Episode 436 – Fist of the Buddhas, Part 1

This week: what does the historical record have to say about the veracity of the image of the warrior-monk, or sohei, that is so pervasive in pop cultural understandings of medieval Japan?


Adolphson, Mikhael S. The Teeth and Claws of the Buddha: Monastic Warriors and Sohei in Medieval Japan.

Adolphson, Mikhael S. The Gates of Power: Monks, Courtiers, and Warriors in Premodern Japan.

McMullen, Neil. “The Enryaku-ji and the Gion Shrine-Temple Complex in the Mid-Heian Period.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 14, No 2/3 (Jun-Sept, 1987)

LaFleur, William R. “Buddhism in a Fail-safe Mode: Examining ‘Medieval’ Japan”. History of Religions 43, No 3 (February, 2003).


The Golden Hall of Onjoji/Mii-dera at the foot of Mt. Hiei. The rivalry between this temple and Enryakuji drove one of the first instances of standing temple armies in Japan.
A wooden board at Enryakuji today shows the scope of its various sections across Mt. Hiei–and gives you an idea of how much more there was to this ‘temple’ that was worth fighting over than just some halls.
Images of warrior monks in a history commissioned by Kasuga shrine in the 1300s. These images give some sense of the stereotypical characteristics of the warrior-monk, though that dress is not consistent in early depictions.
The monk Ryogen, as depicted in a statue in 1200. Ryogen is best known for advancing the factional disputes within Enryakuji that led to its split and to centuries of violence between Mii-dera and Enryakuji.