Shinbutsu bunri

  • Date: 1868-
  • Japanese: 神仏分離 (shinbutsu bunri)

Shinbutsu bunri (lit. "separation of Shinto and Buddhism") was a policy of the Meiji government aimed at removing Buddhist elements from Shinto. The policy was conceived and pushed forward chiefly by Nativists (kokugakusha) within the government's Office of Rites, including Kamei Koremi and Fukuba Bisei. Bisei's writings, in which he refers to Buddhism as the "heretical law" (jahô), provide insights into the fundamental ideology underlying the policy. He writes that once the separation policies, "based upon the ancient texts of our divine land,"[1] are put into place, it will allow for "the worship and reverence of [Shinto] shrines by all people below heaven, [and] the preservation of the doctrine of our Imperial nation."[2]


As early as 1868/3/17, the Office of Rites issued an edict stating that alongside the "Restoration of Kingly Rule" (ôsei fukkô), "all ancient evils shall be wiped clean."[2] This would manifest, or be implemented, in the form of the removal of all Buddhist clergy, novices, and the like from Shinto shrines throughout the country, leaving the administration of Shinto shrines firmly in the hands of Shinto (not Buddhist) priests.

A second order, issued on 3/28, banned reference to Shinto deities by Buddhist names; this was, in essence, a prohibition on voicing ideas of honji suijaku, the idea that all Shinto deities are manifestations of Buddhist deities, who have taken on different forms in order to be more accessible to Japanese devotees, and more properly suited to the unique spiritual environment of Japan.


  • James Ketelaar, Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan, Princeton University Press (1991).
  1. Meaning, a view of Japanese identity and tradition as grounded in works such as the Kojiki.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ketelaar, 9.