Shinbutsu Bunri

Doctrines Shinbutsu bunri means 'separation or dissociation of kami and Buddhas'. It refers to government decrees issued from March 1868 onwards intended to dissociate the worship of kami at shrines from the practice of Buddhism, which had provided the traditional context within which such acts of worship were conducted. Shinbutsu bunri was based on the belief that Buddhism was a foreign religion which had obscured the true Japanese spirit. Beyond this, the doctrines underlying shinbutsu bunri were not clear, and the separation of kami and Buddhas led to a crisis in 'Shinto' theology which was only resolved when the imperial household in the 1880's forbade shrine priests to teach doctrine and to confine their activities to the conduct of shrine rites. Despite the apparent separation of Shinto and Buddhism since 1868, ordinary people visit both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples as appropriate and generally regard kami and Buddhas as belonging to the same order of divnities.

History As early as the 1660's a version of shinbutsu bunri had been carried out by Tokugawa Mitsukuni (1628-1700) in his Mito fief when he closed about a thousand Buddhist temples and ordered 'one shrine per village' to be constructed. A few similar attempts were made elsewhere during the Tokugawa period to break the power of Buddhism in areas with strong Confucian or kokugaku-inspired anti-Buddhist leanings. The major nationwide shinbutsu bunri occurred in March - April 1868 when the Meiji government ordered each shrine to submit an account of its shrine history and traditional Buddhist identity and to get rid of all Buddhist items such as bells, paintings and statues. In May 1868 Buddhist priests connected with shrines were ordered to renounce the priesthood and be ordained as Shinto priests (many already were as part of their Buddhist ordination) and in the following year they were required to grow their hair long to symbolise their rejection of Buddhism.
The Meiji government needed to 'purify' Shinto in this way in order to break the power of Buddhism, which was associated with the Tokugawa regime, and to develop a form of Japanese religion (Taikyo, the 'Great Teaching' which became Shinto) to counter the threat of Christianity. The separation of Shinto and Buddhism was maintained up to 1945 by defining Shinto as 'non-religious' in contrast to religions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Sect Shinto etc., and administering Shinto through a separate government department. Since 1945 'shinbutsu bunri' has had no formal meaning but Shinto shrines seldom share rites with Buddhist temples.

Symbols Shinbutsu bunri was itself a symbolic act of 'cleansing' shrines of Buddhist elements by destroying Buddhist works of art, sculpture and ritual implements. The destruction of Buddhist art took place in shrines and in many Buddhist temples too. Shinbutsu bunri has been symbolised since 1868 by the differences which have now become commonplace between Shinto and Buddhism in the areas of art, architecture, ritual and in particular the titles of deities. For example, calling Hachiman 'Great Kami' rather than 'Great Bodhisattva', as Hachiman had been known since at least the Nara period (710-794) identifies Hachiman as a 'Shinto' deity instead of a Buddhist divinity.

Adherents Most contemporary Japanese are aware of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines as being in some way separate. To that extent people have internalised the dissociation of kami and Buddhas intended by shinbutsu bunri. However, Buddhism has retained its claim to deal with the dead so the aim of fully dissociating kami and Buddhas has not been achieved. No strong distinction between kami and Buddhas is made today at the level of popular devotion and ritual observance at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

Main Centre
 Shinbutsu Bunri represents a process affecting Shinto rather than a distinctive subgroup and therefore it is not possible to talk of a headquarters or main centre, although the impetus for the 'separation' of kami and Buddhas came from the new Meiji government in tokyo.