Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

Antique Japanese Butsudan Buddhist household altar – Japan Antique Roadshow

inside_butsudan_01At the start of the long Japanese Edo period (1600-1868) the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu determined that the country of Nippon (Japan) should be closed to the outside world with the exception of a few ports of trade. This was done in an effort to protect Japan from the colonizing forces of the west and in particular to isolate the Japanese people from the influences of Christianity, which the Shogun viewed as a threat to the principals of Confucianism upon which his rule did depend. Over time this ruler’s fear of Christianity grew such that laws were eventually passed requiring the Japanese to annually swear devotion to Buddhism. Fearing the threat and penalties of Christian belief, many Japanese families began to erect small Buddhist altars within their home as further proof of their loyalty to Buddhism. These home altars or butsudan were commonly outfitted with religious implements such as bells, incense burners, candlesticks and statues such that they might resemble Buddhist temples in miniature. Specialist crafts developed for the sole purpose of manufacturing beautiful wooden butsudan and their associated articles of worship. Over time, the practice of maintaining a home altar lost it’s original purpose of publicly expressing one’s loyalty to Buddhism and instead became an accepted and important household function, particularly with families acting as the head of the household name (usually the first born son’s household). Far from being forgotten as a relic of Japan’s past, the butsudan is today an important household fixture which may receive daily attention by family members who consider the altar to symbolically enshrine the spirits and memories of departed ancestors.

In my wife’s (Japanese) parent’s home a large butsudan can be found in the central family room. My wife’s parents are very traditional Japanese and each morning and evening the butsudan receives a ceremonial offering of fresh water and the first scoop of rice from the rice cooker. The offering is prepared in the kitchen by my mother-in-law and delivered to the altar by my father-in-law who also rings the altar bell and offers a prayer upon delivering the water and rice. This practice is still quite common in Japan (particularly with the older generation) and represents an interesting example of how the butsudan retains an important function in Japanese life. My wife’s family also makes similar daily offerings to a Shinto (native Japanese religion) shrine situated in their kitchen. The latter offering is to the kitchen god who protects the home from fire.

Welcome to the softypapa blog. My name is Kurt Bell and I am delighted that you have chosen to walk awhile with me. I’m available on Facebook and Google+ if you have questions or just want to chat and say hi. I can also be found at the JVLOG forum with other Japan-related content creators. All links are listed below. I look forward to meeting you on-line. Have a great day!

The Path of WildnessThe Path of Wildness is easy to find
The course of a stream
Leaves blown in the wind
A beast’s track through the brush
And the direction of our first inclination

The Path of Wildness is an answer and response to a prescribed way of life which may leave some individuals with a sense that their living is little more than a series of pre-determined, step-like episodes between birth and death. The stages of living between these events: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood and senior are themselves natural and in accord with the needs of the species and most individuals. Many find their satisfaction in living this course and to these individuals I have little or nothing to say. Others though long for something more; something innate, genetic and seemingly calling. Adventure and change can give a degree of satisfaction and relief yet even these may seem too tame. To those who feel drawn to something beyond the entertainment and stimulation of senses I offer a walk along The Path of Wildness. Don’t bother penciling the event in your schedule, preparing a pack with goodies and supplies or even inviting a friend along, for this experience is along the course of your first inclination and you must surely always go alone.

The Path of Wildness Resources


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“Japanese Falls” image included in this video is by the artist Lane Brown. See more of Mr. Brown’s work at the following URL:

Channel Theme Music “Song For Kurt” used with permission by Nowherians. Discover more about the artist and their music at the URL below. Be sure to check out their “Rome Pays Off” recordings.

Channel homepage image “Leaf” by photographer Moyan Brenn.
See more of Mr. Brenn’s photos on Flickr at the link below.

Walking in Japan softypapa torii image


One comment on “Antique Japanese Butsudan Buddhist household altar – Japan Antique Roadshow

  1. Ilona
    November 3, 2013

    While I knew of the history of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, I did not realize that
    there is the custom of the Kitchen god in Japan. I had thought it a Chinese custom.
    Thank you for sharing.

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