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Tachikawaryū is the name of a subschool of Shingon Buddhism, one of the two Japanese schools of tantric Buddhism. Probably founded by Ninkan, who was active in the early twelfth century, Tachikawaryū seems to have continued into the seventeenth century. The epithets often associated with it, "perverse teaching" or "perverse school," imply that this subschool taught a set of doctrines and rituals that were strongly sexualized. Tachikawaryū was denounced by Yūkai (1345–1416) and other representatives of the Buddhist orthodoxy during the Middle Ages, and most of the texts associated with the school are now lost. However, examination of the few extant texts that can be traced back to Tachikawaryū reveals that its teachings were not very different from those of the other Shingon subschools. In addition, a close reading of Shinjō's Juhōyōjin shū (Circumspect Acceptance of the Dharma, 1268), the earliest text that is commonly believed to be a denunciatory account of Tachikawaryū practices, reveals that the sexual rituals described are not said to pertain to Tachikawaryū. Shinjō speaks simply of "these rituals," without naming them.

It is possible to distinguish at least two levels of sexual doctrines and rituals in medieval Japanese religion. First, in every lineage of what is usually called kenmitsu Buddhism, sexual elements were widely spread and practiced, at least in a metaphorical way. Tachikawaryū may well be counted as one of these lineages, although there were certainly more purist tendencies in each lineage. Second, the rituals described by Shinjō may have been taught and practiced only in a particular segment of this general movement. The rituals imply not only sexual intercourse, but also ritual use of a human skull.

See also:Exoteric-Esoteric (Kenmitsu) Buddhism in Japan; Japan; Kamakura Buddhism, Japan; Shingon Buddhism, Japan; Shintō (Honji Suijaku) and Buddhism


Kock, Stephen. "The Dissemination of the Tachikawa-ryū and the Problem of Orthodox and Heretic Teaching in Shingon Buddhism." Studies in Indian Philosophy and Buddhism, Tokyo University, 7 (2000): 69–83.

Sanford, James. "The Abominable Tachikawa Skull Ritual." Monumenta Nipponica 46, no. 1 (1991): 1–20.

Nobumi Iyanaga

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