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An Introduction to Buddhism in Japan

Seated Buddha Amitabha (Japanese: Amida)

Seated Buddha Amitabha (Japanese: Amida). Japan. Heian period (794–1185). Lacquer and gold on wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S10+.

Buddhism was officially transmitted to Japan in 525, when the monarch of the Korean kingdom of Baekje sent a mission to Japan with gifts, including an image of the Buddha, several ritual objects, and sacred texts. Buddhism's journey from India to China, Korea, and Japan had taken about a thousand years.

The arrival of Buddhism—which is quite different from kami worship, the ancient native belief system—created political struggles between pro- and anti-Buddhist groups. Eventually, the adherents of Buddhism prevailed, and the new religion became firmly established under imperial sponsorship.

Buddhism also brought with it a political structure, advanced technologies, and sophisticated cultural practices—including music, dance, a new writing system, and above all, elaborate Buddhist art—that would revolutionize many aspects of Japanese life.

Today, some thirteen schools of Buddhism exist in Japan, and the majority of the population professes to be Buddhist. There are about 80,000 temples with some 150,000 priests as well as several collages dedicated chiefly to Buddhist studies.