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Faith and Power in Japanese Buddhist Art, 1600–2005

Patricia J. Graham

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I am very grateful to the organizations that supported my research and this book’s production. The Asian Cultural Council of New York funded initial field research in Japan in 2001. A National Endowment for the Humanities grant allowed for subsequent short research trips and time to devote to writing over a two-year period from 2003–2005. Publication of this book has also been...

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Note on Translations, References, and Usage of Chinese and Japanese Names, Dates, and Terms

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pp. ix

All Chinese and Japanese names, except for those of authors writing in English, appear with surname first. Following customary usage, premodern Japanese individuals and most of those born through the nineteenth century are referred to by their given or artist names. Family names are used for reference to more recent individuals and authors. Exceptions to this rule occasionally...

Map of Japan

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pp. xi

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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 (satori in the Zen Buddhist sects and often referred to as the Buddha Mind by Western Buddhist practitioners), freeing them from desire and releasing them...

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Part l. Buddhism in the Arts of Early Modern Japan, 1600-1868

The copious and diverse Buddhist arts and sites of worship from the Edo period were created by and for people from all levels of society. They facilitated the practical needs of Buddhism's many followers to pray for salvation in the afterlife or betterment of their present lives. Throughout Japan's history, the aristocrats and upper...

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Chapter One. Institutional Buddhism under Warrior Rule

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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

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Chapter Two. Buddhist Temples for the Elites

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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...

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Chapter Three. Temples for Commoners

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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...

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Chapter Four. Depictions of Popular Deities and Spiritual Concerns

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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...

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Chapter Five. Professional Icon-Makers [Includes Image Plates]

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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...

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Chapter Six. Expressions of Faith

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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...

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Part ll. Buddhist Imagery and Sacred Sites in Modern Japan, 1868-2005

Ever since Westerns first freely roamed Japan during the Meiji period, they have enjoyed visiting Buddhist temples and their gardens. Many came simply to see the exotic land of Japan firsthand or to serve as missionaries, but some became so entranced by Buddhism that they converted to the faith. 1...

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Chapter Seven. Buddhist Institutions after an Era of Persecution, 1868 – 1945

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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...

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Chapter Eight. From Icon to Art, 1868 – 1945

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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...

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Chapter Nine. Buddhist Sites of Worship, 1945 – 2005 [Includes Image Plates]

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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...

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Chapter Ten. Visualizing Faith, 1945 – 2005

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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...

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pp. 275-277

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...

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Appendix: Guide to Tokyo-Area Temples Mentioned in This Book

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pp. 279-280

Note: The temples listed below are limited to those within Tokyo or accessible from the city as day trips. This guide provides only general locations/directions using public transportation. Because access routes sometimes change, it is best to verify directions prior to visiting. For temples within the city of Tokyo,...


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pp. 281-306

Character Glossary

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pp. 307-311


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pp. 313-338


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pp. 339-353

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862466
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824831264

Publication Year: 2007

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Subject Headings

  • Buddhism -- Japan -- History -- 1868-1945.
  • Buddhism -- Japan -- History -- 1945-.
  • Buddhist arts -- Japan.
  • Buddhism -- Japan -- History -- 1600-1868.
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