ritsu (Vinaya), Jojitsu (Satyasiddhi), Kusha (Abhidharma) Sanron (Madhyamika, Hosso (Yogacara), and Kegon (Hua-yen). However they were not exclusive schools, and temples were apt to have scholars versed in several of the schools. It has been suggested that they can best be thought of as 'study groups'.


Founded by Daoxuan (道宣, Jp. Dosen), China, c. 650 AD
First Introduction to Japan: Ganjin (鑑真), 753 AD. The Ritsu school speciallised in the Vinaya (the monastic rules in the Tripitaka). They used the Dharmagupta version of the vinaya which is known in Japanese as Shibunritsu 四分律)


The Satyasiddhi school is considered to be an offshoot of the Sautrantika school, one of the Nikaya schools of Indian Buddhism (see early Buddhist schools). They were distinguished by a rejection of the Abhidharma as not being the 'word of the Buddha'. The name means literally, 'Ends with the Sutras" which refers to the traditional order of texts in the Tripitaka - vinaya, sutra, abhidharma.


Introduced into Japan from China during the Nara period (710-84). The school takes its name from its authoritative text, the Abidatsuma-kusha-ron(Sanskrit:Abhidharma-kosa), by the 4th- or 5th-century Indian philosopher Vasubandhu. The Kusha school is considered to be an offshoot of the IndianSarvastivada school.


Literally: Three-Discourse School; a Madhyamika school which developed in China based on two discourses by Nagarjuna and one by Aryadeva; this school was transmitted to Japan in the 7th century. (Madhyamika is one of the two most important Mahayana philosophies, and remphasises the original Buddhist teachings that phenomena are neither truly existent or absolutely non-existent, but are charcaterised by impermanence and insubstantiality.


The Yogacara (瑜伽行派 Yugagyouha) schools are based on early Indian Buddhist thought by masters such as Vasubandhu, and are also known as "consciousness only" since they teach a form of idealism which posits that all phenomena are phenomena of the mind. The Hosso school was founded by Xuanzang (玄奘, Jp. Genjo), China, c. 630 AD, and introduced to Japan in 654 AD. The Discourse on the Theory of Consciousness-Only (Jo yuishikiron 成唯識論) is an important text for the Hosso school.


Also known by its Chinese name Huayen (華厳), the Kegon school was founded by Dushun (杜順, Jp. Dojun), China, c. 600 AD, and introduced to Japan by Bodhisena in 736 AD. The Avatamsaka Sutra (Kegonkyō 華厳経) is the central text for the Kegon school.

Heian Period

The Late Nara period saw the introduction of Esoteric Buddhism (密教, Jp. mikkyo) to Japan from China, by Kukai and Saichō, who founded the Shingon and Tendai schools. The later Heian period saw the formation of the first truly Japanese school of Buddhism, that of Nichren.


Known as Tiantai (天台) in China, the Tendai school was founded by Zhiyi (智顗, Jp Chigi) in China, c. 550 AD. In 804 Saichō (最澄) travelled to China to study at the Tiantai teachings, at Mount Tiantai. However before his return he also studied, and was initiated into the practice of the Vajrayana - with emphasis on the Mahavairocana Sutra. The primary text of Tiantai is Lotus Sutra (Hokkekyo 法華経), but when Saichō established his school in Japan he incorporated the study and practive of Vajrayana as well.


Kukai travelled to China in 804 as part of the same expedition as Saichō. IN the Tang capital he studied esoteric Buddhism, Sanskrit and received initiation from Huikuo. On returning to Japan Kukai eventually manged to establish Shingon (真言) as a school in its own right. Kukai received two lineages of teaching - one based on the Mahavairochana Sutra (Dainichikyo 大日経), and the other based on the Vajrashekhara.

Kamakura to Modern Period

The Kamakura period saw the introduction of the two schools that had perhaps the greatest impact on the country: the Amidist Pure Land schools, which emphasized salvation through faith in Amitabha and remain the largest Buddhist sect in Japan (and throughout Asia) to this day; and the more philosophical Zen schools, which were equally rapidly adopted by the upper classes and had a profound impact on Japanese culture.

Amidist Schools


  • Founder: Huiyuan (慧遠, Jp. Eon), China, c. 400 AD
  • Chinese name: Jingtu (浄土) "Pure Land"
  • First Introduction to Japan: Honen (法然), 1175 AD Primary Text: Infinite Life Sutra (Muryojukyo 無量壽経)
  • Head Temples : Chion-in (Kyoto), Zojo-ji (Tokyo), Konkai-Komyo-ji (Kyoto), Hyakumanben Chion-ji (Kyoto), Shojokein (Kyoto), Zendo-ji (Fukuoka pref.), Komyo-ji (Kamakura), Zenko-ji Daihongan (Nagano)

    Jōdō Shin

  • Founder: Shinran (親鸞), 1224 AD
  • Japanese name: 浄土真, "True Pure Land"
  • Major Influences: Jodo
  • Doctrine: shintai zokutai (真諦俗諦, "Real Truth, Common Truth")
  • Primary Text: Infinite Life Sutra (Muryojukyo 無量壽経)
  • Head Temples : Nishi & Higashi Hongan-ji (Kyoto).


  • Founder : Nichiren, 1253 AD.
  • Doctrine : the school was focused on the Lotus Sutra, but practice is based around the mantra Namu Myōho Renge Kyo (南無妙法蓮華経). The school split into Nichiren Shu and Nichiren Shoshu after the death of Nichiren
  • Primary Text: Lotus Sutra (Hokkekyo 法華経)
  • Head Temple : Taiseki-ji (Shizuoka pref.), Kuonji (Yamanashi pref.)

    Zen Schools

    Several variants of Zen (禅宗) were separately brought to Japan. Note that Zen influences are identifiable earlier in Japanese Buddhism, esp. cross-fertilization with Hosso and Kegon, but the independent schools were formed quite late.


  • Founders: Caoshan (曹山, Jp. Sosan) and Dungshan (洞山, Jp. Tosan), China, c. 850
  • Chinese name: Caodung (曹洞), named after its founders
  • First Introduction to Japan: Dogen (道玄), 1227 AD
  • Major Influences: Hosso, Kegon
  • Doctrine: zazen (座禅, "sitting meditation"), especially shikantaza
  • Primary Texts: Transcendental Wisdom Sutras aka Prajnaparamita Sutras (般若波羅蜜経), incl. Heart Sutra
  • Head Temples : Eihei-ji (Fukui pref.), Soji-ji (Kanagawa pref.)


  • Founder: Linji (臨済), China, c. 850
  • Chinese name: Linji (臨済), named after founder
  • First Introduction to Japan: Eisai (栄西), 1191 AD
  • Major Influences: Hosso, Kegon
  • Doctrine: zazen (座禅, "sitting meditation"), especially koan (公案, "public matter") practice
  • Primary Texts: Transcendental Wisdom Sutras aka Prajnaparamita Sutras (般若波羅蜜経), incl. Heart Sutra
  • Head Temples : Daitoku-ji (Kyoto), Tenryū-ji (Kyoto), Nanzen-ji (Kyoto), Myōshin-ji (Kyoto).


  • Founder: Ingen (隠元), Japan, 1654 AD
  • Japanese name: 黄檗, named the mountain where the founder had lived in China
  • Major Influences: Rinzai
  • Doctrine: kyozen itchi (経禅一致, "Unity of Sutras and Zen")
  • Primary Texts: Transcendental Wisdom Sutras aka Prajnaparamita Sutras (般若波羅蜜経), incl. Heart Sutra
  • Head Temple : Mampuku-ji (Uji)


  • Founder: Fuke Zenji (普花禅師) Transmitted from China, 1254 AD Major Influences: Rinzai
  • Abolished: 1871


  • 654: Dosho introduces the Hossō (Faxiang) school to Japan.
  • 736: Bodhisena introduces the Kegon (Huayan) school to Japan.
  • 753: Ganjin introduces the Ritsu (Vinaya) school to Japan.
  • 807: Saichō introduces the Tendai (Tientai) school to Japan.
  • 816: Kūkai founds the Shingon school.
  • 1175: Honen introduces the Jōdō (Pure Land) school to Japan.
  • 1191: Eisai introduces the Rinzai (Linji) school to Japan.
  • 1227: Dōgen introduces the Sōtō (Caodung) school to Japan.
  • 1253: Nichiren founds the Nichiren school.
  • 1282: Nichiren splits into Nichiren Shū and Nichiren Shōshū.
  • 1654: Ingen introduces the Ōbaku (Huangbo) school to Japan.

    The articles in the Buddhism section were derived fully or in part from an article on Wikipedia.org. This article is distributed under the terms of GNU Free Documentation License.

  • Popular Content on Wa-pedia.com

    Copyright © 2002-2020 Wa-pedia.com All Rights Reserved.