DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Terminology and Cultural Principles



Four major islands of Japan


    • Honshu (="Original State"), main island of Japan
    • Hokkaido (= "North Sea Road")
    • Kyushu (="Nine States")
    • Shikoku (="Four Countries")


Time Periods


    • Paleolithic-Old Stone Age: hunters, gathers, stone tools, to about 10,000 BC.
    • Neolithic-New Stone Age: after about 10,000 BC, stone tools, pottery, some agriculture
    • Jomon Period-neolithic period in Japan Characterized by cord marked pottery, 7000-300/200 BC
    • Yayoi Period-200BC-200AD; bronze and iron introduced to Japan


Spirits of the four directions:


    • North–tortoise and snake
    • South–red bird
    • East–azure dragon
    • West–white tiger


Shinto Terms


Shinto–(Chinese word = "the way of the gods"; Japanese word = "kami no michi", "the way of the gods") the native Japanese religion


Kami– Japanese word for god(s), literally meaning "superior"


Izanagi & Izanami–god & goddess who gave birth to the islands of Japan, the Sun Goddess and other gods


Ama-terasu-o-mi-kami (Heaven-Great-Shining Kami), the chief deity of the ancient Japanese; she is the sun goddess whose descendents became the imperial family of Japan


Wa–early Chinese name for Japan


Yamato–early Japanese name for Japan


Jimmu–legendary first emperor of Japan


Ise–main Shinto shrine dedicated to the Sun Goddess



Buddhist Terms


Buddha–The Enlightend One who has achieved awakening and the extinction of rebirth. From the Sanskrit root budh, "to wake up"; The Awakened One.


Shaka–Gautama Sakyamuni (563-484 BC). Originally Prince Siddhartha of the noble warrior Gautama family; Indian philosopher, founder of Buddhism; "Shaka" means the historical Buddha.


Yakushi–the Buddha of healing


Amida–(Sanskrit "Amitabha") the Buddha of the Western Paradise; Buddha of compassion and light


Roshana–(Sanskrit "Vairocana") The Buddha Essence; the universal principle; name for Buddha Essence in the Kegon sect of Todai-ji; Universal Light


Dainichi –"Great Sun"; another name for Roshana, used by the Shingon (True Word) sect


Miroku (fr. Maitreya), Buddha to come; Buddha of the future


Bosatsu (fr. Bodhisattva) = a Buddhist deity, or one who has achieved Buddhahood or salvation, but remains behind to save others


Kannon (Kuan-Yin in Chinese)= the most popular Bosatsu, god of mercy; in later times portrayed as a female figure.


Satori = the moment of enlightenment


Esoteric Buddhism = secret or hidden Buddhism. In Japan esoteric Buddhism was called "mikkyo". There were two main esoteric sects:


Shingon (True Word); comes from Mantrayana in India, the chanting of secret mantras; secret knowledge was passed from master to pupil by word of mouth; ultimate reality could be reached through chanting;


Tendai (from Mt. T'ien-fai in China); centered on Shaka, the historical Buddha; stressed study and long years of monastic discipline; all men can become Buddhas.


Four Noble Truths = the realization that:

  i) life is suffering;

 ii) the cause of sufferings desire and craving;

iii) suffering can be stopped: stop craving and desiring; the cause of desire is ignorance.

iv) the way to get rid of ignorance, (& so desire, & so suffering,) is to follow the eight-fold path.


karma–an act of action. Any action produces good or bad results. Depending on one's accumulation of acts one will be reborn into a higher or lower form of life.


Nirvana–salvation by extinction of the cycle of birth, rebirth, and suffering.


Pagoda–reliquary for remains of or objects belonging to the historical Buddha. In Japan it is multi storied.


Asuka period–(552-645 AD ) period in which Buddhism was introduced into Japan; named from the place where the capital was located; also called the Suiko period after Empress Suiko (593-628 AD).


Asuka dera–one of the oldest temples in Japan; completed 596 AD, it has three golden halls.


Shitennoji–a temple completed around 600 AD in Osaka.


Shitenno–the four kings guarding the four directions and protecting the nation which protects Buddhism.


Horyuji–originally called Ikarup dera, completed 607 AD; burned 670; rebuilt 670-710 AD. Founded in Nara by Prince Shotoku Taishi (Sage Virtue) for the Empress Suiko.


Kondo–"golden hall"; hall within a temple compound for worship ceremonies


Mandorla–the screen behind a Buddhist figure often in the shape of a jewel; symbolizes an enamation


Shotoku Taishi–Prince who supported the Sop clan and Buddhism; developed trade with China during the Asuka period; Buddhist scholar as well as political reformer.


Sutra–Buddhist sacred literature; sacred scripture


Tori–Buddhist sculptor; made Shaka Trinity at Horyuji and other Asuka worksx.


Jataka–stories of the previous incarnations of Shaka


Yumedono Kannon–Kannon of the "dream hall" at Horyuji


Tamamushi shrine–"Beetle wing" miniature shrine


Toshodai-ji–temple of late Nara period built for Ganjin; contains important examples of late Nara sculpture.


Ganjin–Chinese priest who came to Japan in 754 and established Ritsu Buddhism, which stressed ritual more than doctrine, especially ordination. At Toshodai-ji there is a hollow laquer statue of Ganjin.


Wood core laquer–refers to statues carved from wood but with a thin layer of lacquered cloth over the wood carving.


Some Japanese Suffixes (adapted from Kidder, p. xvi):


-dan = platform, e.g. Kaidan, Commandment Platform Hall


-den = hall e.g. Daibutsuden, Great Buddha Hall


-do = hall e.g. kondo, literally, Golden Hall


-in = temple or hall, e.g. Shoso-in


-ji = temple e.g. Horyu-jL Todai-ji, Toshodai-ji


-dera = temple e.g. Hasedera, Kiyomizu-dera


-otera = temple


-kyo = sutra or scripture, e.g.,Hokke-kyo, the Lotus Sutra


-shu = sect e.g. Jodo-shinshu, the True Pure Land Sect


-ten = god, or goddess, lower in stature than a bodhisattva, e.g. Bonten


-to–tower, used for pagodas, eg. go-ju-no-to, 5 storied pagoda


-zo statue e.g. "Butsuzo" (Butsu = Buddha + zo, statue of Buddha)



Some Architectural Terms


Kodo = lecture hall


Kondo = golden hall (for ceremonies)


Yumedono = hall of dreams


Kyozo = storage for sutras


Shoro = bell tower


Chumon = central gate, entrance gate,


Torii = gateway


Heiden = offering hall


Nandaimon = great south gate



Japanese Aesthetic Principles


Spontaniety: means a direct, unmediated approach; shormand, quick, even cartoon like execution, e.g. haniwa and narrative picture scrolls (E Maid); also modem advertisements


Asymmetry: composition deliberately off balance with emphasis on negative areas as well as positive. E.g., lkebana (flower arrangement).


Mono No Aware: Everything is tinged with a sense of sadness. Especially since the time of Lady Murasaki (flourished c. 1000-1020 AD).


Wabi: means honest integrity; poverty without impoverishment. (Especially from the time of the Ashikaga Shogunate).


Sabi: means timeworn; mellowed by use; preference for the old rather than the new; the patina on metals and unpainted wood surfaces.


Shibui: means bitter but refreshing, like the taste of powdered green tea; it is sometimes translated as "astringent".


Respect for natural materials and natural things (influence of Shinto), e.g. undecorated and unglazed pottery, unpainted wood; preference for wood and rock over artificial materials such as plaster and paint; gardens that look untended.


Sense of incompleteness: Japanese stories often have no end; they just trail off. In visual arts you cannot always see everything.


Stress on insight over analysis: the unspoken is more eloquent; in ordinary speech this is important to realize, as well as not referring to one's self.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.