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  • Empire of the Dharma: Korean and Japanese Buddhism, 1877–1912 by Hwansoo Ilmee Kim
  • Jin Y. Park (bio)
Empire of the Dharma: Korean and Japanese Buddhism, 1877–1912. By Hwansoo Ilmee Kim. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Asia Center; distributed by Harvard University Press, 2012. Pp. 412. Hardcover $39.95, isbn 978-0-674-06575-8.

Modern Buddhism has made itself a visible subfield in Buddhist scholarship in recent years. Korean Buddhist scholarship has also paid attention to the modern period, focusing on Korean Buddhism’s reactions to modernity and colonialism. Hwansoo Ilmee Kim’s Empire of the Dharma: Korean and Japanese Buddhism, 1877–1912 is not only a welcome addition to this emerging scholarship but also proves itself to be a seminal work in clarifying the dynamic and complex interactions between Korean and Japanese Buddhism. Korean Buddhist scholarship has had a tendency to employ the binary structure of “patriot versus collaborator” or “pure versus contaminated Buddhism” with regard to the relationship between Korean and Japanese Buddhism. Empire of the Dharma problematizes this black-and-white historiography and demonstrates that a careful examination of available materials demands a radical reconsideration of the simplistic postulation of the relationship between Korean and Japanese Buddhism at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In seven chapters the book covers the thirty-five-year period between 1877, when the first Japanese temple opened in Korea, and 1912, when the Temple Ordinance segregated Japanese and Korean Buddhism. The Introduction begins with a description of a well-known meeting, when Yi Hoegwang (1862–1933) went to Tokyo in 1910 to see Takeda Hanshi (1863–1911), the head priest of the Sōtōshū, to set up an alliance between Japanese Sōtōshū and Korean Wŏnjong. Challenging the view that sees this meeting as a form of “religious annexation,” the author asks which side benefited more from the Japanese-Korean Buddhist interactions in this period (p. 23). This is a core question that the author tries to answer throughout the book by offering details of the relationship drawing from various materials in the Korean and Japanese languages.

Chapter 1 offers an outline of the history of Korean and Japanese Buddhism. By the mid-nineteenth century, Korean Buddhism was at its lowest level of social status as a result of the suppression of the religion by the Neo-Confucian Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910). In Japan, the Meiji government initially sought to disband Buddhism, but Buddhist leaders modernized and asserted Buddhism’s relevance to the modern [End Page 630] world. This worked so well that Japan appointed them as key players in colonial ventures. In evaluating their work in Korea, the author states: “Japanese Buddhist priests, who were interested in advancing Buddhism as a modern religion, had a vision that was more closely aligned with Korean Buddhist monks’ vision” (pp. 45–46).

The second chapter examines the beginning of the Japanese Buddhist missionary efforts abroad with a focus on three Japanese priests—Okumura Enshin, Katō Bunkyō, and Shaku Unshō—and their relationships with Korean monastics. The author credits the Meiji government with the success of Japanese Buddhists’ transnational efforts. This is also what makes Japanese Buddhist missionary work unique, and what differentiates it not only from other Buddhisms but also from Christianity. The Meiji government tasked these Buddhists with spreading nationalistic ideology to colonial subjects to pacify them and ensure their dedication to the emperor. The author offers three personal accounts to illuminate the personal nature of the relationship between Japanese and Korean Buddhists.

Chapter 3 looks closely at the work of the four Buddhist sects, namely the Higashi Honganji (Ōtani-ha), the Nichirenshū, the Jōdoshū, and the Nishi Honganji (Honganji-ha). The author argues that in understanding the activities of these four Japanese Buddhist sects, one should pay attention to their goal of expanding their sectarian identity and not just their “Japanese” Buddhist identity. Thus, the author states, “Japanese Buddhist missionaries’ aggressiveness to recruit Korean monastics, driven by sectarianism, caused trouble, creating further instability and resentment among Koreans” (p. 109).

Chapter 4 discusses the responses of Korean monks, the Korean government, and the Resident-General’s Office to the growing influence of...


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