The Experiences of Japanese Monks: Studying in China During the Song-Yuan Period
In medieval Japan, Buddhism spread to all levels of society. From the late twelfth century to mid-fourteenth century, many Japanese monks went to China to study; they lived in temples with Chinese monks, not as diplomatic envoys, but as ascetic monks.
Like modern times, there were various support systems for Japanese monks who aspired to study abroad. For example, the Kencho-ji Temple, the greatest Zen Buddhist temple in Kamakura, Japan, promoted Chinese language education and maintained a strong connection with major Buddhist temples in China as well as with maritime merchants travelling between Japan and China. In addition, Kamakura Bakufu, or the military government in Kamakura, actively invited prominent Chinese monks and created a new system to appoint monks who had studied in China to an official position.
However, studying in China involved some risks, too. For example, the voyage to China was quite dangerous. Moreover, some monks were suspected of being spies or pirates and were exiled when the political relationship between China and Japan came under severe strain. There was a case of a monk who was ostracized by the sect to which he belonged, since he had studied under and become a disciple of a Chinese monk who had no connection to his sect. Such cases reveal the difficulties faced by Japanese students who went to China to study during this period.
Tsubasa Nakamura is assistant professor of Co-Existing Cultures Course in the Graduate School of Letters, Osaka University since October 2014. He earned his Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Letters, Osaka University, in 2014 and was post-doctoral research fellow of Japan Society for Promotion of Science from April to September 2014. His specialized research areas are history of medieval Japan and maritime East Asian history.