This examination of the medieval Japanese pantheon leads to questioning one of its traditional organizing principles, namely, the two-tiered structure of the honji suijaku (essence-traces) theory. The habitual thesis is that this theory allowed Buddhists to assimilate the “autochthonous” Japanese pantheon. This model has been taken at face value by generations of scholars. However, it fails to explain the role played by most deities (buddhas and kami among others) in medieval Japanese religion. The brocade of medieval Japanese Buddhism was made of many more strands than the simplistic distinction between Buddhism and Shinto would suggest.
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