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  • Japanese/Chinese: 黄檗 (Oubaku, Huángbò)

Ôbaku is a sect of Zen Buddhism introduced to Japan in the Edo period and long associated (even more strongly than other sects of Buddhism) with Ming dynasty China. Initially introduced to Japan by Ming monk Yinyuan Longqi, who established the Kôfuku-ji in Nagasaki in 1624 and then the Manpuku-ji in Uji (near Kyoto) in 1661, it was long considered to be part of the Rinzai school of Zen, and was only officially recognized as a separate sect in 1876.[1] Ôbaku practice shares much in common with Rinzai, but emphasizes the chanting of the name of Amida (Amitabha, Amida Buddha) more than typical Rinzai traditions.[1]

The first Ôbaku temple established in Japan was the Kôfuku-ji in Nagasaki, in 1624. Another temple known as Sôfuku-ji was then established, also in Nagasaki, shortly afterwards, in order to serve the Chinese (and in particular Fujianese) community there.

In 1661, the Konoe family of court nobles granted Yinyuan Longqi - chief priest of the Wanfu-si (J: Manpuku-ji) temple on Mt. Huangbo (J: Ôbaku) in Fujian province - land in Uji on which to build a new temple.[2] Manpuku-ji would then become the chief center of Ôbaku Zen in Japan, as well as a major center of Chinese calligraphy, Chinese tea practices, and Ming culture otherwise. Up until 1740, the chief priests (abbots) of Manpuku-ji were always ethnic Chinese; after that, they alternated with Japanese priests. The Tokugawa shoguns regularly called upon these abbots to be seen in audience at Edo castle; whatever these ceremonies may have meant for the monks, the shogunate used such audiences as a tool for enhancing Tokugawa legitimacy - with the Chinese monks of Manpuku-ji as ostensible representatives of the (fallen) Ming dynasty, the shogunate was able to construct a discourse of highly cultivated, refined, representatives of Ming culture paying respects to, and recognizing the authority of, the Tokugawa shoguns.[3]

Up through the mid-18th century, the shogunate invited monks from China to come to Japan to serve as abbots of the Manpuku-ji; in total, some eighty Chinese monks came to Japan on the invitation of the shogunate in this period. The last such Chinese-born abbot, Dacheng Zhaohan, died in 1784, however, and for various reasons the shogunate was unable to successfully invite further monks to come from China. From then on, the heads of Manpuku-ji were all ethnic Japanese.[4]

Though the shogunate maintained strict regulations against the establishment of new temples, it was more lenient about existing temples changing their affiliation; over the course of 1665-1745, more than one thousand temples in Japan declared themselves Ôbaku temples.[5]

Monks of the Manpuku-ji also played a prominent role in teaching vernacular Chinese, classical Chinese, and other Chinese cultural forms to daimyô such as Shimazu Shigehide and Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, among others, whether being called to Edo, or being visited at Manpuku-ji by such figures.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rebeckah Clements, "Speaking in Tongues? Daimyo, Zen Monks, and Spoken Chinese in Japan, 1661–1711," The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 76, No. 3 (August) 2017: 609.
  2. Marius Jansen, China in the Tokugawa World, Harvard University Press (1992), 55-56.
  3. Jiang Wu, Leaving for the Rising Sun: Chinese Zen Master Yinyuan and the Authenticity Crisis in Early Modern East Asia, Oxford University Press, 2014.
  4. Clements, 610.
  5. This number was still dwarfed by the numbers of Rinzai and Sôtô Zen temples, however. Clements, 609.