GoWithGuideFind your perfect tour guide at GoWithGuide. Relax and cherish unforgettable tours with loved ones. Create personalized tours for a truly memorable trip!
GoWithGuideFind your perfect tour guide at GoWithGuide. Relax and cherish unforgettable tours with loved ones. Create personalized tours for a truly memorable trip!

Buddhism Sect Transition In Japan, Zen, Samurai Spirit And Japanese Culture

Kashima H.

by Kashima H.

(73 reviews)
Last updated : Jul 19, 202211 min read



For foreign tourists coming to Japan and Japanese people including me to truly understand lots of historical sites background in Japan such as Temples, gardens, castles, traditional culture of tea ceremony and so-on, we need to realize various Buddhism specially Zen and Samurai spirit mainly through which Japanese traditional culture and history had been created, I think.
blog image
 Buddhism was said to be imported from China in 538. After Taika Reform on 645, Emperor had started to become the host of Buddhism. The most important historical person who had contributed Buddhism set in all over Japan was Prince Shotoku (574 ~ 622) who was regent of Emperor Suiko and he had handled internal affairs and diplomacy such as the enactment of Seventeen-article constitution and Twelve level cap and rank system, Japanese mission to Sui Chaina dispatches and so-on.  He also had become a believer of Buddhism and built Templdes such as Shitennoji temple, Horyuji temple and so-on.
As such effort of Prince Shotoku, Buddhism had been established in Japan and flourished as National religion.
Horyuji temple in Nara (below photo) is the oldest wooden building in the world and has been registered as UNESCO World culture heritage site in 1993.
blog image

In Nara era (710 ~ 784), six Buddhism research parties had been registered by the government and Todaiji temple was the place where many monks of those six parties had studied.
Great Buddha (below photo) in Todaiji temple in Nara had started to be built in 744 by a proposal of Emperor Shomu. During the era, many common people had been suffered by nature disaster, epidemics, famine and so-on, therefore emperor Shomu strongly hoped that those people can be secured from the tough situation by getting help from Great Buddha.
The ceremony to consecrate a newly made Buddhist statue by inserting the eyes was held in 752.
blog image

The history of Kyoto has started from the establishment of Heiankyo-capital in 794 which Emperor Kanmu handled. The transfer of capital usually occurs when the way of policy must be changed. The name of the era is called Heian-era (794-1185). During this time-flame, two genius Buddhists (Saicho & Kukai) brought back esoteric Buddhism to Japan after they learned that in China.


The Heian capital has grown up with noblemen who were influenced by the esoteric Buddhism. The doctrine of Tendai sect founded by Saicho in 805 and Shingon sect by Kukai in 806 were hard to approach for common people who could not read. The doctrine had become superstition for them. 
Some of common people who could not satisfy with the authorized religion had started to establish new cultures and religions such as artist-monk and traveling monk with poem. Several new religions had started to appear for common people.  Jodo (Pure land) sect founded by Honen in 1175, Jodo-shin sect by Shinran in 1224, Hokke(Nichiren) sect by Nichiren in 1253 and Jishu sect by Ippen in 1275. The main action of these sect is to repeat the name of Buddha wholeheartedly so that they can be beautified.


blog image


blog image


blog image


On the other hand, several kinds of Zen Buddhism were imported from China, mainly by Eisai and Dogan.
Rinzai Zen sect founded by Eisai in 1191 and Soto Zen sect by Dogen in 1227.

 blog image


 The main action by these sects is to achieve enlightenment by siting calmly and quietly in order to meditate.by overcoming yourself, you will break absolute ground.  Samurai worriers had been strongly connected with the Zen Buddhism due to its’ severe discipline attitude.
Rinzaishu-Zen was imported from China/Song dynasty and founded by Eisai in Kamakura era.
That had been worshipped mainly by high ranked Samurai worriers specially of Hojo clan.
Takauji Ashikaga (1305 ~ 1358) who founded Muromachi shogunate in 1336 established Tenryuji temple/Zen temple to mourn for the spirit of Emperor Godaigo.
Following photo:  Tenryuji temple (in Arashiyama /Kyoto)

blog image

Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358 ~ 1408) who was the 3rd shogunate founded Sokokuji temple.

He strongly supported Rinzaishu-Zen and established the system of Gozan which is the five most important Rinzai temples of both Kyoto and Kamakura.
Gozan in Kyoto: Nanzenji (Special rank), Tenryuji (1st rank), Sokokuji(2nd rank), Kenniji(3rd rank), Tofukuji(4th rank), Manjyuji(5th rank)
Gozan in Kamakura: Kenchoji(1st rank), Enkakuji(2nd rank), jufukuji(3rd rank), Jochiji(4th rank), Jomyoji(5th rank)

The role of religions contributed to each era was so important and huge. During Kamakura era & Muromachi era (1185 – 1573), several kinds of Zen Buddhism were imported from China. While Shogunate government was placed in Kyoto (1399 – 1573) at the first time in history, Kitayama-culture (the late 14th century to the early 15th century) and Higashiyama-culture (the middle of 15th century to the late of 15th century) had grown up and a lot of large Zen temples had established. Many violent worriers and rulers in the era had believed and relied on the religion same with noblemen in Heian era done for the esoteric Buddhism.
The representative temple in Kitayama-culture is Kinkakuji temple.

Following photo:  Kinkakuji temple (in Kyoto)

blog image

That of Higashiyama-culture is Ginkakuji temple.
Following photo:  Ginkakuji temple (in Kyoto)

blog image

The characteristic of Japanese various style of Buddhism sect are said to be as follows.
- Tendai sect for the house of Imperial prince
- Shingon sect for a court noble:
   These sects used to be courtesy style with gorgeous and luxurious ornament that had been fit to high rank sophisticated people.
- Jodo for Common people:
   The doctrine of this sect is simple and this sect had been fit to common people demand.
-  Zen for Samurai: 
   This sect selected the best direct way to reach ultimate enlightenment and require the extraordinary volition.
   And this sect further requires the final intuition to solve anything.
   Samurai worriers needed the volition to be faithful to their loads.
Zen Buddhism and samurai spirit:
Samurai spirit had become to appear in Kamakura era (1185 ~ 1333) that was established by the top of Samurai worriers Yoritomo Minamoto in 1192.
The first code of laws of Samurai spirit described in the era is “Goseibai-shikimoku” written by Yasutoki Hojo who was the 3rd regent of the Kamakura era.  The law is summarized based on the precedents and detail experience from the beginning of Kamakura era.
The law describes the ethics to regulate Samurai’s daily life mainly as follows.
1st: To worship Shinto shrines.
2nd: To prosper Buddhist temples.
3rd: To prohibit to abuse and hit a person
4th: To prohibit a lie, false charges and adultery.

Heike clan and court novel in Heian era (794 ~ 1185) had lost their ruling power due to their excess waste to their culture and lack of proper decision of their politics.  After Samurai power had begun to appear in Kamakura era , Hojo clan as regency was strictly economizing and had cultivated their mind with strong administration and military affairs.
They had held Zen sect as their spiritual instructors.  Zen sect had prevailed from Kamakura to Kyoto supported by Zen priests and lots of Samurai worriers had believed Zen.
This spiritual corporation between priests and samurai had led the creation of Samurai spirit (Bushido).
As such way, Zen Buddhism had continued to affect Japanese people for their daily cultural life from 13th century through Ashikaga era (1399 ~ 1573) to Tokugawa era (1603 ~ 1867).
Even at present, we almost Japanese people may have been affected by Samurai spirit in our internal mind.
Off course amount of the effect depend on each person.
Inazo Nitobe who was educator and philosopher with his portrait on a five-thousands yen bill of Japan wrote a global best seller book named “Bushido/Samurai spirit.  Within the book, he described that Bushido spirit had influenced Japanese people to learn moral education without receiving any religious education in their school from childhood unlike the situation of foreign countries.

The relationship between Zen and tea ceremony:
The common element between Zen Buddhism and tea ceremony is to always try to simplify things.
Zen can let people accomplished to remove unnecessary matter completely by intuitively grasping with perfect freedom.
Tea ceremony can let that by the experience of executing tea ceremony in a tea room being transferred to daily life.
The target of tea ceremony is to beautify the primitive simplicity.
The target of Zen is to take away any artificial ornament including intelligence which are useful for practical use in daily life but prevent to dig into our existence by ourselves.  The final simplification of Zen style is corresponding to the experience of tea ceremony in a small tea house built in a shadow of old pine tree.

Japanese garden transition in history and the characteristic of each:
The style of Japanese garden had changed related with the transition of religion of each era as follows
1) Palace style garden in Heian era (794 – 1185): There is a pond in garden as the center with small island inside the pond with Palace style building.  The palace is facing to south.  


 2) Jodo sect style garden in Heian ara(794 – 1185)
In Heian era, common people hoped to be peaceful death on the land of Perfect bliss due to unstable society in the era.
This type of gardens were founded according to their hope.



3) Dry landscape garden in (Kamakura era to Civil war era : 1185 – 1590)
This type of garden aim to have people deeply thought inside their mind to train themselves through Zen Buddhism.
This garden usually consists of only rocks and carefully ranked bed of white gravel with no trees or shrubs.



4) Teahouse garden in Azuchimomoyama era(1573 – 1600)
This style garden was created mainly for the path to teahouse with arrangement of plants and rocks and construction according to the style of tea ceremony.


                                                                                                                                                            By Kashima


Did you like my article?

You can send me a message to get a customized itinerary and quotation for an unforgettable experience.

I'll be waiting for you, so please check my profile and get your trip plan now

Kashima H.

Kashima H.

4.66 / 5
(73 reviews)

Plan your trip to Kyoto with Kashima H.

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.

Send a Message

Tours By Kashima H.

Hakone Scenic, Historical and Culture tour From Tokyo (Case1)cover image

Hakone Scenic, Historical and Culture tour From Tokyo (Case1)

11 hours 30 min

This Hakone tour is suitable for the tourists from various world wide countries who visit Hakone for the first time. I will help you to make exciting experiences which include the unbiased true stories. For example, during the Hakone tour I can explain how Hakone area in the caldera (93km2) has appeared including Ashinoko-lake, various types of Onsen/hot spring and the history of Hakone shrine.

FROM$361/ per group
Japan Tour Guide - Kashima H.
Kashima H.
4.66 / 5
(73 reviews)
Tokyo tour of traditional and modern spots (case1)cover image

Tokyo tour of traditional and modern spots (case1)

8 hours

This tour include several essential sights such as historical spots, modern culture spots and the most advanced atmosphere experience of both graceful & sophisticated town and the most crowded amusement town. You will be impressed with the combination of Japanese traditional atmosphere with historical architecture and the most bustling area with advanced modern culture & entertainment.

FROM$253/ per group
Japan Tour Guide - Kashima H.
Kashima H.
4.66 / 5
(73 reviews)
Kamakura tour of fantastic, historical and magnificent spotscover image

Kamakura tour of fantastic, historical and magnificent spots

9 hours

This tour include the "Daibutsu" the traditional Japanese craftsmanship skill applied, Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine whose deity is the founder of the Kamakura Shogun established in 12th Century, Hasedera Temple which is the Paradise of the Pure Land with beautiful flowers and the biggest wooden sculpture of Hase Kannon and Hokoji-temple by enjoying beautiful bamboo forest and powered tea.

FROM$272/ per group
Japan Tour Guide - Kashima H.
Kashima H.
4.66 / 5
(73 reviews)