Religion is important to millions of people across the world. There is nothing that separates Japan from this statistic. Buddhism is one of the most prominent religions that is practiced in Japan and this includes certain traditions practiced in the home, for example, having a butsudan for worship. This medium-sized shrine easily fits in a specialized cupboard for beautiful and safe keeping. While this may be an uncommon sight in a westernized home, it is quite commonplace in any home in Japan.
Butsudan Throughout History
A butsudan is a shrine located in either a temple or a home that contains an array of religious items along with the likeness of Buddha. Each shrine will also contain plaques containing the names of their ancestors to honor them. Oddly, no other country with Buddhism practices this tradition. The butsudan would be a sort of small cabinet that had two closing doors with a deep insert. This cupboard can range from small to quite large and ornateness varies with cost.
The origin of the butsudan must first be explained with the origin of Buddhism in Japan. In 685, Japan officially adopted Buddhism under Emperor Tenmu. Under this edict, he mandated that every household must have a butsudan with a statue of the Buddha. However, this was not the version of the butsudan that we know today. The butsudan originated from the nobility’s jubitsudou which was a separate building where there would be a massive room or rooms for what the butsudan originated into with more items of worship during the Heian period. Since most people could not afford to have buildings for worship, the butsudan formed into rooms and eventually into the cabinets that are sold today. The followers of Buddhism would copy the butsudan that the emperor and nobility had in order to make their own, more simplified versions at home. To encourage people to follow the religion, those who joined a certain temple would be rewarded by the temple honoring their ancestors’ deaths on their anniversaries.
The amount of items placed in a butsudan varies depending on the size. However, there are generally three stairs inside, the top of which would hold important relics and/or the statue of Buddha. There are many items that could also be placed in here that would resemble the faith and devotion of the household.
Butsudan in Anime
While shrines to certain family members are certainly more prominent in anime, you can occasionally catch a glimpse of a butsudan as well. For example, in Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day), we see a butsudan where they display a photograph of those who have passed as a form of worship and recognition. While butsudan are not common in anime, it is fun to try and spot them between the ancestor worship shrines that are commonly seen.
Butsudan are an extremely important part of Japanese culture so it is surprising that it is not depicted more in anime. These beautiful cabinets contain a rich history that goes back hundreds of years and connects the people of Japan. We hope that this article has been entertaining and informative. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.