Religions of Japan

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Kukai/Kobo Daishi

Kukai was a monk that founded the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism; he more commonly known by his deity name, Kobo Daishi. In 804, Kukai was chosen to be a part a the same Chinese diplomatic and religious mission that Saicho (the founder of Tendai) attended, most likely due to his advanced chinese skills. After returning, he eventually became the highest ranking monk in the land established many temples and monasteries. He he is said to still be in eternal meditation at his mausoleum Oku no In on Mount Koya, where he awaits the return of the Buddha Maitreya. Sources: lecture 2/2/16, RJP 357-378

Nara Period

The Nara Period is a period in Japanese history characterized by the rise of literacy, Buddhism, and centralized government. During this period, Japan was almost entirely united by military campaigns and also experienced an influx of Chinese and Korean influence via trade and refugee immigration. Chinese writing made its way through Korea and was adapted both using both phonetics and definitions into the written language of Japan. Even though this period is named for its capital, the capital was temporarily moved multiple times to avoid the pollution caused by a previous emperor's death or where the maternal relatives of the new emperor had power. Sources: Ambros 25, lecture 1/27/16

Taisho period

This modern Japanese period is marked by the rule of a mentally weak emporer. Due to this weakness, it is possible that limited democratization occurred. Despite the weak leadership during this period, Japan also rose in international standing. Moga and mowa culture also distinguished the Taisho period. Source: lecture 2/17/16

Noh theater

Noh theater is performed very slowly and without speaking by two actors wearing masks. The actors are always traditionally male; the first actor is the shite and plays the main character, who is a ghost, and occasionally a local villager while the secondary actor is a waki and plays the traveling priest that interacts with the ghost. The structure of the play involves the traveling priest being told by a local about a local ghost, who later visits the travelling priest to tell the priest their tale of grief or anger. The tale ends with the priest agreeing to pray for the ghost. Source: lecture 4/4/16

Japanese Economic Miracle

The Japanese Economic Miracle refers to a period post-WWII where Japans GDP grew at a rate of ten percent every year from 1955 to 1973, when the oil crisis began. At this rate, Japan's GDP doubled in a decade. Even after the major market bubble burst in 1989, Japan remained the worlds 4th largest economy. Source: lecture 2/17/16,


Aragyo is a Nichiren buddhism ascetic practice. It takes place in winter over a span of 100 days where monks perform ice water ablutions ever three hours, which amounts to a total number of seven ablutions per day. During this time, practitioners copy sutras, abstain from shaving, only sleep for 3 hours a day. Additionally, meal periods are only three minutes each. Source: lecture 2/14/16

Asahara Shoko

Born partially blind and with the name Matsumodo, Asahara Shoko wanted to be a doctor but was prevented from entering medical school due to his disability. He then studied acupuncture and chinese buddhism and became interested in buddhism, joining the new new religion Agonshu. However, Asahara was unimpressed with the emptiness of religion in modern Japan and started a small yoga group that developed into Aum Shirikyo. He rejected scientific reasoning, possibly due to bitterness over rejection from medical school, and attracted followers by claiming the ability to levitate. Source: lecture 4/18/16

Muromachi period

The Muromachi period is characterized by by the control of the Muromachi shogunate family and the return of the capital to Kyoto. During this period, the gates of power governmental power structure, which was a balance between courtiers, temples, and warriors, was abolished. Additionally, Christianity Noh theater, and the tea ceremony were introduced at this time. Source: lecture 2/8/16

Spirituality Boom

Following the Aum sarin gas attacks, Japanese society developed a generally negative perception of religion. As a result, a rise in more spiritual practices occurred. Many Many rituals were disaffiliated with Buddhism, Shinto, or religion in general and instead took on more therapeutic and spiritual health-oriented terminology. Religions also adjusted during this period, and focused on offering completely non-relgious counselling and aid in the wake of the 3.11 tsunami. Sources: McLaughlin 313-316

Aum Shinrikyo

Aum Shinrikyo was started by Asahara Shoko originally as a yoga group in response to the emptiness of funerary Buddhism. Aum advocated for ascetic practice and renunciation of the material and scientific world and promised psychic powers. Within the first 10 years, Aum attracted 10,000 followers and 1,200 renunciates and boasted a generally young, well-educated demographic of people who were disillusioned by the materialism and emptiness of modern life. Source: lecture 4/18/16, Murakami

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