Essay on Influence of Buddhism within Japanese Society

Published: 2021-08-16
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According to history, Buddhism is said to have been officially introduced in Japan as early as 538A.D when the ruler of a certain ruler of a Korean Kingdom presented the Buddha ideology to Kimmei, a Japanese emperor. Although it is argued that it took several centuries for Buddhism to travel from native India to other Asian countries such as Japan, upon its introduction and established in Japan, Buddhism flourished and had an incalculable impact on the civilization, political religious and artistic development of Japan. This being said, the core intent of this essay is to discuss how the introduction of Buddhism, as a religion, significantly impacted Japan.

To begin with, since its introduction, Buddhism has had a significant influence on the development of the Japanese society. For instance, scholars contend that Buddhism significantly impacted the development of the Japanese society since the Nara period which began in 710 and ran through to the close of the eighth century, particularly, 784. During this period, a government was formed to match that of the Chinese capital and the Japanese capital, moved to the city of Nara. It is during this time that Buddhism, as a newly introduced religious belief in Japan, began to slowly exert its influence over the life of the Japanese and the Culture as a whole. More specifically, people practicing the Japanese culture began to embrace Buddhists beliefs and practices such as cremation in place of mound burial. Similarly, during this period, the Japanese people began to use Buddhist images in honoring the dead. Also, with reference to the religious beliefs and practices, the introduction of Buddhism in Japan significantly impacted the religious beliefs of the Japanese people. For instance, religious leaders such as monks and monasteries were overly interested in Buddhism and for this reason, they did not only look at the general Buddhist principles but also looked deeper at the Buddhist teachings. Based on this context, Saunders (2012) argues that it is during the Nara period that six sects grew out of and also came into existence. Besides, government organization maintained close connections with the newly introduced religion during this period.

In a similar regard, upon the introduction of the Buddhism in Japan, the Buddhist clergy played an integral role in influencing the countrys government. For instance, the clergy notably exerted their power through various forms of petition and protest. In this regard, the Buddhist sects in Japan substantially applied direct pressure to different political institutions and as a result, had an overly significant effect on the various government policies.

Tamura 2012, contends that the introduction and implementation of Buddhism also had a significant impact on the educated class. In this regard, the continued development and assimilation of Buddhism in Japan began to extend beyond the monasteries and began to draw the attention of the educated class. With this, those who were considered as Buddhist scholars during this time significantly borrowed various moral codes, theses from the newly introduced Buddhism. Therefore, based on this context, the scholars took these Buddhist interpretations and assimilated them into the native Japanese culture hence setting the stage for further influences of Buddhism on the society. For example, with the introduction of Buddhism among the educated class, there emerged many serious practitioners who practiced good works in accordance with the Buddhist principles.

Artistic influence is yet another significant impact that the introduction of Buddhism had in Japan. More fundamentally, after the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, Buddhist art steadily began to develop as the country continued to embrace Buddhism in 548. This was particularly exemplified by some files from the Asuka period, a period that immediately followed the countrys conversion to Buddhism. Particularly, these tiles portray a striking classical style that characterizes the Buddhist religion. Besides, with the introduction of Buddhism in Japan, Buddhist art became overly varied with regard to its expression. According to scholars, up to the modern day today, many elements of Greco-Buddhist art remain. One excellent example of such art that was overly impacted on by Buddhism is the Hercules inspiration that is behind the Nio guardian deities found at the front of Japanese Buddhist temples.

In a similar regard, Adolphson (2000) points out that unlike other types of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism had significant impacts on the culture of Japan. In this regard, although it took many years for Buddhism to be an entirely accepted form of religion in Japan owing to its native religion Shinto, scholars substantiate that Buddhism allowed the Yamato people to have different perspectives about various things in the Japanese society. Hall (2001) states that it is believed that the adoption, as well as the transmission of the Buddhist doctrine in Japan, gave way to the absorption of Chinese civilization from Korea. Besides, the introduction of Buddhism during the mid-Yamato period saw Japan begin to emulate Mainland China.

Arguably, scholars contend that political reasons highly motivated the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. This being said, it is evident that the court intended to establish a system that would consolidate all the existing plans in Japan. Therefore, based on this regard, history substantiates that the introduction of Buddhism in Japan offered to the society both intellectual and moral benefits which they did not receive from the already existing religion, Shinto. In the modern day, however, the influences of Buddhism has been polarized to the point that the Japanese society appears to be a secularized one because the majority of Japanese people seem to be indifferent to religious matters, with the exception of special occasions such as funeral services and festivals.

With the continued assimilation of Buddhism in Japan, a new class of warriors began to run the Shogunate as well as the Japanese Society. During this period, the warriors were constantly concerned with the impermanence of things, death and also the gradual disintegration of the world. However, with the help of Buddhism, these ideas were brought together similar to how the religion brought together various Japanese ideals upon its arrival in Japan in 552. Besides, it is during this time in Japan that the Buddhism emphasis became the central idea of salvation. Hence this concept became available to everyone. Also, at this time, Buddhism had become overly popular among the Japanese people leading to the emergence of new sects which with time, became common in Japan. According to Covell (2008) among the different sects that had emerged in Japan, Zen became the most influential sect that most significantly influenced the culture and the society of the Japanese people.

In addition, because Buddhism was adopted in Japan in the form of religious teachings, scholars contend that these Buddhist teachings enhanced the Japanese understanding of certain school of thoughts such as philosophy, natural sciences, and psychology. This was also exemplified by the religious beliefs of the Japanese people. For instance, with reference to the religious life, Buddhism substantially improved the religious concepts that originated in Japan through Shinto. Thus, this being said, in a nutshell, scholars believe that Buddhism significantly drew both the ethical and moral side towards the religious lives of the Japanese people.

Despite the numerous impacts of Buddhism in Japan, scholars contend that the most significant contribution of the religion in the Japanese society is greatly attributed to the fact that Buddhism acted as the means that enabled the transportation of new ideas not only in Japan as a country but also throughout the Asian continent. Besides, history has it that throughout the course of Japanese history, an extensive amount of both Chinese and the Korean culture were introduced in Japan by way of Buddhism. In a similar regard, the introduction of Buddhism in Japan also saw a tremendous influence in various fields such as, painting, architecture, music, and poetry.

In a similar regard, Zen Buddhism which is up to the modern day today is considered an integral part of the Japanese culture, had significant impacts on Japanese. For instance, O'Brien (2017) contends that one of the significant influences of Zen Buddhism in Japan is the tolerance to religion. This is essentially attributed to the fact that Zen Buddhism greatly undermines written text and instead emphasized on self-realization. This, in essence, ensures that the Buddhist followers and practitioners do not become fanatics since his beliefs and practices are not dependent on any religious identity but are instead centered on self-actualization as a primary means of fulfillment. This being the case, the beliefs and practices of Zen Buddhism have therefore ensured that other religious practices like Shinto and Christianity do coexist with the Zen. Similarly, another great impact of Zen Buddhism on Japan is the great emphasis on self-discipline. Since the introduction of Buddhism in Japan in the Eighth century, the philosophies of Zen Buddhism have ensured that practitioners understand themselves and also have control over their actions.

Also, to a broader perspective, the introduction of Buddhism in Japan brought about great development in both the infrastructure and various social amenities in Japan. For instance, upon the introduction of the religion, various cities in Japan became centers of Buddhist learning. This impact is also felt in the modern day today since there are many Buddhist temples and paintings which are still admired today.

Conversely, unlike in the olden days when Buddhism was introduced in Japan, today, the religion does not have as significant impacts on the daily lives of most Japanese. Despite the fact that there are approximately 90 million Japanese people who identify themselves as Buddhists, the religion does not have impacts as substantial as it did in the olden days. However, up to the modern day today, those who identify themselves as Buddhists still follow some cultural beliefs and practices such as conducting funerals in accordance with the Buddhist tradition. Similarly, a majority of the Buddhist families in Japan still have altered in their homes through which they honor their ancestors.


Adolphson, F. (2002). Buddhism and iconoclasm in East Asia: A history. London: Bloomsbury.

Covell, S. G. (2008). Japanese temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a religion of renunciation. Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press.

Hall, D. P. (2001). The art of Buddhism: An introduction to its history & meaning. Boston: Shambhala.

Hammer, E. (2017). Buddhism in Japan. Retrieved from

O'Brien, B. (2017, July 29). Are We Seeing the End of Japanese Buddhism? Retrieved from

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