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Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600–2005

Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600–2005

Patricia J. Graham
Copyright Date: 2007
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    Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600–2005
    Book Description:

    Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art explores the transformation of Buddhism from the premodern to the contemporary era in Japan and the central role its visual culture has played in this transformation. Although Buddhism is generally regarded as peripheral to modern Japanese society, this book demonstrates otherwise. Its chapters elucidate the thread of change over time in the practice of Buddhism as revealed in temple worship halls and other sites of devotion and in imagery representing the religion’s most popular deities and religious practices. It also introduces the work of modern and contemporary artists who are not generally associated with institutional Buddhism and its canonical visual requirements but whose faith inspires their art. The author makes a persuasive argument that the neglect of these materials by scholars results from erroneous presumptions about the aesthetic superiority of early Japanese Buddhist artifacts and an asserted decline in the institutional power of the religion after the sixteenth century. She demonstrates that recent works constitute a significant contribution to the history of Japanese art and architecture, providing evidence of Buddhism’s compelling presence at all levels of Japanese society and its evolution in response to the needs of new generations of supporters.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6246-6
    Subjects: Religion, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Translations, References, and Usage of Chinese and Japanese Names, Dates, and Terms
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Map of Japan
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    BUDDHISM, AT ITS CORE, espouses compassion for all living things and deep respect for the sanctity of life. It richly rewards devotees who follow these principles by guiding them to a state of awakened consciousness or enlightenment (satoriin the Zen Buddhist sects and often referred to as the Buddha Mind by Western Buddhist practitioners), freeing them from desire and releasing them from suffering within an endless cycle of reincarnation. Some denominations of Buddhism decree that the path to this self-realization lies in intense meditation and performance of rituals, while others teach that it can be reached through submission to...

  7. Part I Buddhism in the Arts of Early Modern Japan, 1600–1868

    • Chapter One Institutional Buddhism under Warrior Rule
      (pp. 17-44)

      THE WARRIORS WHO struggled to unite Japan under their military rule during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries understood that their ability to govern effectively meant controlling the nation’s powerful Buddhist institutions and aligning themselves with the faith’s spiritual authority. The actions they took in these regards had profound ramifications on the character of the practice of Buddhism thereafter in Japan. This chapter explores the use of religious institutions by these warriors, especially the first five Tokugawa shoguns, under whose direction most of the officially sanctioned Buddhist temples of the early modern era were erected.

      The first Tokugawa shogun,...

    • Chapter Two Buddhist Temples for the Elites
      (pp. 45-72)

      THE MANY TEMPLES introduced in this chapter dispute the widespread assertion that elite supporters of Buddhism in the Edo period contributed little to the propagation of the faith. Instead, they reveal the stalwart devotion to Buddhism by the elites—aristocrats and high-ranking samurai—whose status and financial resources enabled them to create significant Buddhist architectural monuments throughout the country. The temples surveyed reveal various motivations for temple founding, including political expediency, personal religious devotion, honoring of deceased family members, and the persuasive powers of illustrious priests.

      As well as directly sponsoring the construction of temples throughout the seventeenth century, the...

    • Chapter Three Temples for Commoners
      (pp. 73-95)

      TOKUGAWA POLICIES assured that adherents to government-approved Buddhist sects increased, but because citizens could join temples of their choice, not all sects grew equally. The various Pure Land and Sōtō Zen sects most successfully promoted the abilities of their clerics and sacred deities to help improve the quality of peoples’ lives and thereby prospered the most, a situation that prevails even today (Reader and Tanabe 1998; Williams 2000, 2005). By the early eighteenth century, the Sōtō sect had more branch temples throughout the country than any other, although the Pure Land sects had larger numbers of actual supporters (Williams 2005,...

    • Chapter Four Depictions of Popular Deities and Spiritual Concerns
      (pp. 96-126)

      BY THE EARLY modern period, Buddhism had developed into a complex and diverse belief system with numerous sects and subsects, each with its own doctrines, sect-specific rituals, and identifiable imagery. Yet the shared concerns of devotees for safety and material success in this world and fears about the unknown afterlife concurrently encouraged a syncretic practice of the faith that crossed sectarian divisions. Following earlier trends, many rites were universally observed, the most popular deities were widely venerated, and teachings espoused by particular sects often came to be incorporated into others. Prolonged peace and more stable social conditions helped fuel a...

    • Chapter Five Professional Icon-Makers
      (pp. 127-149)

      PATRONAGE OF TEMPLES increased during the Edo period in accordance with steady population growth. The populace patronized these temples and purchased religious imagery not only because the government dictated their allegiance to Buddhist institutions, but also because of the successful proselytizing efforts of clerics that encouraged them to look to the faith for assistance in alleviating their worldly troubles and as a means of assuaging their fears about life after death. These factors helped create opportunities for individuals and groups of professional artists to engage in the business of icon making for temples. Some Buddhist image-makers specialized in production of...

    • Color plates
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter Six Expressions of Faith
      (pp. 150-174)

      THIS CHAPTER SURVEYS visual imagery by devout followers of Buddhism during the early modern period. The makers of these images came from all sectors of society and lived in both urban and rural locales. None sold these objects for personal gain. Some trained in studios of professional, secular artists while others were entirely self-taught. Their motivations also varied widely according to personal inclinations and professional needs. Those from affluent families often participated in devotional practices that required great effort over long periods of time; their wealth allowed them the freedom to do so. Their images were prayers for amassing karmic...

  8. Part II Buddhist Imagery and Sacred Sites in Modern Japan, 1868–2005

    • Chapter Seven Buddhist Institutions after an Era of Persecution, 1868–1945
      (pp. 177-198)

      THE LEADERS of The Meiji Restoration dealt a heavy blow to institutional Buddhism by tying reassertion of imperial power to the emperor’s divine status as heir to the Shinto deities who created Japan, making Shinto the country’s national religion. Weeks after the Meiji Restoration in 1868 and continuing to 1872, the government enacted separation of Shinto and Buddhism (shinbutsu bunri) edicts, which included provisions that forced temples to close or become Shinto shrines, scattered lay follower networks, stripped temples of their role as census keepers, and mandated retirement of thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns, many of whom became Shinto...

    • Chapter Eight From Icon to Art, 1868–1945
      (pp. 199-225)

      AROUND THE TIME the new Meiji leaders developed appreciation for ancient Buddhist imagery and created national museums to preserve them, these arts began to be purchased by private collectors, both Japanese and foreign. Simultaneously, artists associated with newly formed art schools turned away from representation of Buddhist themes popular in the late Edo period and drew inspiration from these newly discovered treasures, as well as from new philosophical ideas about art and religion.¹ Sometimes, they expressed their personal faith in their art, creating these works for their own contemplation, but often they showed them at public art exhibitions, both the...

    • Chapter Nine Buddhist Sites of Worship, 1945–2005
      (pp. 226-250)

      WORLD WAR II dramatically changed the architectural landscape of Japan. Previously, wooden structures predominated. Afterwards, increasingly stringent fire-prevention codes, better access to foreign building materials, and new technologies encouraged the construction of buildings — including Buddhist worship halls traditionally made of timber — of reinforced concrete and other modern building materials. Japanese architects embraced modernist styles of architecture — buildings erected using modern materials, stripped of extraneous ornamentation, and designed for ease of use — as much for technical virtuosity as for aesthetics and practicality.¹ These structures also contributed to projecting a desired aura of modernity in the appearance of Japan’s built environment.


    • Color plates
      (pp. None)
    • Chapter Ten Visualizing Faith, 1945–2005
      (pp. 251-274)

      SINCE THE END OF World War II, Japanese Buddhist followers have become divided into two, not always mutually exclusive, groups of enthusiasts: monks and lay practitioners associated with its traditional institutions, and individuals inspired by Buddhist philosophy as propagated by secular scholars. Because of the multiple ways people have come to relate to Buddhism, visual expression takes many forms. Temples continue to generate a need for recognizable representations of the faith’s deities, often in response to new devotional practices. Specialists in Buddhist image making, workshops of anonymous artisans, and amateur devotees all create such images. Other visual materials, generally more...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 275-278)

    THE PROFOUND metamorphosis of Buddhism and its arts over the past four centuries in Japan has occurred before the backdrop of broad sociopolitical developments that have irrevocably modernized the nation. These developments instigated a power shift from the religious to the secular sphere, facilitating the emergence of a Westernized, secular-based way of life. Despite these changes, as the arts and sites introduced in this book have demonstrated, Japanese people did not abandon their faith in Buddhism. Buddhism’s recent material culture belies the notion of a demise of the faith as a cultural force in modern and contemporary Japan. These materials...

  10. Appendix. Guide To Tokyo-Area Temples Mentioned in This Book
    (pp. 279-280)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 281-306)
  12. Character Glossary
    (pp. 307-312)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 313-338)
  14. Index
    (pp. 339-354)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 355-356)