Guest Editors’ Introduction

Materiality in the Buddhism of Pre-modern Japan


  • Ian Astley University of Edinburgh
  • Nathalie Phillips University of Edinburgh



Buddhism, East Asia, Japan, materiality, reconfiguration, fragments, material integrity, Tekagamijō, Nigatsudō yakegyō, Heike nōkyō ganmon


Inasmuch as Buddhism’s professed goal is the elimination of all attachment to the material world, a pre-occupation with that materiality would immediately strike the disinterested observer as strange, if not improper. Indeed, the monastic tradition eschews engagement with what we colloquially refer to as artistic endeavour, as it detracts from the discipline required to attain the ultimate goal of “snuffing out” the flame that perpetuates suffering (LaFleur 2003, Introduction). Yet, the path to liberation is trodden in the material world, and its manifestations, perceived and processed through the physical senses, are necessary instruments and tools to that end. Cognition of the nature of actions and their fruits can only be achieved by engaging with their manifestations and permutations, using the techniques and disciplines that have been developed in the course of Buddhism’s history. However, the monastic tradition forms but a small part of the Buddhist tradition and the contributions to this volume are concerned in the main with artefacts that circulated outside the cloisters. They present a fascinating purview of how Buddhist ideas and practices circulated in pre-modern Japanese society, showing core beliefs about the Buddhist cosmos and how people from non-monastic walks of life (mainly in the spheres of politics and the aristocracy) availed themselves of that understanding of the world they lived in.


Bowring, Richard. 2005. The Religious Traditions of Japan 500–1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edinburgh Buddhist Studies, University of Edinburgh.

Hirasawa, Caroline and Benedetta Lomi. 2018. “Editors’ Introduction. Modest Materialities: The Social Lives and Afterlives of Sacred Things in Japan.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 45(2): 217–225.

LaFleur, W. R. 2003. Awesome Nightfall: The Life, Times, and Poetry of Saigyo, Boston, MA: Wisdom Publishers.

Rambelli, Fabio. 2007. Buddhist Materiality: A Cultural History of Objects in Japanese Buddhism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

———. 2017. “Materiality, Labor, and Signification of Sacred Objects in Japanese Buddhism.” Journal of Religion in Japan 6: 1–26.




How to Cite

Astley, I., & Phillips, N. (2023). Guest Editors’ Introduction: Materiality in the Buddhism of Pre-modern Japan. Buddhist Studies Review, 39(2), 165–169.



Guest Editorial