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In Session: Connections, Networks, and Ties that Bind: Rethinking Centers and Peripheries in Medieval and Early Modern Japan
3: Influencing Ritual and Economic Lives in Local Nenbutsu Communities:Head-Branch Temple Relationship in the Late Medieval Period
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Tokyo, Japan
Standard interpretations of the relationship between key Buddhist institutions and the periphery in late medieval Japan have used the framework of head and branch temples. According to this model, the head temple protected the branch temples from third parties as well as appointed their abbots, helped sponsor their rituals and transmitted Buddhist teachings to priests in branch temples, while the branch temples paid taxes to the head temple and acknowledged its superior position. These types of relationship among temples went on to become even more firmly established or transformed into a totally different form in the subsequent Edo period. The research in this paper sheds new light on the influences that those medieval temple relationships brought about on the local society by analyzing nenbutsu-related temple documents in Echizen, especially Jodo sect and Ji Shū sect, whose “head temple” were Joge’in or Traveling Saint (Yugyō Shōnin) in Kyoto. How did branch temples in local society expand and substantiate their rituals as well as fund-raising activities by taking advantage of support from head temples? How did the religious landscape, especially the nenbutsu communities, change along with the activities of central nenbutsu figures? This paper highlights that the influence of medieval head-branch relationships on local society is far beyond the imagination of “head temples”.