Japanese Buddhism and the Branch Families of the Imperial House during the Early Modern and Modern Transition

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Miyake are the branch families of Japan’s Imperial House. They are expected to produce a successor to the throne when the emperor has no sons. One of the biggest differences between the modern and the pre-modern Imperial Family was the existence of the monzeki system. During the pre-modern, the practice was that the majority of royals, other than the crown prince or miyake heirs, had to be Buddhist monks, and in the Edo period, the number of miyake was fixed at four, princes who left descendants without becoming priests were limited. From the late Edo to the early Meiji period, they left the temples and established the new miyake. This has been seen as the beginning of the formation of the modern Imperial system and at the same time as part of the policy of separating Shinto and Buddhism. However, in contrast to the strict separation of Shinto and Buddhism in the state, some of miyake still had strong ties with Buddhism, and a few former princes/princesses left the Imperial Family as they had done in the Edo period to be monks. The extent to which the separation of Shinto and Buddhism was prevalent differed from each miyake and should not be simply standardised. Conventional research has used the figure that the separation of Shinto and Buddhist meant the abolition of Buddhism. However, the fact that Buddhist elements remained in some of modern miyake was an important point that has been ignored in conventional studies, although religious elements such as ancestral rites and the family jobs (e.g. priests) were one of the 'ie' (household) components. This presentation examines the elements of the pre-modern monzeki system that remained in some miyake from the perspective of the continuity of the ‘ie’, and locates the public and private relationship between miyake and Buddhism.


Conference2023 Cambridge Graduate Student Conference on East Asian Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
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