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Shinbutsu bunri

shinbutsu bunri separator, shinbutsu bunrin
The Japanese term shinbutsu bunri 神仏分離 indicates the separation of Shinto from Buddhism, introduced after the Meiji Restoration which separated Shinto kami from buddhas, and also Buddhist temples from Shinto shrines, which were originally amalgamated


  • 1 Background before 1868
  • 2 Policy of the Meiji government
  • 3 Details of the policy
  • 4 Consequences of the policy
  • 5 Haibutsu kishaku
  • 6 Notes
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links

Background before 1868edit

Until the end of the Edo period, in 1868, Shinto and Buddhism were intimately connected in what was called shinbutsu-shūgō 神仏習合, to the point that the same buildings were often used as both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and Shinto gods were interpreted as manifestations of Buddhas However, the tendency to oppose Buddhism as a foreign import and to uphold Shinto as the native religion can be seen already during the early modern era, partly as a nationalistic reaction1 In a broad sense, the term shinbutsu bunri indicates the effects of the anti-Buddhist movement that, from the middle of the Edo period onwards, accompanied the spread of Confucianism, the growth of studies of ancient Japanese literature and culture kokugaku, and the rise of Shinto-based nationalism,2 All these movements had reasons to oppose Buddhism

Policy of the Meiji governmentedit

In a narrower sense, shinbutsu bunri refers to the policy of separating Shinto and Buddhism pursued by the new Meiji government with the Kami and Buddhas Separation Order 神仏判然令, Shinbutsu Hanzenrei of 1868 This order triggered the haibutsu kishaku, a violent anti-Buddhist movement that caused the forcible closure of thousands of temples, the confiscation of their land, the forced return of many monks to lay life or their transformation into Shinto priests, and the destruction of numerous books, statues and other Buddhist artefacts23 Even bronze bells were melted down to make cannons2 However, the process of separation stalled by 1873, the government's intervention in support of the order was relaxed, and even today the separation is still only partially complete: many major Buddhist temples retain small shrines dedicated to tutelary Shinto kami, and Buddhist figures, such as the goddess Kannon, are revered in Shinto shrines4 The policy failed in its short-term aims and was ultimately abandoned, but it was successful in the long term in creating a new religious status quo in which Shinto and Buddhism are perceived as different and independent

Details of the policyedit

The new government that seized power in 1868 saw shinbutsu bunri as a way to reduce the immense wealth and power of the Buddhist sects At the same time, it was supposed to give Shinto, and especially its cult of the Emperor, time to grow into an effective vehicle for nationalism

A first order issued by the Jingijimuka in April 1868 ordered the defrocking of shasō and bettō shrine monks performing Buddhist rites at Shinto shrines15

A few days later, the Daijōkan banned the application of Buddhist terminology such as gongen to Japanese kami and the veneration of Buddhist statues in shrines1

Next came a ban on applying the Buddhist term Daibosatsu Great Bodhisattva to the syncretic kami Hachiman at the Iwashimizu Hachiman-gū and Usa Hachiman-gū shrines1

In the final stage, all the defrocked bettō and shasō were told to become "shrine priests" kannushi and return to their shrines1 Also, monks of the Nichiren sect were told not to refer to some deities as kami1

Consequences of the policyedit

The campaign ultimately failed to destroy the influence of Buddhism on the Japanese people, who still needed funerals, graves and ancestral rites,6 all services traditionally provided by Buddhism The state's first attempt to influence religious life therefore resulted in failure7 In 1873, the government admitted that the effort to elevate Shinto above Buddhism had failed5 However, the government did cause the diffusion of the idea that Shinto was the true religion of the Japanese, finally revealed after remaining for a long time hidden behind Buddhism4

In recent years, many historians have come to believe that the syncretism of kami and Buddhas shinbutsu-shūgō was just as authentically Japanese4 The government was successful in creating the impression that Shinto and Buddhism in Japan are completely independent religions Most Japanese today are unaware that some of their customary religious practices cannot be understood outside the context of the syncretism of kami and Buddhas8 In discussing some Japanese Buddhist temples dedicated to the cult of kami Inari, Shinto scholar Karen Smyers comments:

Recent scholarship has shown the term Shinto to be highly problematic – its current content is largely a political construction of the Meiji period The surprise of many of my informants regarding the existence of Buddhist Inari temples shows the success of the government's attempt to create separate conceptual categories regarding sites and certain identities, although practice remains multiple and nonexclusive9

Haibutsu kishakuedit

Main article: Haibutsu kishaku See also: Koshintō and Shinbutsu kakuri

Although the government did not explicitly order the closing of temples, the destruction of Buddhist property or the defrocking of Buddhist priests and nuns, they were often interpreted as implying it, and the haibutsu kishaku movement soon spread across the country1 The shinbutsu bunri policy was itself the direct cause of serious damage to important cultural properties Because mixing the two religions was now forbidden, shrines and temples had to give away some of their treasures10 For example, the giant Niō 仁王, wooden statues of guardian beings, at the entrance of the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, a shrine in Kamakura, were objects of Buddhist worship and therefore illegal where they were, so they were sold to Jufuku-ji, where they still stand today11 The shrine also had to destroy Buddhism-related buildings, for example its tahōtō tower, its midō 御堂, and its shichidō garan 七堂伽藍10 Many Buddhist temples were simply closed, for example Zenkō-ji, to which the now-independent Meigetsu-in used to belong

Another consequence of the policy was the creation of so-called "invented traditions"12 To avoid the destruction of material illegal under the new rules, Shinto and Buddhist priests invented traditions, genealogies and other information that justified its presence12 Later, awareness of their origin was often lost, causing considerable confusion among historians


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Shinbutsu Bunri", Encyclopedia of Shinto 
  2. ^ a b c Stone, Review of Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan 
  3. ^ "Haibutsukishaku", Encyclopedia of Shinto 
  4. ^ a b c Scheid, Grundbegriffe, Shinto 
  5. ^ a b Burkman, The Urakami Incidents and the Struggle for Religious Toleration in Early Meiji Japan, p 175 
  6. ^ Hardacre 1986, p 42  Missing or empty |title= help
  7. ^ Hardacre 1986, p 43  Missing or empty |title= help
  8. ^ Grapard 1984, p 246  Missing or empty |title= help
  9. ^ Smyers, p 219  Missing or empty |title= help
  10. ^ a b Kamakura Official Textbook for Culture and Tourism 「鎌倉観光文化検定公式テキストブック」 in Japanese
  11. ^ Iso, Kamakura Fact and Legend, p 172 
  12. ^ a b Smyers 1999, pp 26–27  Missing or empty |title= help


  • Bocking, Brian "Shinbutsu Bunri" University of Cumbria Retrieved 2008-07-18 
  • Burkman, Thomas W 1974 "The Urakami Incidencts and the Struggle for Religious Tolerance in Early Meiji Japan" Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 1 2–3: 143–216 Archived from the original PDF on June 22, 2014 Retrieved 2008-07-17 
  • Burns, Susan 2007-04-19 "The Kokugaku Native StudiesSchool" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Stanford, California: Stanford University Press Retrieved 2008-07-17 
  • Grapard, Allan 1984 "Japan's Ignored Revolution: The Separation of Shinto and Buddhism Shimbutsu Bunri and a case study: Tōnomine" the University of Chicago Press JSTOR 1062445  Missing or empty |url= help
  • Hardacre, Helen 1986 "Creating State Shinto: The Great Promulgation Campaign and the New Religions" Journal of Japanese Studies JSTOR 132446  Missing or empty |url= help
  • Hur, Nam-Lin 2007 "Introduction: The Rise of Funerary Buddhism in Tokugawa Japan" Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan: Buddhism, Anti-Christianity, and the 'Danka' System PDF Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press ISBN 0-674-02503-2 Archived from the original on 2012-03-31 Retrieved 2008-07-17 CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown link
  • Kamakura Shunshūsha 2008 「鎌倉観光文化検定公式テキストブック」 Kamakura Official Textbook for Culture and Tourism Kamakura 
  • Loftus, Ronald "Confucianism in the Edo Tokugawa Period" Retrieved 2008-07-17 
  • Mutsu, Iso June 1995 "Jufuku-ji" Kamakura: Fact and Legend Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing ISBN 0-8048-1968-8 
  • Sakamoto, Koremaru 2007-02-28 "Shinbutsu Bunri" Encyclopedia of Shinto Tokyo: Kokugakuin University Retrieved 2008-07-03 
  • Sakamoto, Koremaru 2007-03-30 "Haibutsukishaku" Encyclopedia of Shinto Tokyo: Kokugakuin University Retrieved 2008-07-03 
  • Scheid, Berhnard "Grundbegriffe:Shinto" Religion in Japan University of Vienna Retrieved 9 December 2010 
  • "Shinbutsu Bunri" Overview of World Religions University of Cumbria Retrieved 2008-07-17 
  • Smyers, Karen Ann 1999 The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press ISBN 0-8248-2102-5 
  • Stone, Jacqueline 1993 "Review of Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan: Buddhism and Its Persecution by James Edward Ketelaar" Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 53 2: 582–598 Retrieved 2008-07-03 
  • Tamura, Yoshiro 2000 "The Birth of the Japanese Nation" Japanese Buddhism: A Cultural History Tokyo: Kosei Publishing Company ISBN 4-333-01684-3 
  • Watt, Paul B "Review of Death and Social Order in Tokugawa Japan: Buddhism, Anti-Christianity, and the 'Danka' System by Nam-Lin Hur" Itinerario: International Journal on the History of European Expansion and Global Interaction Archived from the original on March 2, 2012 Retrieved 2008-07-17 

External linksedit

  • 明治元年(1868)3月|神仏分離令が出される:日本のあゆみ 神号々仏語ヲ用ヒ或ハ仏像ヲ神体ト為シ鰐口梵鐘等装置セシ神社改正処分・三条 Archive of photographs of Meiji document ordering separation of Shinto and Buddhism National Archives of Japan

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