Honji suijaku

  • Japanese: 本地垂迹 (honji suijaku)

Honji suijaku is one of the core concepts which historically allowed for the syncretic coexistence of Buddhism and kami worship (i.e. Shinto) in Japan. According to this idea, Buddhist deities are true entities, and the foundations (honji) which manifest themselves in a variety of other forms (suijaku), including as kami. Buddhist deities were believed to be universal, and kami merely forms they chose, specific to Japan, in order to be better suited to the Japanese spiritual landscape and/or to be more accessible to Japanese people.

It is through the philosophy of honji suijaku that each kami deity is said to be a manifestation of a given Buddha, bodhisattva, or other Buddhist entity.

Though the honji suijaku held considerable strength throughout the pre-modern period, prominent figures such as Yoshida Kanetomo in the 15th-16th centuries, and various kokugaku scholars in the 18th-19th centuries, argued that the truth was the other way around: that the kami were the true deities, and Buddhist entities merely versions, aspects, or alternative manifestations of the kami.[1]

In the first years of the Meiji period, the Meiji government made strong efforts to "separate Shinto and Buddhism" (shinbutsu bunri). Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines which had functioned for centuries as joint entities were separated, and on 1868/3/28, referring to Shinto deities by Buddhist names was banned,[2] as part of efforts to elevate Shinto, and the notion of the Japanese nation as a "land of the gods."


  1. Evelyn Rawski, Early Modern China and Northeast Asia: Cross-Border Perspectives, Cambridge University Press (2015), 212.
  2. James Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan, Princeton University Press (1991), 9.