Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Buddhism in Jilong: The Temples

Jilong was certainly no stranger to Buddhism in 1895, which had a long-standing presence in the small town, primarily in forms that the Japanese later described, somewhat disparagingly, as “popular Buddhism.” Jilong contained a number of institutions and practices associated with “vegetarian teaching” (zhaijiao), which had historic connections to the heterodox Longhua Sect that combined worship of the Amitabha Buddha with popular spiritual practices. What Jilong lacked, and the Japanese settlers were eager to import, was the Buddhist schools, or sects, that had long predominated in Japan, with their clergy, monks, and institutional networks. In the context of competition with Shinto, in particular, Japanese Buddhists redefined their religion as both a foundation of a timeless Japanese essence and a modern religion that they could spread across the globe.

As Japanese arrived in Jilong, they moved as quickly as they could to set up branches of many of the main Buddhist sects. By the end of the 1910s, seven different ones—the Zen sects of Sōdō and Rinzai, Jōdō or Pure Land, Jōdō Shinshū, Nichiren, Tendai, and Shingon—all had temples in the city. The most important of these, in terms of their size and prominent locations, were the Kubōji, of the Sōdō sect, and the Kōzonji, established by the Pure Land sect. Each of these had parent temples in Japan—the Kōzonji traced its lineage through a Pure Land temple in the Tsukiji District of Tokyo back to the Western (Nishi) Honganji in Kyoto; the Kubōji had ties to two parent temples (honzan), the Eiheiji in Fukui Prefecture and the Sōjiji in Yokohama—so in a sense they were colonial outposts of sacred terrain. (All of these places are marked on the map on the Sacred Geography and the Everyday page.) Much like the temples of the Taiwanese, they also depended heavily on the actions of local elites for their support. The Sōdō sect, for example, relied upon elite figures like Kimura Kutarō and another settler luminary named Ishizaka Sōsaku for donations to establish its Kubōji, as reported in the Taiwan nichinichi shinpō in June 1906:

As for the Sōdō sect's missionary station in Jilong, it has been reorganized into the temple system, and a temple called the Kubōji will soon be constructed, however only yesterday the sect received permission to collect donations. As for the costs, the cost of construction is 15,340 yen, and the preservation fund is 4,000 yen, for a total of 19,340 yen. Out of this, the plan is that 5,000 yen will come from two parent temples, 10,000 yen from Kimura Kutarō, 2,000 yen from five people including Fujita Kanjirō, Hisatsune Chūji, Satō Ichikei, Kobayashi Isaburō, and Ishizaka Sōsaku, and the remaining 2,340 yen from donations by members of the temple.

At first, all of the sects made use of native temple grounds and buildings, but the Government General apparently grew uneasy with this practice of reconsecration, and in 1908 it halted the practice and informed Taiwan's Sōdō sect leaders that, henceforth, they would have to construct new buildings for any future temples they sought to establish. Whether this decision was to maintain the independence of the Taiwanese temples, as the authorities stated, or to preserve the purity of Japanese religion, the result was to sharpen the distinction between Japanese and Taiwanese sacred spaces.

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