Email Site Author Mark Schumacher Sign Up for Our Free Newsletter on Buddhist Statuary spacer
Follow on Social Media
My Wordpress Buddha Statues Blog Follow Me on Facebook Follow Me on Twitter Follow Me on LinkedIn Follow Me on Youtube Free RSS Buddha News Feed 

Japanese Buddhism, Photo Dictionary of Japan's Shinto and Buddhist DivinitiesRETURN TO TOP PAGE of Japanese Buddhist Statuary A to Z Photo Library & Dictionary of Gods, Goddesses, Shinto Kami, Creatures, and DemonsCopyright and Usage PoliciesJump to Sister Store Selling Handcrafted Buddha Statues from China, Japan, and Asia
top line

Home: What's New
Buddha's Teaching
History & Timeline
Historical Buddha
Student's Guide
Teacher's Guide

Who's Who
Shinto Kami
Stars & Planets
Tenbu (Deva)

About Site Author
Buddhism in Japan
Busshi Glossary
Carving Techniques
Cycle of Suffering
Drapery / Robes
Mandala Guide
Mudra Guide
Objects Guide
Pilgrimage Guide
Shinto Guide
Statues by Artist
Statues by Era
Symbols Guide

3 Element Stele
3 Monkeys
4 Bosatsu
4 Celestial Emblems
4 Heavenly Kings
5 (Number Five)
5 Elements
5 Tathagata
5 Tier Pagoda
5 Wisdom Kings
6 Jizo (Jizou)
6 Kannon
6 Realms
6 Nara Schools
7 Lucky Gods
7 Nara Temples
8 Legions
8 Zodiac Patrons
10 Kings of Hell
12 Devas
12 Generals
12 Zodiac Animals
13 Butsu (Funerals)
28 Legions
28 Constellations
30 Monthly Buddha
30 Monthly Kami
33 Kannon
About the Author
Amano Jyaku
Amida Nyorai
Arakan (Rakan)
Arhat (Rakan)
Ashuku Nyorai
Asuka Era Art Tour
Asura (Ashura)
Baku (Eats Dreams)
Benzaiten (Benten)
Big Buddha
Birushana Nyorai
Bonbori Artwork
Bosatsu Group
Bosatsu of Mercy
Bosatsu on Clouds
Buddha (Historical)
Buddha Group
Buddha Statues
Busshi (Sculptors)
Celestial Emblems
Celestial Maidens
Children Patrons
Color Red
Contact Us
Dainichi Nyorai
Daruma (Zen)
Datsueba (Hell Hag)
Deva (Tenbu)
Drapery (Robes)
Early Buddhism Jpn
Eight Legions
En no Gyoja
Family Tree
Footprints of Buddha
Fox (Inari)
Fudo Myo-o
Fugen Bosatsu
Fujin (Wind God)
Gakko & Nikko
Godai Nyorai
Goddess of Mercy
Hachi Bushu
Hands (Mudra)
Hell (10 Judges)
Hell Hag (Datsueba)
Hell Scrolls
Hikyu (Lion Beast)
Holy Mountains
Ho-o (Phoenix)
Inari (Fox)
Jizo (Jizou)
Jocho Busshi
Juni Shi
Juni Shinsho
Juni Ten
Junrei (Pilgrimage)
Jurojin (Juroujin)
Juzenji (Juuzenji)
Jyaki or Tentoki
Kaikei Busshi
Kamakura Buddhism
Kannon Bosatsu
Kitchen Gods
Kitsune (Oinari)
Kokuzo Bosatsu
Kojin (Koujin)
Korean Buddhism
Koshin (Koushin)
Lanterns (Stone)
Making Statues
Maneki Neko
Marishiten (Marici)
Miroku Bosatsu
Monju Bosatsu
Moon Lodges
Mother Goddess
Mudra (Hands)
Myoken - Pole Star
Myo-o (Myou-ou)
Nara Era Art Tour
Newsletter Sign-up
Nijuhachi Bushu
Nikko & Gakko
Nio Protectors
Nyorai Group
Objects & Symbols
Phoenix (Ho-o)
Pilgrimage Guide
Protective Stones
Raigo Triad
Raijin (Thunder)
Rakan (Arhat)
Red Clothing
Robes (Drapery)
Rock Gardens
Sanbo Kojin
Sanno Gongen
Sculptors (Busshi)
Seishi Bosatsu
Sendan Kendatsuba
Seven Lucky Gods
Shachi, Shachihoko
Shaka Nyorai
Shape Shifters
Shijin (Shishin)
Shinra Myoujin
Shinto Clergy
Shinto Concepts
Shinto Kami
Shinto Main Menu
Shinto Sects
Shinto Shrines
Shishi (Lion)
Shoki (Shouki)
Shomen Kongo
Shotoku Taishi
Six States
Star Deities
Stone Gardens
Stone Graves
Stone Lanterns
Stones (Top Menu)
Suijin (Water)
Symbols & Objects
Temple Lodging
Tenbu Group
Tennin & Tennyo
Tentoki or Jyaki
Tiantai Art Tour
Tibetan Carpets
Tibet Photos
Tibetan Tanka
Unkei Busshi
Videos Buddhism
Water Basin
Wheel of Life
Yakushi Nyorai
Yasha (Yaksha)
Zao Gongen
Zen (Daruma)
Zen Art Tour
Zodiac Calendar



Amida Nyorai, Todaiji Temple, Nara, by Kaikei Busshi

Amida Buddha
by Kaikei
Painted Wood
H 100 cm, Dated +1202
Todaiji Temple, Nara
Tōdaiji 東大寺

Priest Kuya, by Kosho Busshi, Painted Wood, H = 117.5 cm, 13th Century, Rokuhara Mitsuji Temple, Kyoto

Monk Kuya 空也
Height = 117.5 cm
Painted wood.
by Kosho
13th Century
at Roku Haramitsuji
六波羅密寺, Kyoto

Unkei Himself, made shortly after his death; Jump to the UNKEI page !

Famed sculptor Unkei

Fukukenjaku Kannon, Lacquer and Gold Leaf over Wood, H348 cm, Dated + 1189, Nanendo, Kofukuji Temple, Nara

Fukukenjaku Kannon
(Fukūkenjaku Kannon)
by Kokei, dated +1189.
Lacquer & gold Leaf
over wood, H = 348 cm
Kofukuji Temple, Nara
(Kōfukuji 興福寺)
Photo courtesy of
Heibonsha Survey, Vol. 11

Sitting Jizo (Ksitegarbha) Bosatsu in Japan, Kamakura Era, Treasure of Jufuku-ji

Sitting Jizo Bosatsu
Kamakura Era
Treasure of Jufuku-ji
Photo taken at
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Museum

Japan’s Kamakura Period

First Published: June 1, 2008

Written for World History Encyclopedia

The Kamakura period (1185 -1332) was a turning point in Japanese Buddhism, highlighted by the spread of Buddhism among the illiterate commoner and by a new spirit of realism in religious imagery (see below). The period gave birth to new and reformed Buddhist movements -- Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren -- devoted to the salvation of the common people. These schools stressed pure and simple faith over complicated rites and doctrines. Prior to this, Buddhism was largely the faith of the imperial court, upper classes, and monastic orders. (See Early Japanese Buddhism)

Why the Kamakura era? First, decades of social unrest had culminated in the victory of Minamoto Yoritomo (1147-1199) and his establishment of the Kamakura Shogunate. The emperor’s authority was thereafter overshadowed for nearly seven centuries. Second, simplicity and frugality became the watchwords of the new military class, replacing the perfumed embroidery of the court and the intellectual elitism of the entrenched monasteries. Third, manliness was prized over scholarship, and the physical and mental vigor of the individual became the keynote of feudal life. Thus arose the idea that any man, from any class, might climb to power by employing his mind and energies.

Religion fell naturally under the same leveling impulse, as did secular art. Monks appeared who walked among the common folk preaching simple faith, in particular Saigyo (d. 1190), Shinran (d. 1262), Nichiren (d. 1282), and Ippen (d. 1289). There were antecedents, to be sure, notably the popular monk Kuya (903-972). The Saint of the Common Folk, Kuya walked among the masses, praying constantly to Amida Buddha for their salvation and their rebirth in Amida’s Western Pure Land -- a spiritual paradise where the souls of departed devotees are reborn to pursue the path to eventual enlightenment.

These missionary monks did not appeal to the court, established Buddhist powers, or nobility to help spread their teachings, and this attracted both dissatisfied clergy and the lower classes. Another factor underpinning Buddhism’s popularization was a widespread belief in the “Three Periods of the Law” -- a concept of society’s rise and fall that originated much earlier in Indian Buddhism but came to prominence later in China and then Japan. It foretold of the world’s ultimate decay and the complete disappearance of Buddhist practice. The Japanese believed the third and final period -- the Age of Mappo (Decline of the Law) -- had begun in 1052. The ensuing decades, moreover, were marked by civil wars, famine, and pestilence. A sense of foreboding thus filled the land, and people from all classes yearned for a gospel of salvation.

The Jodo (Pure Land) sects came to prominence in this era, although Jodo faith was practiced in Heian times by Japan’s court and monasteries. Japan’s popularized Jodo sects were founded by Honen Shonin (1133 - 1212) and his disciple Shinran (1173 - 1262). Both taught that anyone, whether noble or peasant, could gain rebirth in the Pure Land by faithfully reciting the name of Amida Buddha. The popularity of Jodo faith among commoners was a serious challenge to the institutionalized Buddhist monasteries in Kyoto and Nara, which attempted to block this popularization by proclaiming it subversive to public order and by condemning Honen, Shinran, and their followers to exile.

Shinran, in particular, provoked Buddhist authorities by declaring that meat eating and matrimony were not contrary to the Buddha’s teachings, even though the reigning Buddhist sects forbade both practices among clergy. Shinran was expelled from the monastic community for taking a wife. He further angered the establishment by declaring Amida faith alone as sufficient for salvation, other Buddhist deities and practices being unnecessary. In later years, his followers extolled the virtues of religious practice among the laity, and argued that a spiritual secular life was just as valid as a monastic life. Indeed, the monastic ideal was discarded. The sect’s priests stopped shaving their heads and started dressing in ordinary clothes. They did not consider themselves enlightened, but part of a community of seekers. Today, Honen’s school (Jodo) remains monastic, while Shinran’s sect (Jodo Shin) is purely a lay Buddhist group, one of the largest in Japan.

Zen Buddhism also gained tremendous favor during the Kamakura era, although it too, like Jodo faith, entered Japan via China in earlier centuries. The monk Eisai (1141 - 1215) sparked a great flowering in Zen’s popularity from his base in Kamakura. He taught that personal enlightenment was not found in sutras or rituals. Rather, it was found within the self through meditation, restraint, and self-reliance. Zen attracted the samurai (the military class) in particular and infused the arts with new life.

Nichiren (1222 - 1282) was the last of the great Kamakura-era teachers. He was a radical reformer who once studied at the powerful Tendai monastery on Mt. Hiei, as did Honen, Shinran, Eisai, and other noted monks. Nichiren vehemently disagreed with the new Jodo sects, and proclaimed both old and new Buddhist movements to be false religions. He preached in the streets of Kamakura, hoping to revive the purity of the Tendai faith in the Lotus Sutra. He was exiled, but later released. He believed faith in the Lotus Sutra alone would bring liberation, and recitation of the phrase “Hail to the Lotus Sutra” was the sole path to salvation.

The new schools of the Kamakura era broke through the eclecticism and elitism of Japan’s earlier Buddhist orders. By allowing the common people to enjoy worldly benefits with the promise of salvation in the afterlife (or enlightenment in this life), the new Kamakura sects gained widespread popularity. These movements, however, did not consolidate their gains until the Muromachi era (1392 - 1568). Today, the Jodo Shin, Zen, and Nichiren movements remain the most popular schools of modern Japanese Buddhism.

Buddhist Impact on the
Arts in the Kamakura Era

The popularization of Buddhism had a profound impact on religious art and architecture. It sparked a new spirit of realism in sculpture. Unkei (d. 1223), the most brilliant Japanese sculptor of the early 13th century, infused temple statuary with humanistic vitality, and his school is credited with such innovations as using crystal eyes in Buddhist statues. Unkei’s surviving sculptures are still prized today as the peak of greatness in Japanese Buddhist statuary. Portrait sculpture and portrait painting of prominent monks and people were also innovations of the Kamakura period, with the Zen sect in particular pursuing this form of expression.

The great popularity of Jodo faith transformed temple architecture, as the small incrusted sanctuaries of earlier times had to be vastly enlarged in size and simplified in furnishing to accommodate much larger congregations. Jodo faith also led to the predominance in religious art of three deities -- Amida Buddha for the coming life in paradise, Kannon Bodhisattva for assistance in earthly life, and Jizo Bodhisattva for release from the torments of hell. These three remain the bedrock of Buddhism for the commoner to this day. Their effigies are found throughout Japan, and hundreds of pilgrimage routes have been developed. The most widely known Kannon pilgrimage covers 100 sites. Making the circuit is said to save believers from hell and to open the gates to everlasting life. 

Kannon legends are particularly widespread in modern Japan. One states that Minamoto Yoritomo, the founder of the Kamakura Shogunate, always carried a small statue of Kannon under his helmet (inserted in his hair topknot) during battle. Another says an amulet containing the Lotus Sutra (the key scripture in Japan underpinning Kannon belief) deflected an arrow and thus saved the life of Kusunoki Masahige, the most celebrated samurai of the early 14th century.

In secular matters, literature became romantic in the Kamakura era, with fairy tales populated by demons, ogres, and common folk and no longer devoted to the “silken lords and ladies” of earlier literature. Indeed, the subjects of literature turn to all classes of people, even to the ribaldry and triviality of common life. The period gave birth to a native and secular drama called Kyogen, a stage performance that often focused on the buffoonery of farmers at village festivals.   


  • Brinker, Helmut. Zen: Masters of Meditation in Images and Writings. Zurich: Artibus Asiae, 1996.
  • Fenollosa, Ernest F. Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art.. 2 vols. New York: Dover, 1963.
  • Iso, Mutsu. Kamakura: Fact and Legend. Charles E. Tuttle Company. First released in 1918.
  • Kashara, Kazuo and Paul McCarthy. A History of Japanese Religion. Tokyo: Kosei, 2001.
  • Machida, Soho. Renegade Monk: Honen and Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. Berkeley,  California: University of California Press, 1999.
    Mori, Hisashi. Sculpture of the Kamakura Period. New York: John Weatherhill Inc., 1974.
  • Morrell, Robert. E., Kamakura Buddhism: A Minority Report. Asian Humanities Press: Berkeley,  California, 1987.
  • Okazaki, J. Pure Land Buddhist Painting. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1977.
  • Payne, Richard K. Re-visioning “Kamakura” Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998. 
bottom bar

Copyright 1995 - 2013. Mark Schumacher. Email Mark.
All stories and photos, unless specified otherwise, by Schumacher.     |     make a donation

Please do not copy this page or photos into Wikipedia or elsewhere without proper citation !