The organ of the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture.

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Sōtō Zen temples in Japan kept necrologies in which the ancestors of outcaste members of their congregations were clearly identified, sometimes by derogatory titles such as “beast” or “less than human.” Indeed, Sōtō priests routinely allowed access to these memorial registers by private investigators, who perform background checks to insure that prospective marriage partners or company executives do not come from outcaste families.

What was the response of Soto Buddhist priests to the social situation facing Japan at the beginning of the twentieth century? What influence did their religious background have on their responses to the modernization of Japan? This article examines the lives and thought of two Japanese Soto Buddhist priests-Takeda Hanshi and Uchiyama Gudo-both with the same religious training and tradition, yet who chose diametrically opposite responses.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, as Japanese society became engulfed in war and increasing nationalism, the majority of Buddhist leaders and institutions capitulated to the status quo. One notable exception to this trend, however, was the Shinko Bukkyo Seinen Domei (Youth League for Revitalizing Buddhism), founded on 5 April 1931.