East Asian Mythology: China and Japan

The Japanese Buddhist and Shinto Pantheons

What is the Japanese Buddhist pantheon?

Although Buddhism came to Japan from outside—primarily from China—it has generally coexisted easily with Shinto. In part this is because Buddhists have seen the kami of Shinto as embodiments or avatars of various Buddhist bodhisattvas and Buddhas. There are, however, many Buddhist bodhisattvas, Buddhas, and deities who have achieved high individual status on their own in Japan. These include especially Amida Buddha and the Bodhisattva Kannon. Amida Buddha (Amitabha Buddha of the Indian Pali tradition) is the great Buddha of a form of Buddhism popular in Japan, Pure Land Buddhism. Amida Buddha is a Buddha who still concerns himself with this world and its pain. He acts to bring people to salvation.

Kannon Bosatsu, who is essentially the Chinese Guanyin, derived from Tibetan Buddhism’s bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Tara, in Japan can be either male or female, the de facto god or goddess of mercy and compassion. Some see Kannon as an incarnation of Amida Buddha.

An 1891 woodblock of the legendary Japanese emperor Jimmu.


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