Clerical Marriage in Japan

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Temple wives and families have existed covertly for much of Japanese Buddhist history. Since at least the time of Shinran (1173–1262), the founder of the True Pure Land denomination (Jodo Shinshu), clerical followers of Shinran have openly married and, frequently, passed on their temples from father to son. Shin temple wives, known as bomori (temple caretakers), traditionally have played an important role in ministering to parishioners, caring for the temple, and raising the temple children. The ambiguous term jizoku, referring to both the wife and the children of a temple abbot, was officially coined in a 1919 Pure Land (Jōdo) denomination regulation guaranteeing the right of succession to the registered child of the abbot (jūshoku) in the case of his death.

Clerical marriage became open and temple families general among all denominations of Japanese Buddhism following the state's decriminalization of clerical marriage in 1872. Although bitterly resisted for decades by the leaders of many non-Shin denominations, proponents of the practice advocated allowing clerical marriage and temple families as the best way to create a vigorous Buddhism capable of competing with the family-centered Protestantism, with its married ministers, that was making headway in Japan in the late nineteenth century. Despite opposition from many Buddhist leaders, clerical marriage proved popular, spreading to the majority of clerics in most denominations of monastic Buddhism by the late 1930s.

Today, all denominations of Japanese Buddhism have granted de facto legitimacy to clerical marriage and temple families. Most temples are inherited by either the biological or adoptive son of the abbot, and temple wives play a vital—although still frequently unacknowledged—part in managing the temple, serving parishioners, raising the temple family, and participating in the religious activities of the temple.

See also:Meiji Buddhist Reform


Jaffe, Richard M. Neither Monk nor Layman: Clerical Marriage in Modern Japanese Buddhism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Kawahashi, Noriko. "Jizoku (Priests' Wives) in Sōtō Zen Buddhism: An Ambiguous Category." Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 22/1–2 (1995): 161–183.

Uan Dōnin. "A Refutation of Clerical Marriage," tr. Richard M. Jaffe. In Religions of Asia in Practice: An Anthology, ed. Donald Lopez, Jr. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Richard M. Jaffe

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Clerical Marriage in Japan

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Clerical Marriage in Japan