The Many Forms and Functions of Kannon in Japanese Religion and Culture

by Mark R. Mullins

The cross-cultural diffusion of religions has long been a subject of scholarly interest to historians and sociologists. As religions move across cultural boundaries, they are invariably transformed through the process of translation and the encounter with the dominant cultures and religious traditions of the receiving society. In Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara, Chün-fang Yü provides a rich and detailed treatment of this process in connection with the spread of Buddhism in China. "The bodhisattva," she explains, "became domesticated to serve the interests and needs of host societies that adopted him/her."[1] In Japanese scholarship, "domestication" is usually referred to as "indigenization" (dochakuka) and, in terms of religion, is defined as the process whereby a foreign-born religion is transformed through its encounter with native religion and culture. As in the Chinese context, the history of Kannon in Japan reveals that the process of indigenization has produced multiple forms and functions. While the initial forms were based on transplanted Buddhist traditions from China, over the centuries Japanese have freely adopted and adapted the Kannon figure in the context of other religious traditions (Shinto and Christianity) and have inspired the creation of a number of new religious movements over the course of Japanese modernization. This essay briefly reviews some of the major patterns and ways in which Kannon has been transmitted and transformed over the course of Japanese history.

Kannon Devotionalism: A Transdenominational Buddhist Phenomenon

The history of Kannon in Japan can be traced back to the earliest period of the transmission of Buddhism from the Asian continent.[2] There are records that indicate that scriptural texts and various forms of Kannon (Sho Kannon, Juichimen Kannon, Senju Kannon, and Bato Kannon, for example) had arrived in Japan by early in the eighth century. Tasuku Hayami points out that although the Kannon-gyo was a part of the Lotus Sutra (Hokekyo), it was already treated as an independent text and listed as such in various records as early as 743 (Tenpyo 14).[3]

In the earliest period (Nara, 646-710), Kannon was transmitted primarily in relation to the esoteric tradition (mikkyo-teki dento), spread largely among the nobility and powerful families, and became a central element of "state-protecting Buddhism" (chingokokka bukkyo). Over several centuries, numerous temples dedicated to Kannon were established and a variety of images were enshrined. In the Heian period (9th-10th centuries), the Kannon faith became increasingly oriented toward genze riyaku, or a wide range of this-worldly benefits beyond the protection of the state. From the tenth century on, however, the Kannon faith expanded to include a more otherworldly dimension. The concern for otherworldly individual salvation became particularly important from this time and reshaped Kannon faith accordingly. The larger context of this development was the spread of the Chinese Buddhist teaching regarding rokudo--the six lower states of existence or the six realms of hell--which became particularly prominent in Tendai and Pure Land circles. Kannon came to be perceived as one who was able not only to protect and prevent individuals from falling into one of the six realms but also to transport them to the Pure Land. In this way, the roles of Amida and Kannon begin to merge and overlap.

The wider diffusion of Kannon devotionalism was facilitated by the development of pilgrimage routes that connected various temples known for their history of Kannon manifestations and miracle stories. By the tenth century numerous sacred sites and Kannon temples were linked, and by the late eleventh or early twelfth century the first thirty-three-Kannon pilgrimage route in the Kansai region (Saigoku pilgrimage) was probably completed.[4] The number thirty-three, which is duplicated in numerous pilgrimage routes, is based on the Kannon-gyo (chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra), which indicates that this bodhisattva assumes thirty-three different forms in addressing human suffering and need. MacWilliams points out that Kannon pilgrimage routes were developed in associations of thirty-three temples to correspond to these multiple manifestations of Kannon. This form of devotionalism proved to be popular, and subsequently "over two hundred and thirty-six copies (utsushi) of the route spread throughout Japan, one-third of which were located in eastern Japan."[5] The three most important pilgrimage routes devoted to Kannon are the Saigoku pilgrimage in western Japan (Kansai), which has thirty-three Kannon sites; the Bando pilgrimage in the Kanto region, with another thirty-three Kannon sites; and the Chichibu pilgrimage in Saitama, which has thirty-four Kannon sites. These are collectively known as the hyakuban Kannon fudasho, or circuit of one hundred sites.

Kannon devotionalism, at least as it has developed in Japan, is clearly a transdenominational phenomenon, a fact that can be illustrated by the well-known pilgrimage routes that were created in many areas throughout Japan. Yoritomi's overview of the three major Kannon pilgrimage routes helpfully illustrates the transdenominational nature of these devotional practices.[6] On the Saigoku route, Tendai (twelve temples) and Shingon (fifteen) are the dominant traditions represented. Likewise, Tendai (twelve temples) and Shingon (sixteen temples) dominate the Bando circuit, though the Soto sect (two temples) and Jodo sect (two temples) are also represented. What is distinctive about the Chichibu route is that it is dominated by the Zen tradition (Soto sect, seventeen temples; Rinzai sect, thirteen).[7] The affiliation of temples on these pilgrimages clearly reveals that Kannon has been appropriated widely across sectarian or denominational lines.

To what extent the Kannon-related practices were monopolized by elite groups (priests, noble families, etc.) during the earlier centuries is not entirely clear, but Hayami maintains that Kannon faith did not spread widely among the masses until the Muromachi period (fifteenth century), which coincides with the improvement of the general economic and living conditions. Over time, in any case, numerous religious confraternities dedicated to Kannon (Kannon-ko) developed throughout Japan in association with these temples. Even today such groups hold meetings in households, participate in monthly Kannon services in local temples, assist in the care and cleaning of the Kannon hall, and continue to organize and participate in one or more of the well-known pilgrimages.

It is important to recognize that these historical developments should not be read too narrowly as exclusively Buddhist. Many of the Kannon devotional centers were established in shrine-temple complexes. The incorporation of Kannon into these sacred sites, which also enshrined various indigenous kami, contributed to the process whereby Kannon was disembedded from his/her original Buddhist framework in the consciousness of many Japanese. It is rather clear that for many Japanese today, Kannon is simply one more divine being in the larger pantheon of benevolent deities who can be called into service in times of need. This is still apparent in many sacred sites in modern Japan, in spite of the government's efforts to clearly separate Shinto from Buddhist institutions through the haibutsu kishaku movement during the Meiji era. One well-known example is the Toyokawa Inari Shrine, which is also the site of a Soto temple, which enshrines numerous Inari (fox deity), Jizo (guardian of children), and Kannon. Another prominent example in Tokyo is the Asakusa Kannon Temple, the sacred complex that combines Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine.

It should also be noted that Kannon-related pilgrimages are no longer exclusively related to Buddhist institutions. At Akakura Mountain Shrine, a Shinto complex in Aomori Prefecture, there is another thirty-three-temple/shrine pilgrimage route that extends beyond Buddhist denominational boundaries. It includes a large Sho Kannon statue and thirty-three smaller Kannon statues that are central to the practice of members in this religious community. This eclectic shrine complex, founded in the 1920s by a spirit medium, is the site of healing rituals, ascetic training, and numerous festivals, including veneration of Kannon, Kobo Daishi (founder of the Shingon tradition), and the foundress of the shrine.[8]

Kannon and Japanese Christianity

The examples above reveal that Kannon has moved beyond the initial Buddhist carriers and been appropriated more widely by Japanese religious groups and institutions. Here I would like to briefly consider the appropriation of Kannon in Japanese Christianity, which is where my interest in Kannon initially began. It was through reading the works of Shusaku Endo, the Roman Catholic novelist, that I became fascinated with the development and role of Maria Kannon among the Kakure Kirishitan (hidden Christians). In most instances, treatments of Maria Kannon take place in the context of Japanese adaptations of Roman Catholicism from the sixteenth century to the end of the Tokugawa period, a time in which Christianity was a proscribed religion. The camouflaged Virgin Mary--in the disguise of the bodhisattva Kannon--provided the Kakure Kirishitan with a sacred image upon which to focus their worship and ritual under very difficult circumstances. The concealed sign of the cross--placed somewhere on the image (often on the back of the statue)--is usually the only feature that distinguishes it from a typical Buddhist image.
Kentaro Miyazaki, one of the foremost authorities on the Kakure Kirishitan, explains that

the Maria Kannon is often a figure of Koyasu Kannon or Jibo Kannon [which portrayed a mother holding a child] in white or blue porcelain, imported from China. In times of persecution during the Edo period, the underground Kirishitan could not possess a figure of the Christian Virgin Mary, therefore they projected Mary's image on the gentle image of the Buddhist Kannon and venerated her in this way. . . . For the underground Kirishitan who every year trod on the fumie and denied God, this Father God was a fearful divine judge. Therefore, the center of their faith shifted without notice to the gentle and limitless embrace and forgiveness of the mother deity, Mariya.[9]

This historical reality, no doubt, is what inspired Endo's interpretation of the feminization of Christianity in the Japanese context. In his autobiographical short story, "Mothers," Endo writes that "the missionaries long ago brought to this country the teaching of a Father God. But in the course of time, after the missionaries had been driven out and the churches destroyed, the hidden Christians gradually threw over all the elements of the religion that didn't suit them, replacing them with what is most essential in all Japanese religion, devotion to Mother." (emphasis mine)[10]

This interpretation builds on Endo's distinction between chichi no shukyo (paternal religion) and haha no shukyo (maternal religion). While the Jesuit missionaries may have introduced the Virgin Mary along with other teachings regarding Jesus and the creeds, Endo argues that the missionaries transmitted an expression of Christianity that was overwhelmingly paternal, with an emphasis on the God who judges and punishes. In another essay, he writes that "Christianity matured in Europe as a religion not of the mother figures, but of the father figure, and this figure is considered an extremely frightening presence."[11] In this context, one is reminded of the well-known Japanese proverb Jishin, Kaminari, Kaji, Oyaji (Earthquakes, Thunder, Fires, and Fathers), which suggests rather negative associations with the father image in Japan.

This perception of the nature of motherhood and fatherhood in Japan shapes Endo's interpretation of why maternal religion is so attractive in this context and why the Japanese have a general coldness toward paternal religion. It is so powerful in Japan, he claims, that it has also transformed Buddhism:

Buddhism as well came to Japan after passing through China and Korea. It was chewed and digested by the Japanese until by the time of the Heian and Muromachi periods, it also became a mother-oriented religion. The feeling that the Japanese have as they worship the Amida Buddha is a strong reflection of the heart of a child making emotional demands of its mother. There is a very strong mother-image in the case of Amida Buddha in the hearts of the Japanese. Thus, we find that . . . as Buddhism became Japanized, it also became a mother-oriented religion.[12]

No doubt there are some who would challenge Endo's interpretation here, but it is undeniable that there is a longing for the divine feminine--or a more compassionate, understanding, and forgiving divine being--that has significant cross-cultural appeal. The feminine forms of Kannon, in any case, seem to be very compatible with Japanese religious sensibilities.

Although most discussions of Maria Kannon focus on its role in the premodern period or in the dwindling Kakure Kirishitan communities in isolated areas of Kyushu, there is also evidence that it has appeared in other Christian communities. More than a decade ago, in the process of documenting indigenous Christian movements that appeared in Japan's modern century, I came across the Holy Ecclesia of Jesus (Sei Iesu Kai), founded by Takeji Otsuki in 1946. Some years ago, this movement identified a healing spring in Ayabe City, Kyoto Prefecture, close to the birthplace of Otsuki and to the site of the discovery of a Maria Kannon figure. The spring has since become a pilgrimage site for members of the movement. They often fill containers with water from the spring and share it with persons suffering from all sorts of maladies. Those who are ill are encouraged to drink the water "while calling on the name of God" in the belief that God can heal them. Numerous healings have been reported by members during worship-service testimonials and recorded in church publications.

Kannon, Charismatic Founders, and New Religious Movements

Another development that parallels the pattern of appropriation in China can be seen in the experiences of charismatic founders and the formation of new religions in Japan. Many founders in the twentieth century have identified themselves with Kannon, seen Kannon as a source of new revelation, or designated Kannon as a central figure and resource in the new religion. Several examples are worth noting here.[13] The first example is Mokichi Okada (1882- 1955), a charismatic leader who founded the Nihon Kannon Kyodan in 1947. As with other new religions, Okada's inspiration for what would become Sekai Kyusei-kyo (The Church of World Messianity) came from multiple sources. Like many other founders, Okada suffered as a child from numerous illnesses. His various difficulties continued until he was in his twenties. He eventually became convinced that the natural healing possibilities of the human body had been weakened by the overuse of medications. In 1920 Okada joined Omoto-kyo and immersed himself in their sacred text, the Ofudesaki. In the midst of studying this text, Okada had a powerful religious experience, in 1926, one in which he claimed Kannon actually entered his body. This was envisioned as a "ball of fire" or "Kannon power" (Kannon-riki), which was believed to reside within him and empowered him to heal others of all kinds of sickness. Shortly after this experience, Okada left Omoto-kyo and began advocating jorei, or the practice of purification and healing through Kannon's powerful light, which emanated from the palms of his hands. Okada eventually came to be regarded as an incarnation of the bodhisattva Kannon by his followers. In 1935 he organized the Dai Nihon Kannon Kai, a movement that was renamed Sekai Kyusei-kyo after he moved the headquarters from Tokyo to Atami in 1950. Following his death in 1955, the movement experienced numerous schisms and became the fountainhead of some twenty-five different religious groups.

Seiyu Kiriyama, who founded the Agon-shu, provides another interesting example. At a low point in his life when he was about to commit suicide, Kiriyama came across a copy of the Kannon-gyo. This text revealed to him the compassion and salvation provided by Kannon, and he had a life-transforming religious experience. The experience of Kannon's saving grace led him to establish a Kannon-worshiping religious movement, the Kannon Jieikai, and he began to pursue serious ascetic training to cultivate his spiritual life.[14] Additional revelatory experiences from Kannon in Kiriyama's dreams apparently inspired him in new directions, including new rituals and the organization of Agon-shu in 1978. In particular, the goma rites, or fire rituals, that have historically been associated with esoteric Buddhism and Shugendo became central to this movement. This new religion, with headquarters in Kyoto, has some eight hundred thousand members and attracts considerable media attention in connection with the Hoshi matsuri festival, which is held in the spring each year. There are numerous other new religions that have been inspired and shaped by Kannon, but these two examples must suffice for our purposes here.

Kannon in Contemporary Japanese Society

The brief review above has sketched some of the ways in which Kannon has become a divine being in diverse religious contexts. In this concluding section, I would like to draw attention to both continuity and change in the functions and forms of Kannon in contemporary Japan. One of the most prominent developments has been in relation to mizuko kuyo, which refers to memorial services for children lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, and abortion. This is a topic that has been the focus of considerable research in recent decades.[15] Mizuko clearly fall into the category of those who have died an untimely or "bad" death and reside in a nearby spirit world along with other muen-botoke (people who died with no one to look after their graves), or gaki (hungry ghosts). According to popular beliefs, such spirits hover around the living with a feeling of urami (resentment) and are the potential source of tatari (retribution, curse). While the bodhisattva Jizo, a popular savior figure devoted to children, has been the dominant figure in mizuko rites, in recent years Kannon has also been given a prominent place in a number of temples devoted to this practice. Given the long history of identification of Kannon with the needs of mothers and children, it is not surprising that Kannon has also been appropriated as a central figure in these memorial rites--both to care for spirits in the "other world" and to comfort those in the world of the living who oftentimes are struggling with personal remorse, regret, and guilt. Kannon and Jizo are clearly both highly adaptable savior figures who are able to appear in diverse settings to address a variety of needs.

Today there are numerous temples that have appropriated Kannon as a central figure in mizuko kuyo rites throughout Japan. Newspapers carry advertisements for these rites, and in recent years some temples maintain Internet sites to promote these services. The home page of Daikannonji in Mie Prefecture, for example, claims that its three Kannon images (Mizuko San Kannon) are the best in the land and explains the specific functions and benefits of each Kannon as follows: The Jibo Mizuko Kannon takes the place of the parents and provides for the mizuko in the other world with a heart of compassionate love; the role of the Sho Mizuko Kannon is to remove the evil spirit that has attached itself to the mizuko and provide protection; finally, the Daihi Mizuko Kannon is able to save all mizuko--without exception--and transport them to paradise.[16] Another example is the Reizan Kannon Akasaka Betsuin, in Akasaka, Tokyo, a small Buddhist temple also devoted exclusively to mizuko kuyo.[17] It provides similar services but at a more reasonable rate.

Another new role for Kannon is connected to the "graying" of Japanese society and the increasing concerns of the elderly about growing old, fears of senile dementia (and Alzheimer's disease), and long illnesses followed by an unpleasant death. Kannon's powers have been expanded to include the "suppression of senility" (boke-fuji), and she has become a central figure in pokkuri-dera, or temples where the elderly--often those lacking adequate family support--go to pray for a sudden or painless death.[18] Young and Ikeuchi describe one example drawn from Myotokuji (Izu Peninsula), where a Kannon statue was added to the pantheon in recent years to care for the specific needs of the elderly:

What distinguishes this Kannon from others are a pair of elderly male and female figures kneeling at its feet in a gesture of supplication. An entirely new medical role is thus being attributed to Kannon, who is here called the Kannon Who Heals (or Prevents) Senility (Boke-fuji Kannon). It was not a monk-artisan who made this Kannon at the impulse of piety. . . . Rather, it was produced by professional designers employed by a company in Japan's flourishing religious-goods industry, whose salesman came to Myotokuji with a glossy brochure and persuaded it to erect one.[19]

While it is not difficult to imagine that the power of Kannon affirmed in the Kannon-gyo could be extended to address the needs of the elderly, it is also not surprising that some observers are concerned that the elderly may be exploited by commercial interests in these recent developments.

Kannon has also become a favorite comforting figure used by the numerous pet cemeteries that have been built across Japan over the past two decades. The Dobutsu Shugo Kannon is devoted to the care of suffering animals and offers eternal rest to the pets. Sanzen'in in Toki City, Gifu Prefecture, one such temple devoted to pets, has sites in several prefectures for the reception of animals and explains that it offers pet owners "one last opportunity to express their love and gratitude" through the services it offers.[20] Another facility, the Meihan Pet Kannonji in Iga City, Mie Prefecture, was established in 1994 and provides similar services of cremation, a Kannon stone monument, and a priest conducting a memorial service.[21] In addition to the services offered for pets at these specialized cemeteries and temples, it is also possible to purchase online a Pet Kannon Jizo for 12,600 yen (US$120), which has a standing image of Kannon with several pets at her feet.[22]

In these various ways--boke-fuji, mizuko kuyo, pet kuyo--Kannon has been appropriated to address a wide range of rather personal or individualistic concerns in recent decades. Another significant trend in the postwar period, however, is one that is of a more social or civil religious nature: the widespread use of Kannon in memorial sites and rituals dedicated to those who died in connection with Japanese military conflicts in East Asia and World War II. Yasukuni Shrine--one of the gokoku jinja, "state-protecting shrines"--is often seen as the central institution responsible for the war dead. It is a controversial memorial site because it enshrines Class-A war criminals and promotes a version of Japanese history (through the Yushukan, a museum that is a part of the shrine complex) that the international community--especially Chinese and Koreans--find particularly offensive. In addition to Yasukuni Shrine, however, numerous other religious institutions and municipalities have also built memorials and regularly conduct rituals on behalf of the war dead. In most cases, Kannon has been selected to serve as the central figure to care for the spirits of the dead and comfort the spirits of those left in the land of the living. Several examples are worth noting here.

Koa Kannon in Atami. The Koa Kannon was initially established because of the strong desire of Iwane Matsui, a general in the Japanese army, to memorialize and comfort those who died in the war with China (1937), including both Chinese and Japanese soldiers who lost their lives in the conflict. The Kannon image was established for this purpose in 1940. At the end of World War II, Matsui stood trial and was convicted as a Class-A war criminal and was executed on December 23, 1948. In 1960 the remains of Matsui and six other executed Class-A war criminals were enshrined in the precincts. In addition, there are memorials for 1,619 individuals convicted as Class-B and Class-C war criminals. There is also a memorial to Radhabinod Pal, who served as a judge and representative of India during the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Dissenting from the decision of the tribunal, Pal concluded that the twenty-five Japanese charged as Class-A war criminals were in fact innocent. He also rejected other charges made by the tribunal against the Japanese government.[23]

Kamikaze Peace Kannon Shrine. In the town of Chiran in Kagoshima Prefecture, the Kamikaze Peace Kannon Shrine was built in 1955 on land that was formerly a part of the Chiran Air Base. Inside the Kannon statue is a list of the names of the deceased pilots, and numerous lanterns have been placed on the shrine grounds in honor of the some one thousand kamikaze pilots who flew out from the Chiran bases (as well as other bases) in the last days of World War II.[24]

Setagaya Kannon Temple. This temple is also dedicated to the memory and care of the Tokkotai--almost five thousand kamikaze pilots--who died on behalf of the nation. Sho Kanzeon is the principle image (honzon) enshrined here, which is often referred to as the Tokko Heiwa Kannon-sama. This independent temple holds monthly and annual memorial services, which include chanting of the Kannon-gyo and a Dharma talk by a priest from Sensoji, another Kannon temple.[25]

Peace Parks and Memorials. In addition to these explicitly religious sites, Kannon has also been incorporated in a number of war memorial-peace parks in places that suffered most tragically in the last days of World War II--Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Okinawa. A Kannon statue was placed at the Hiroshima Memorial Mound, which contains the ashes of the unidentified victims of the atomic bomb. Another was placed in the Hall of Mourning, which was built in the Nagasaki Peace Park in 1995. These sites are especially dedicated to the unknown dead, whose "untimely" or "bad" death resulted from the atomic bombs. John Nelson's helpful analysis of the Bodhisattva of Compassion in these contexts concludes with the observation that Kannon has "been so widely dispersed in Japanese culture, like the air one breathes, she has become part of the social and cultural landscape in ways that transcend sectarian doctrine." He goes on to suggest that "perhaps we are limiting the possibilities by thinking of Kannon as a specifically Buddhist deity. Surely it makes as much sense in the context of the Peace Park and Japanese religious culture to see her role as similar to that of a Shinto kami: specific to the situation of one place and its people, attentive to sincere petitions, and with an ability to restructure violence and chaos to restore harmony and social stability."[26]


The foregoing review has revealed that the multiple forms and functions of Kannon in Japanese history indicate that this figure has now transcended its identity as a Buddhist bodhisattva and become a more generalized member of the Japanese pantheon of protective and benevolent gods and spirits. Kannon remains a popular figure today, both within and outside religious contexts. An Internet search will quickly lead one to sites advertising Kannon noodles, Kannon hot springs, and Kannon golf associations. One will also learn that even the well-known Canon camera began as "Kwanon"--the name that Goro Yoshida, a dedicated Buddhist believer, gave his camera when it was first advertised in 1934. Kannon also appears as a figure in popular youth culture. The Kannon Record Company, established in Sapporo in 1984, claims that the "Goddess of Mercy gives you great rock'n roll!" The appearance of Kannon in these nonreligious spheres of Japanese life indicates this bodhisattva still retains symbolic power in contemporary society, but it also shows that established Buddhist institutions cannot control how Kannon will be interpreted or domesticated. While religious authorities often make efforts to control or prevent deviation from the "received tradition," in the long run they do not appear to be very effective. It turns out that the intentions of the initial carriers (priests, monks, missionaries) are ultimately less important than the perception, reception, and creative adaptation by the "natives" in the long process of cross-cultural diffusion.


[1] Chün-fang Yü, Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 6.

[2] The following historical sketch relies largely on the work of Tasuku Hayami, Kannon Shinko (Tokyo: Hanawa Shobo, 1970).

[3] This of course refers to chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, "The Universal Gateway [Fumon-pon] of the Bodhisattva Perceiver of the World's Sounds," which is the primary scriptural basis of Kannon faith in Japan (see The Lotus Sutra, trans. Burton Watson. [New York: Columbia University Press, 1993]). According to this text, the bodhisattva Kannon can both provide "deliverance" from all forms of trials and suffering (fire, threat of attack, etc.) and "confer many benefits" (that is, genze riyaku). In addition to the Kannon-gyo, it should be noted that services dedicated to Kannon--at least those conducted at Soto Zen temples--also involve chanting the Hannya Shingyo, or Shorter Heart Sutra, which is no doubt related to the fact that in this text it is the bodhisattva Kannon, rather than Shakyamuni Buddha, who describes the nature of reality to the arhat Shariputra.

[4] Ken'ichi Yokota, Kannon Shinko to Minzoku (Tokyo: Tosho Shuppan, 1990), 110.

[5] Mark W. MacWilliams, "Temple Myths and the Popularization of Kannon Pilgrimage in Japan: A Case Study of Oya-ji on the Bando Route," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 24, no. 3-4 (1997): 376.

[6] Motohiro Yoritomi, Shomin no Hotoke--Kannon, Jizo, Fudo (Tokyo: NHK Books, 1984), 79-84.

[7] William Bodiford has noted that more than one-fourth of the 3,817 rural Soto Zen temples in Japan are Kannon temples ("Soto Zen in a Japanese Town: Field Notes on a Once-Every-Thirty-three-Years Kannon Festival," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 21, no. 1 [1994]: 29). The combination of devotional practices with Zen is difficult to reconcile with our usual textbook explanations of jiriki versus tariki forms of Buddhism. This is not limited to rural Soto temples, however. In my own neighborhood in Aoyama, Tokyo, the Soto temple Chokokuji prides itself on being a place of practice (shugyo dojo) that combines a Kannon faith and Zen (Kannon shinko to zen o shugo suru shugyo dojo desu).

[8] For a detailed ethnographic study of this sacred site, see the monograph by Ellen Schattschneider, Immortal Wishes: Labor and Transcendence on a Japanese Sacred Mountain (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003) and her Web site, http://people.brandeis. edu/~eschatt/ImmortalWishes/kannon.html, which includes a number of photos.

[9] Kentaro Miyazaki, "The Kakure Kirishitan Tradition," in Handbook of Christianity in Japan, Mark R. Mullins, ed. (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2003), 28.

[10] Shusaku Endo, "Mothers," trans. Francis Mathy, Japan Christian Quarterly (Fall 1974): 203.

[11] Shusaku Endo, "Nihonjin no Shukyo Ishiki," in Nihonjin no Kokoro, Don Kenny, ed. (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1985), 17.

[12] Ibid., 19.

[13] A valuable source of information for these and other examples is Nobutaka Inoue et al., eds., Shin Shukyo Jiten (Tokyo: Kobundo, 1990).

[14] Ian Reader, Religion in Contemporary Japan (London: Macmillan, 1991), 209.

[15] The literature on mizuko kuyo is already quite extensive. Some representative works in English include Ann Page Brooks, "Mizuko Kuyo and Japanese Buddhism," Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 8, no. 34 (1981); Eiki Hoshino and Dosho Takeda, "Mizuko Kuyo and Abortion in Contemporary Japan," in Religion and Society in Modern Japan: Selected Readings, ed. Mark R. Mullins, Susumu Shimazono, and Paul Swanson (Berkeley, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1993); and Helen Hardacre, Marketing the Menacing Fetus in Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).

[16] The cost for kuyo services is thirty-five thousand yen (US$330) for one mizuko, and sixty-five thousand yen (US$600) for two. All of the transactions can be conducted by sending funds to the temple's bank or postal account. This information has been gleaned from Daikannonji's home page; see http://www. top.html.

[17] See for additional information on this specialized temple.

[18] For a helpful introduction to this phenomenon, see Fleur Woss, "Pokkuri-Temples and Aging: Rituals for Approaching Death," in Religion and Society in Modern Japan.

[19] Richard Young and Fuki Ikeuchi, "Japanese Religion in the 'Hateful Years': Reflections on Geriatric Rituals in an Aging Society," International and Regional Studies: Meiji Gakuin Review, no. 12 (1993): 41.

[20] See

[21] Charges for these services vary and depend on the size of the pet (cats and small dogs cost thirty-five thousand yen [US$330], while a larger husky or golden retriever will cost fifty-five thousand yen [US$520]).

[22] See

[23] See Rabhabinod Pal, "In Defense of Japan's Case 1 and Case 2" (vols. 1 and 2), ed. and annotated by Akira Nakamura (published in the Kenkyusha Modern English Readers 17) and available at the following site:

[24] See the following site for a more detailed description of the Kamikaze Peace Kannon Shrine and other war memorials and monuments: chirankannon/index.htm.

[25] This information has been drawn from the temple home page:

[26] John Nelson, "From Battlefield to Atomic Bomb to the Pure Land of Paradise: Employing the Bodhisattva of Compassion to Calm Japan's Spirits of the Dead," Journal of Contemporary Religion 1, no. 2 (2002): 160-61.

Mark R. Mullins is a member of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Graduate School of Global Studies at Sophia University, Tokyo, where his teaching and research focuses on religion in modern society. He is the author and coeditor of a number of books, including Religion and Society in Modern Japan, Christianity Made in Japan, and Religion and Social Crisis in Japan.

This article was originally published in the April-June 2008 issue of Dharma World.






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