JJRS > Volume 50 Issue 1 Japanese Buddhist War Support and the Kanchō System

Schroeder, Jeff

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When Jōdo Shin Buddhist leaders gathered for a conference in early 1941 to formulate their sect’s wartime response, they did so at the bidding of their sect’s kanchō, or administrative head. To explain organizational dynamics that contributed to patterns of war support by Japanese Buddhists, this article details the state’s imposition of a kanchō system of governance on Buddhist organizations from 1884 to 1945. While Buddhist organizations had leeway in determining the selection process, term length, and specific powers of their kanchō, in all cases extraordinary authority was concentrated in a single individual. This article details how the kanchō system was implemented in major Zen, Jōdo Shin, Jōdo, Shingon, Nichiren, and Tendai organizations; examines the pro-war activities of kanchō prior to and during the Fifteen Years’ War period (1931–1945); and uses the case of the 1941 Shin Doctrinal Studies Conference to illustrate how the autocratic kanchō organizational structure amplified a sect’s most pro-war voices.