Mikkyō 密教 is the Japanese word for Esoteric Buddhism as it is practiced in Japan, and generally refers to the Shingon Buddhist sect 真言宗, which was founded in the early 9th century by the polymath Kūkai, popularly known as Kobo Daishi, and which remains one of Japan’s principle religious institutions. However, esoteric traditions are also influential in other Japanese Buddhist sects, particularly the Tendai 天台宗 and Kegon 華厳宗 sects. Mikkyo is also an important aspect of quasi-religious institutions such as Shugendō 修験道 and syncretic folk traditions. Recently, Mikkyo practices have also featured in the so-called Japanese New Religions such as the Agon sect 阿含宗, as well as martial arts such as Ninjitsu.
Despite Mikkyo’s enormous historical influence on many aspects of Japanese culture, there is still very little information available in English. A significant problem in writing about Esoteric Buddhism in general is that it remains an oral tradition, focussed on experiential learning, where knowledge is passed directly from the teacher to the student. However, this doesn’t mean that it cannot be written about: there is a vast body of literature about Mikkyo in Japanese. However, because there are very few English-speaking teachers, Mikkyo hasn’t attracted the attention of other Japanese Buddhist traditions such as Zen.
Nonetheless, although Mikkyo is primarily focussed on religious practices through oral transmission, over the past 1200 years, this religious practice has produced a treasury of wonderful art and artefacts and literature, including the majority of Japan’s National Treasures, that can still be enjoyed by the non-practitioner and anyone interested in Japanese culture, art, philosophy and history in general. This site aims to fill the current lack of English-language materials by building and developing knowledge of Mikkyo through its rich treasury of arts, rituals, philosophy, sacred texts, history, cuisine, folk legends, etc.
About site author Cate Kodo Juno
Now living in Australia after 12 years residence in Japan, I am a Shingon Buddhist nun, ordained at Koyasan (Tokudo 2001, Jukai 2003) and registered at the Kongobuji, Koyasan. Although I have a degree in Japanese language (Curtin University), I am far from fluent and the language of Mikkyo scholarship is dense and obscure; however, I am working slowly and learning more everyday by (painstakingly!) translating Japanese books on Mikkyo and conferring with my teachers in Japan for clarification and elucidation. These pages are the result of my own scholarship and I am responsible for any errors; I welcome constructive criticism and correction.