a person dressed as Benzaiten
There are hundreds of gods in the Buddhist pantheon. Many have been borrowed from the Hindu pantheon to serve a particular purpose in Buddhist cosmology. Some have a humanlike appearance. Others look like monsters. Many have multiple arms and heads and hold various objects and display certain body positions and hand gestures that have symbolic meaning. At temples some serve as guardians and protectors at the entrance gates. Images found in temples vary according to sect and the period in which the temple was constructed. Gods, goddesses, and other celestial being tend to play a bigger role in Mahayana Buddhism than Theravada Buddhism. Mahayana Buddhism introduced a number of female deities.

Bodhisattvas are sort of like the equivalent of Buddhist "saints" and are especially important in Mahayana Buddhism. To Mahayana Buddhists they are "near Buddhas" or “enlightened persons” on the verge of nirvana who purposely stopped short of attaining it, so, like Buddha, they could teach their method to others and help humanity move towards enlightenment. Bodhi means “enlightenment” and sattva means “being.”

Many gods in Japan have both non-Japanese origins. Hotei, one of the seven gods of good luck, is the god of happiness. A common symbol throughout Asia, he is jolly fellow with a big grin, pot belly and a bag sack. His ancestors can be traced back to a real human being, a Chinese monk associated with the Chinese sect that gave birth to Zen Buddhism. Hotei is a bit like a year-round Santa Claus, traveling around the countryside with his sack, giving food and necessities to the poor and needy and giving out presents to those who deserve them. Benzaiten, another one of the seven gods of good luck, is the goddess of art. Wise and skilled in painting and writing, she carries a biwa (mandolin) and is often escorted by a sea snake. Originally a spirit of flowing water with her roots in India, she is the patron saint of musicians and performers. Shrines for her with images of snakes are often set up near ponds.

Bishamon is the god of war and the protector of Buddhism, scared mountains, temples and cities. Usually depicted with a helmet, suit of armor and spear, he was originally a folk god in India and was adopted by Buddhism. He is often found at the north gate or entrance of a building and is skilled at turning away evil spirits that cause poverty and bring bad luck.

Websites and Resources

Links in this Website: RELIGION IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SHINTO Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SHINTO SHRINES, PRIESTS, RITUALS AND CUSTOMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BUDDHISM IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BUDDHIST GODS, TEMPLES AND MONKS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ZEN AND OTHER BUDDHIST SECTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Religious Tolerance Page religioustolerance.org/buddhism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion ; Buddhist Centre thebuddhistcentre.com; A sketch of the Buddha's Life accesstoinsight.org ; What Was The Buddha Like? by Ven S. Dhammika buddhanet.net ; Jataka Tales (Stories About Buddha) sacred-texts.com ; Illustrated Jataka Tales and Buddhist stories ignca.nic.in/jatak ; Buddhist Tales buddhanet.net ; Arahants, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas by Bhikkhu Bodhi accesstoinsight.org ; Victoria and Albert Museum vam.ac.uk/collections/asia/asia_features/buddhism/index ;

Mahayana Buddhism: Seon Zen Buddhism buddhism.org ; Readings in Zen Buddhism, Hakuin Ekaku (Ed: Monika Bincsik) terebess.hu/zen/hakuin ; How to do Zazen (Zen Buddhist Meditation) global.sotozen-net.or.jp ;
Wikipedia article ; Comparison of Buddhist Traditions (Mahayana – Therevada – Tibetan) studybuddhism.com ; The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra: complete text and analysis nirvanasutra.net ; Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism cttbusa.org ; The Bodhisattva Ideal in Theravāda Theory and Practice by Jeffrey Samuels info-buddhism.com ; Zen Buddhism zen-buddhism.net ; The Zen Site thezensite.com ; Wikipedia article on Zen Buddhism Wikipedia Buddhism in Japan Guide to Buddhism in Japan buddhanet.net ; Wikipedia article on Buddhism in Japan Wikipedia Japan Buddhist Federation jbf.ne.jp ; Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan A to Z Poto Dictionary onmarkproductions.com Honganji temple Site honganji.net ; History of Japanese Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Buddhism and Prince Shotoku onmarkproductions.com ; Columbia University article on Buddhism in Japan easia.columbia.edu ; Asia Society article on Buddhism in Japan asiasociety.org ; Photos Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Of Temples at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Of Pagodas japan-photo.de ; Of Buddha at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Gods and Monks : ; Japanese Gods lowchensaustralia.com ; Monks, Alcohol, Hip Hop cnn.com/2010 ; Buddhism, Sex and Homosexuality westernbuddhistreview.com ;Good Photos at Japan-Photo Archive japan-photo.de ; Japanese-Buddhism.com japanese-buddhism.com

Temples and Shrines in Nara Park Kofukuji site kohfukuji.com ; Yamasa yamasa.org ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website; Kasuga Taisha Shrine (in Nara Park) Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Todaiji Temple Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Toshodaiji Japan Guide japan-guide.com UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website ; Sanjusangendo Temple in Kyoto is well known for its 1,001 images of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Fast Rider farstrider.net ; Mt. Koya: Mt. Koya official site shukubo.jp ; Koyasan Shingon Buddhism koyasan.or.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; JNTO PDF file JNTO ; Wikitarvel Wikitravel Map: Japan National Tourism Organization JNTO ; Mt. Koya official site shukubo.jp UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website Temple Loding Websites: Mt. Koya official site shukubo.jp ; Japanican Online Booking japanican.com ; Temple Lodging (shukabo) Website:Temple Lodging in Japan Temple Lodging in Japan ; onmark productionsonmark productions; Japan Guide Mt. KoyaJapan Guide Mt. Koya

Circuit of 88 Temples Pilgrimage 88 Temples site Shikoku Henro Trail ; Shikoku Pilgrimage Guide Mandala.ne ; Kumano Trail Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Kumano Kodo tb-kumano.jp ; JNTO PDF file JNTO ; Hongu Kumano Kodo hongu.jp ; Kumano Kodo Ise Route kumadoco.ne ; UNESCO World Heritage site: UNESCO website ; Nara Prefecture site pref.nara.jp ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Buddhist Channel buddhistchannel.tv ; JNTO article JNTO ; Hongu Kumano Kodo hongu.jp Kumano Kodo site tb-kumano.jp ; Yoshino-Kumano National Park Japan National Parks env.go.jp ; Kansai Window kippo.or.jp ; Nara Prefecture site pref.nara.jp ; Totsukawa site totsukawa-h.ed.jp Totsukawa site totsukawa-h.ed.jp Japan Guide japan-guide.com ; Photos taleofgenji.org

Good Websites and Sources on Religion in Japan: A View on Religion in Japan japansociety.org ; Book: Religion in Japan cambridge.org ; Religion and Secular Japan japanesestudies.org.uk ; U.S. State Department 2009 Report on Religious Freedom in Japan unhcr.org/refworld/ ; Resources for East Asian Language and Thought acmuller.net ; Society for the Study of Japanese Religions ssjr.unc.edu ; Contemporary Papers on Japanese Religion kokugakuin.ac.jp ; Japan Glossary Washington State University ; Shinshuren, Federation of New Religious Organizations of Japan shinshuren.or.jp


Important gods and Bodhisattvas in Japan include Kannon, the 1,000-armed, 11-faced goddess of mercy; Jizo (often portrayed with children in his arms), a Bodhisattva who helps children and travelers; Fudo Myoo, a protector against danger and king of wisdom; Yakushi (Bhaisajaguru), the healer of the mind and body; and Amida (literally meaning “infinite light” or “infinite life”), the Buddha of the Western Paradise.

Bato Kannon, Horsehead Kannon, is a manifestation of Kannon often depicted in small stone statues of Kannon with a horse popping out of her hair or headdress. She specializes in caring for the souls of animals and other nonhuman creatures. The god of thunder is portrayed as a snake.

The worship of Kannon flourished during the Nara Period (710-784) and Heian period (794-1192) “ when a great number of temples devoted to Kannon were built in part because of the belief that constructing giant temples helped people enter heaven. Kannon worship is believed to have been imported from China or Korea in the late 6th century in the Asuka Period (538-710).

Tsuka Mounds and Horsehead Kannon

Kevin Short wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: The countryside landscape is dotted with tiny mounds, called tsuka, topped by stone statues or commemorative slabs. Each of these is backed by at least one to several trees. Each site is related to some local story or legend. One very famous mound, protected by cryptomerias, evergreen oaks and Japanese holly-olives, contains several small stone statues depicting Buddhas that have horsehead motifs carved into their headdress. This particular deity is Bato Kannon, or "Horsehead Kannon," and as might be expected, is almost always associated with horses. [Source: Kevin Short, Daily Yomiuri, February 16, 2011]

In the past, horses were widely employed in farmwork, and also for transporting goods and people along the many historic post roads. Bato Kannon statues were commissioned to pray for the health of these valuable animals, and also in repose of their spirits.

Typical trees chosen for commemorative mounds include flowering cherries for their beauty, and hackberries for their excellent shade. Various evergreen oaks are also widely used. Once in a while I find a mound topped by a rare species of native holly. Called inu-tsuge in Japanese, this is an evergreen shrub characterized by very tiny leaves and dark blue-gray fruits.

Most local shrines are situated at the edge of rises overlooking the villages. Commemorative mounds, on the other hand, may be located anywhere. There is a tendency to find them at crossroads or boundaries, but once in a while they can also be seen sticking up among flat open stretches of hatake vegetable fields.


Jizo statues
Jizo is a patron for travelers and children. He helps children build walls in the underworld and is associated in Japan with helping aborted fetuses and children who died young. According to tradition, Jizo was an Indian monk who became a Bodhisattva. In India he was known by a different name. There is no evidence that he ever had a large following there. In China he gained a reputation for being compassionate and helping people to avoid reincarnation as terrible beasts.

Jizo didn’t develop a large following until he arrived in Japan. His association with rescuing people from unfortunate births was focused on children who died in the hope that they would have good afterlives. Jizo developed a particularly large following among women, who placed statues of him along roadsides and in Buddhist temples. Over time statues of Jizo changed from large ones of a dignified man to small ones of childlike man with a bald head. When abortions became commonplace in Japan places on hillsides were set aside for thousands of jizo statues.

Jizo statues for children usually wear red bid and are decorated with clothing and items such as toys associated with children. Often small piles of stones can be found near the figures. Jizo statues comes in several variations, distinguished by the objects they hold in their hands under the bibs. Jizo also appears in a variety of avatars, including one in which he is a fierce victory god for warriors riding on a horse.

Jizo statues are often found in groups of six, each with their hands in a different mudra (position) and each linked to relieving the pain of residents of the six realms of Buddhist cosmology: 1) one holds his hands in a praying position next to his chest and is associated with the Amida Buddha and the realm of humans: 2) one holds a sacred jewel and holds his hand in the no fear mudra and is associated with deva living on Mt. Sumisen; 3) one holds a set of Buddhist rosary beads and is associated with the realm of the non-human creatures; 4) one holds a sacred jewel and a pilgrims staff and is associated with Ashura, the realm of the deities; 5) one holds an incense banner and is associated with hell; and 6) the last one holds an incense censer and is associated with the realm of the hungry spirits. The six statues are grouped to together because the people who placed them there may not know where their deceased loves ones are and thus say prayers to the entire universe and all realms to reach them.


Japanese Buddhist Temples

There are 70,000 Buddhist temples in Japan. They are places of worship not shrines (sacred places for praying). Shrines are usually associated with Shintoism. A temple generally contains an image of Buddha and has a place where Buddhists practice devotional activities. Temples attract large crowds during festivals or if they are famous but otherwise a fairly quiet. They are often sought as places for quiet meditation, with most acts of worship and devotion being done in front of an altar at home.

Buddhist temples are generally clusters of buildings, whose number and size depends on the size of the temple. Large temples have several halls, where people can pray, and living quarters for monks. Smaller ones have a single hall, a house for a resident monk and a bell. Some have cemeteries.

The architecture of Buddhist temples is influenced by the architecture of Korea and China, the two countries that introduced Buddhism to Japan.

Early Japanese Buddhist temples consisted of pagodas, which were modeled after Chinese-style pagodas, which in turn were modeled after Indian stupas. Over time these pagodas became one building in a large temple complex with many buildings.

Buddhist temples built in the 7th century featured vermillion-painted columns and eaves supported and decorated with mythical beasts sculpted in "dry-lacquer" (layers of hemp cloth glued together and covered with lacquer) or guilt bronze. Unfortunately no original examples of this style of architecture remains. The earliest Buddhist paintings had a strong Indian influence.

Large Kyoto temples, such as Chionin temple — the head temple of Jodoshu Buddhism? have no danka (community-support system) and are run like large companies. The 150 priests who work at Chionin receive a salary from the temple. The majority of the salaried priests have their own small temples elsewhere, but the support of their danka alone is not enough. They use their Chionin salaries to subsidize their own small temples, much like Sakakibara used his salary from the university to sustain his temple.


Types of Buddhist Temples and Buildings in Japan

There are three main types of Buddhist Temples: 1) Japanese style (“wayo”), 2) Great Buddha style (“daibutsuyo”), and 3) Chinese style (“karayo”). These in turn vary according to the Buddhist school and the historical period in which they built.

The main hall (“kondo” or “hondo”) is usually found at the center of the temple grounds. Inside are images of the Buddha, other Buddhist images, an altar or altars with various objects and space for monks and worshipers. The main hall is sometimes connected to a lecture hall.

A monk at Mtizuzoin Temple in Tokyo told the Daily Yomiuri,”When people think of temple, they tend to think of it as a shadowy, scary kind of place. This is because temples have long been regarded as being associated with death. This stems from the fact that many people only visit the temple for Buddhist rites” for the dead.

Other buildings include a lecture hall (“kodo”), where monks gather to study and chant sutras; the sutra depository (“kyozo”), a place where Buddhist scripture are kept, and often shaped like a log cabin on stilts; living, sleeping, and eating areas for monks; and offices. Large temples often have special halls, where treasures are kept and displayed. Some have a pagoda. Many temples have small shops that sell religious items.

Features of Buddhist Temples in Japan

Japanese style pagodas have multiple stories, each with a graceful, tiled Chinese-style roof, and a top roof capped by a spire.

The central images in the main hall is often surrounded by burning incense sticks and offerings of fruit and flowers. Inside the temple there is one set of wooden plaques with the names of large contributors and another set the afterlife names of deceased people. In the old days the afterlife names were only given to Buddhist priests but over time they were given to lay people who paid enough money and now are almost used as ranking system in the after life.

Many Buddhist temples contain large bells, which are rung during the New Year and to mark other occasions, and cemeteries. Chion-in Temple in Kyoto contains the largest bell in Japan (a massive 74-ton bronze made in 1633). Ringing the massive bell requires 17 monks, 16 of them to raise the giant wooden hammer by pulling it away from the bell with hanging ropes, while the 17th monk rides the hammer, ready to push off with his legs in the split second before impact. The chime produced by the bell lasts for 20 minutes. When Albert Einstein visited Chion-in in 1922 he investigated the bell and said that the assertion that the bell was inaudible directly underneath it when it was struck was based on sound physics.

Many temples use concrete that has been expertly camouflaged to look like wood. Near many Buddhist temples are stone Jizo figures with red bibs and a staff in one hand and a jewel in the other. They honor the souls of children who have died or been aborted. See Above.


Buddhist Images in Japan

There are four main types of Buddhist sculptures found in Buddhist temples, each conveying a different level of being in Buddhist cosmology: 1) “Nyorai” (“images of Buddha”); 2) “bosatsu” (“bodhisattvas”); 3) deities and spirits such as “ten” (“heavenly being or devas”) and “nio” (“guardian tens”); and 4) “myoo” (“kings of wisdom and light that serve as protectors of Buddhism”). The most common myoo, Fudo Myoo, is usually a menacing-looking holding an upright sword.

Bosatsu are distinguishable from nyorai by a more human like appearance and a top knot of hair or a crowed headpiece, sometimes with smaller figures in the crown. One of the most common bodhisattvas found in Japanese temples is Jizo, a bodhisattva who helps children and travelers. Kannon (Avalokitesvara) appears in 33 different manifestations, including the Goddess of Mercy, is also very popular, especially with pregnant mothers.

Nyorai images are recognizable by their simple robes, lump on the head (symbolizing wisdom) and "snail shell" curls of hair. Common images found in temples include 1) Shaka (the Historical Buddha), recognizable by one hand raised in a praying gesture; 2) Yakushi (the Healing Buddha), with one hand raised in the praying gesture and the other holding a vial of medicine; 3) Amita (Buddha of the Western Paradise), sitting down with the knuckles together in a meditative position; 4) Dainichi (the Cosmic Buddha), usually portrayed with in princely clothes, with one hand clasped around a raised a finger on the other hand (a sexual gesture indicating the unity of being; and Maitreya (Buddha of the Future).

Nyorai images are often depicted with two bodhisattvas in a triad configuration and/or are backed by a nimbus a (large wooden board with Buddha and other images carved or painted on them).

The great bell at Chion Temple in Kyoto

Temple Gates at Japanese Buddhist Temples

Buddhist temples usually have outer gates and inner gates protected by statues or paintings of beasts, fierce gods, or warriors that ward off evil spirits. The gateways are composed of wood, stone, bronze or even concrete. The beasts include Chinese lions and Korean dogs. Fierce guardian gods and warriors on the outer gate sometime have lighting bolts coming out of their nostrils and a serrated swords in their hands. Their duty is to keep demons and evil spirits out of the temple area.

The inner gate at the antechamber to the temple complex is often guarded by four guardian kings, representing the four cardinal directions. The king in the north holds a pagoda representing earth, heaven and cosmic axis. The king in the east holds a sword with the power to evoke a black wind that produces tens of thousands of spears and golden serpents. The king in the west possesses lute. And the king in the south holds a dragon and a wish-fulfilling jewel.

Some demon statues are covered with spitballs from worshipers who wrote prayers or petitions on pieces of paper, chewed them, and threw them on the demon statues in hope that the prayers would be answered. Usually they are fold paper.


Temple Rituals and Etiquette in Japan

Temples are places where people pray, meditate participate in religious ceremonies, make offerings, light incense and candles, offer food to monks, meditate alone or in groups, chant mantras, listen to monks chant mantras, attend lectures or discussions led by respected teachers . Individual may also seek counseling from monks on nuns on personal matters. Buddhists are not required to visit temples.

One needs to take one's shoes off only if entering a temple. Hats should also be removed. Do not clap at Buddhist temples as you would at a Shinto shrine.

Praying is done by prostrating oneself or bowing with hands clasped from a standing or seated position in front of an image of Buddha. Prayers are usually made after tossing a coin into the saisen-bako (offering box). Offerings left at shrines include coins, apples, business cards,

Many Japanese visiting temples and shrines attach omiyuki folded paper fortunes to trees in the belief it will bring them good fortune. At some Buddhist temples visitors pay ¥300 for the privilege of writing the prayers on wooden rice spatulas.

Pilgrimages in Japan

19th century pilgrims
Pilgrimages have traditionally been undertaken by people who hoped to receive a blessings from the gods in the form of good health, success in business, abundant harvests or some such thing. They were undertaken by people who visited certain shrine or temples or climbed specific mountains. In the old days, when there were rigid travel restrictions, pilgrimages provided the only means for villagers to escape from their villages and see the world.

In the old days pilgrims often walked long distances and traveled for a considerable period of time. They often carried little more than the clothes on their back, a walking stick and a few possessions worn in a clothe tied around their shoulders. They begged for food along the way. People willingly gave them food out of the belief that would earn merit and win favor from the gods the pilgrims were seeking out.

The Kumano Trail — a route used by pilgrims traveling from Kyoto and Ise to the famous shrines on the Kii Peninsula — became very popular in the 10th century among the aristocracy, with members of Imperial family sometimes taking part. One emperor made the trek 33 times, each time accompanied by an entourage of 1,000 retainers. In the 14th and 15th centuries the routes became popular with ordinary people. At one time so many participated in the journey it was called the "pilgrimage of ants." Many embarked on the a visit to the shrines in the belief that miraculous powers attributed to the Kumano sect would be passed on to them. The 370-kilometer route from Kyoto to Kumano Hongu Taisha was the most popular route. It took about a month to traverse. Reaching the other two shrines took longer.

Pilgrimages in Japan Today

another 19th century pilgrim
The 88 Temples of Shikoku is a pilgrimage route popular today that consists of 88 temples scattered across the island of Shikoku that were visited by the famous monk Kobo Daishi (774-835), who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism after a visit to China. By some accounts 200,000 pilgrims do the circuit a year. Some temples are only a few kilometers apart and five or six can be visited in a day. Others are more than 100 kilometers apart. To visit them all requires a trek of about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles). Many wear the traditional pilgrims outfits (a white robe and a conical straw hat) and carry a walking stick.

Most pilgrims visit most of the temples by tour bus on several visits over a long period of time. A few still do it on foot. They need at least 45 to 60 days. With a car all 88 can be visited in about 10 days. The pilgrims, known as henro, are treated with great reverence and hospitality, often given osettai, free lodging, food and in some cases cash.

There is nothing particularly extraordinary about the temples. The route is what matters. Completing the entire circuit is said to rid the soul of 88 evil desires defined by Buddhist doctrine. Much of the route is along narrow, sometimes busy road. There are several tunnels after Temple No. 222 that worry some pilgrims that they are going to get hit by a passing vehicle.When pilgrims visit the temples they submit notebooks or scrolls on which they receive a written certificate verifying their visit which features the name of the Temple and its principal Buddhist image, together with a vermillion seal. Each notebook entry cost ¥300; a scroll entry ¥500.

Modern Pilgrims in Japan

The Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage, devoted to the ninth-century Buddhist scholar and saint Kukai (774-835), known posthumously as Kobo Daishi, hosts about 300,000 pilgrims a year in the lodgings that circle Shikoku--the island of the Daishi's birth.

About five weeks after Naoto Kan stepped down as prime minister, he donned the clothes of a pilgrim and resumed his pilgrimage that he had been undertaking to Shikoku’s 88 main temples, which he began back in 2004 with a shaven head. Christal Whelan wrote in Daily Yomiuri, “This marked his sixth journey in a pilgrimage done in sections over an eight-year period along the 1,400-kilometer route. His lone figure--a pilgrim's staff in hand and wearing a conical sedge hat, white trousers and jacket--presented an archetypal image of the pilgrim on a quest for healing and rejuvenation through exposure to objects and places held sacred. Pilgrimages--journeys to holy places traditionally made on foot--are thriving worldwide.” [Source: Christal Whelan, Daily Yomiuri, November 6, 2011]

Not only have pilgrim numbers soared on ancient, established routes, but visitors to these places historically affiliated with a specific religious and cultural tradition are increasingly coming from far-flung parts of the world. These "pilgrims" may not even share the religion associated with the pilgrimage they are undertaking. What they seek is to connect with the charisma rather than the dogma of a given faith.

The steady increase in both pilgrims and pilgrimages dates back to 1953, when the change in the Road Traffic Law allowed huge chartered buses to begin operation. Improvements in road networks, packaged bus tours, increase in car ownership, a growing economy and improved bridge infrastructure in the decades that followed all contributed to the surge in pilgrimages.

But this alone would not have been enough to mobilize a population were it not for the galvanizing influence of an NHK TV series on the Shikoku pilgrimage. Broadcast between 1998 and 2000, this program offered just the right blend of the idyllic and the cultural. Indeed, the transformation of pilgrimage from a wayfaring journey to a motorized experience has blurred the boundary between tourist and pilgrim in recent decades, and created a huge potential for the propagation of pilgrimages of a dramatically new kind.

Fudo Pilgrimage

There are a number of smaller pilgrimages in Japan lesser known that the 88 Temple route in Shikoku. Christal Whelan wrote in Daily Yomiuri, “I embarked on one of these--the Kinki 36 Fudo pilgrimage--with the intention of walking the whole route that takes in 36 temples, including notable images of Fudo-myoo, the Buddhist Immovable King of Light. The majority of the temples on the Fudo pilgrimage belong to either the Shingon or Tendai sects of Buddhism. Twelve are located in Osaka Prefecture, 11 in Kyoto Prefecture, Nara, Shiga and Wakayama prefectures have three temples each, while Hyogo Prefecture has four. Established in 1979 by the late Yoshiharu Shimoyasuba, a devout lay Buddhist with a talent for reviving defunct pilgrimages and creating new ones, the Fudo pilgrimage spans the whole Kansai region.

Fudo is an attractive focus of reverence for a pilgrimage. Typically depicted as a bare-chested man of chubby muscularity, either seated or standing on a pile of stones enveloped within a blazing fire, he represents the beginning of the religious quest, the unfolding of a Buddha-like mind, and fierce compassion. The sword in his right hand cuts through human nonsense, and the coiled rope with weights in his left hand catches those ensnared by their own passions and leads them home. The goma or fire ceremony, a central ritual of Shingon, Tendai and Shugendo, invokes Fudo's presence with fire to purify the wishes written by people on wooden sticks that are subsequently fed to the flames.

The Fudo pilgrimage promoted by the Kinki 36 Fudo Pilgrim Association attracts about 10,000 pilgrims a year. Unlike the full regalia expected of a pilgrim who walks Shikoku, this pilgrimage requires no special clothing. That also means that there is no way for the public to recognize the pilgrims and treat them accordingly. Osettai--the practice of giving money, food or lodgings to a pilgrim and receiving "merit" as a reward--is a venerable tradition in Japan that has long linked pilgrims to the communities through which they pass.

Because the Fudo pilgrimage spans a whole region and the available guidebooks (in Japanese) offer maps with directions only for transportation by train, bus or car, the walking pilgrim faces various challenges. I often asked resident priests at the temples I visited to draw me a map to the next temple--a request sometimes met with astonishment and a recommendation to take public transportation, or the kind offer of a lift.

Since no designated route exists, but only points to be reached, this pilgrimage took me through industrial Osaka Prefecture, sometimes dangerously close to fast-moving traffic, and through the longest covered shopping arcade in Japan. I crossed over the Kanzakigawa and Yodogawa bridges. I had previously only seen the latter from train windows. Unlike more established pilgrimages, the pilgrims on this route should also bear in mind that temples are likely to close as early as 4 p.m. and many have no lodgings for pilgrims or guests. This is hardly the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage with its 24-hour open-door policy for pilgrims.

Both the creator and the current promoters of the Fudo pilgrimage envisioned a journey done in sections, whereby the pilgrim visits temples on day trips in one prefecture via public or private transportation. To walk the entire route continuously would otherwise take over a month and require hotel or hostel bookings in advance. However the pilgrim chooses to travel, a nokyo, or small cloth-covered book with thick blank sheets for collecting ink stamps and calligraphic signatures from each temple, is a worthy investment and can be acquired at Shitennoji--the first temple on the route. Here, too, other religious items are available.Wearing a white kimono, it is possible to practice misogi or purification under a waterfall when a temple offers this option. after all, Fudo is associated as much with water as with fire.

In the final analysis, a pilgrimage is a temporary rupture from daily routine but eventually the pilgrim must go home and reintegrate the lessons learned, for the return is as important as the journey.

Contact Information: Kinki 36 Fudoson Reijokai (Kinki 36 Fudo Pilgrimage Association), (0721) 56-2372, www.kinki36fudo.org ; Henro Michi Hozon Kyoroku-kai (Shikoku Pilgrimage Preservation Association), (089) 951-2506 www.iyohenro.jp ; Shitennoji temple in Tennoji Ward, Osaka, (06) 6771-0066, www.shitennoji.or.jp ; Chishakuin temple, Higashi Ward, Kyoto, Daily goma ceremony starts at 6:45 a.m. (075) 541-5361 www.chisan.or.jp/sohonzan/ .

Buddhism, Death and Ancestor Worship in Japan

Donation markers
Buddhism, death and ancestor worship are linked together in Japan. Buddhist priests spend much of their time presiding over funerals. Buddhist temples contain family “butsudan”, or sacred boxes, where ancestral tablets (thought to contain the spirits of dead ancestors) and written prayers are placed. Some temples also contain hundreds of small jizo statutes for the souls of aborted children. You can often see parents making offerings of toys or small clothes to these statues.

To pay respect to their deceased loved ones and ancestors Japanese leave offerings of red rice, sake and flowers and small markers that say "I WILL TAKE SHELTER IN THE LAND OF BUDDHA" at their graves. When pouring the sake over the grave they sometimes say things like "Oh, grandfather, you've had nothing to drink for so long. You must be very thirsty."

Some Buddhist temples conduct ancient bon dances in which the souls of the dead are welcomed and then sent to a place of greater peace.

Ancestor worship involves the belief that the dead live on as spirits and that it is the responsibility of their family members and descendants to make sure that are well taken care of. If they are not they may come back and cause trouble to those family members and descendants. Unhappy dead ancestors are greatly feared and every effort is made to make sure they are comfortable in the afterlife. Accidents and illnesses are often attributed to deeds performed by the dead and cures are often attempts to placate them. In some societies, people go out of their way to be nice to one another, especially older people, out of fear of the nasty things they might do when they die.

Ancestor worship is still very much alive today. Ancestors are generally honored and appeased with daily and seasonal offerings and rituals. It has been said spirituality emanates from the family not a church or temple. Pictures of dead relatives are featured on family alters in many homes, where religious rituals and prayers are regularly performed.

Buddhist Funerals, See People

Japanese Buddhist Monks

Although many Buddhist monks in Japan have shaved heads, wear traditional robes, eat vegetarian food and chant sutras like Buddhist monks elsewhere in Asia, others don't fit the image that most of us have of monks. They smoke and drink, drive around in BMWs or high-powered motorcycles, are married with children, and earn six figure dollar incomes by taking for themselves up to 90 percent of the fees charged for a blessing ($100 to $1,000) or for a funeral (about $1,500). [Source: Quentin Hardy, the Wall Street Journal]

Japanese Buddhist monks don’t have to be celibate. They often have wives who receive some training and participate in the running of a temple. Sometimes monkdom and priest hood is passed from father to son.

Some Buddhist groups even serve as matchmakers for their monks, In June 2009, the Koysan Shingon Buddhist sect said it was going to help monks and priests and single women affiliated with its temples to find spouses as part of an effort tp make sure the sect stays alive as it is having an increasingly hard time finding priest to manage its temples.

A monk in an "unassuming temple behind a gas station in the outskirts of Osaka" that talked to the Wall Street Journal in the late 1990s earned an annual salary of $72,000, plus about $19,500 for funerals and other ritual blessing. He had a wife, daughter and a mortgage he was "still paying off" on a comfortable apartment with marble floors and a large screen TV topped by a statue of Fudomiyo, the deity of business prosperity.

Monk Rituals in Japan

Monks burn wood and lead prayers for the safe births, successful exams and other important occasions; perform Buddhist wedding ceremonies; and act as proxies for people who can not make it to their ancestors graves at designate times of the year.

The tokuda ceremony is an initiation rite for the Buddhist priesthood. Performed on children as young as one at certain Buddhist temples, it establishes the participant’s status as monk. Participants have their head shaved and don white robes for the ceremony.

In September of 2009, a 34-year-old Buddhist monk named Endo Mitsunaga finished walking 40,0000 kilometers and doing other training over seven years to complete the Sennichi-kaiho, one of the most difficult displays of asceticism. He is the 50th monk to complete the regime since 1585. He finished the task by praying at Enryakuji Temple on Mt Hiei near Kyoto.

Part-Time Buddhist Priest

Describing the life of a part-time Buddhist priest in Kyoto, Christal Whelan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Yasuo Sakakibara took over his family's Jodoshu temple in the Nishijin district of Kyoto after his father's death 38 years ago. Although Sakakibara was a full-time professor of economics at Christian-run Doshisha University at the time, he felt his duty as a son required that he not abandon the temple's congregation of 100 families. [Source: Christal Whelan, Daily Yomiuri, October 9, 2011]

Over time, many of the temple's followers had moved away, some to the suburbs of Kyoto and some as far away as Osaka and Tokyo. The temple had become a place where a person could not possibly make a living solely as a priest. His father had survived as a jack-of-all-trades--cleaner, gardener, repairman and priest--but Sakakibara had to hire different people for each of these roles, continuing only the spiritual duties himself. He also kept teaching at the university.

In the summer, he would visit all the homes of the danka to pray at the ancestral tablets of their Buddhist altars, and he would conduct six to eight funerals a year. "What happened was a cross-subsidization between religions," he said. "I worked at a Christian university to get money to support a Buddhist temple." After working two full-time jobs for 25 years, Sakakibara was exhausted, but he had no sons and his daughters had no interest in the temple nor in marrying temple priests. Eventually, Sakakibara sought a successor from outside his family, trained him, and retired from the temple.

Greedy Japanese Buddhist Monks

begging monk
In many ways, Japanese monks have transformed Buddhism into a business. Monks are organized like corporate staff and some seem to know more about accounting and making home pages than mediation and nirvana. Temples have been charged with tax fraud, and head monks have made fortunes by franchising the name of their temples to new temples and developing money-making schemes such as selling $10,000 tombs that register the names of the dead in perpetuity.

Some monks have been accused of greed and taking advantage of vulnerable relatives by charging exorbitant fees for afterlife names, written on plates and hung at Buddhist temples. The highest rank, called ingo, often sell for $10,000 or more . Skimping on costs on a name is regarded as dishonorable and stingy.

One American who studied Buddhism in Japan told the Wall Street Journal that the chief monk at the temple where he studied told him that "people don't respect you unless you are successful. You've got to have a good car to show you've reached a state of holiness."

Troublesome Monks and Famous Nuns in Japan

In 1995, a 43-year-old monk named Wakyo Godo was fired from Kita-ku Kokubunji temple in Osaka and was punched in the head by the temple's chief monk after Goda complained about doing janitorial work in the temple. To get even with the priest and the temple, Goda organized a Buddhist labor union, the Kokubunji Seven, the world's first religious trade union, and staged several strikes and sick outs.

In April 2010, a 31-year-old monk at Chusonji, a renowned Buddhist Temple in Iwate Prefecture on suspicion of engaging in lewd acts with a 16-year-old girl.

Arguably the best-known Buddhist in Japan is Jakucho Setouchi, an 80-something nun with a shaveD head who is known for her novels and frequently appears on televison. She became a nun in 1973 and founded her own temple in 1979. Before that she was known for frank — in the view of some — pornographic novels such “Joshidaise Qu Aling” (“University Student Qu Ailing,”1956) and “Natsu no Owari” (“End of Summer,” 1963) and won a major literary awards. She married when she in university and then fell in love with one of her husband’s students. Setouchi has been suggested as board member for the troubled Japan Sumo Association.

A Buddhist monk, with a long career as a prison chaplain, who spoke with death row inmates before their execution, told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Our job is to face people who will be executed under law and make them aware of their own sins. So we must not voice doubt about capital punishment.”

Image Sources: 1) monks, Jizo, donation markers, Ray Kinnane 2) Goddess, pilgrin, Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 3) Diagrams, JNTO 4) 5) 6) 7)

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2012

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