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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 2.2 (2019): 163–201;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhism and Business: South and East Asian Perspectives)

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The Mystery of Wealth and the Role of Divinities: The Economy in Pre-Modern Japanese Fiction and Practice

University of California, Santa Barbara

Abstract: This article presents an overview of the economic dimensions of premodern Japanese Buddhism—both economic ideas and activities—by focusing on representative primary sources and important secondary scholarship. It opens with a discussion of economic activities in which temple-shrines and their personnel were directly engaged in. Next, in order to find some type of theorization for those practices, it examines a number of popular stories from medieval and early modern Japan (some of which are still circulating today as children’s tales) that deal with the origin of wealth. It problematizes their underlying economic thought, including examples of resistance to dominant ideas about production and wealth. Finally, the paper offers some considerations on the ‘general economy’ of premodern Japanese Buddhism.

Keywords: Buddhist economics, Buddhist literature, merit-making, general economy, Buddhist and Shinto relations, Buddhist temple economic activities


About the Author: Fabio Rambelli is Professor of Japanese religions and the International Shinto Foundation endowed chair in Shinto Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His books include Buddhas and Kami in Japan (co-edited with Mark Teeuwen, 2003), Buddhist Materiality (2007), Buddhism and Iconoclasm in East Asia: A History (with Eric Reinders, 2012), A Buddhist Theory of Semiotics (2013), Zen Anarchism (2013), The Sea and the Sacred in Japan: Aspects of Maritime Religion (2018), and Spirits and Animism in Contemporary Japan: The Invisible Empire (2019). He is currently working on the intersections of materiality and music in Japan.


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.