The Journal of Buddhist Thought and Culture
Institute for Buddhist Studies


1Tezukayama University

© Copyright 2013 Institute for Buddhist Studies. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Published Online: Apr 01, 2019




This study examines the historiography of Buddhist archaeology, with particular emphasis on understanding the current state of research and challenges associated with Buddhist archaeology in Japan.

Among the various publications on Buddhist archaeology, Shinpan bukkyō kōkogaku kōza, a comprehensive study of Buddhist archaeology in Japan authored by Ishida Mosaku, and Hakkutsu chōsa no tebiki: kakushu iseki chōsa hen, recently published by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, differ markedly in subject matter.

One point of departure: the latter publication predominantly focuses on materials excavated during formal surveys of Buddhist temple sites, consisting of architectural remains and objects.

The current state of research in the field of Buddhist archaeology in Japan is believed to reflect scholarly achievements enabled by excavations conducted during the postwar period of reconstruction and land development.

Such advances have allowed scholars to reconstruct historical developments through the interpretation of archaeological results, especially in the fields of cultural, social, economic, and political histories. However, in terms of elucidating the history of Buddhist doctrine, it appears that research in this field has been unexpectedly limited.

As indicated by Ishida Mosaku, Buddhist archaeology is “archaeology that focuses on Buddhist architectural remains and relics,” and to realize the essential goal of “understanding Buddhism of the past,” it is not sufficient to consider only the material evidence unearthed from Buddhist temple sites.

Instead of investigating just the excavated remains, it is especially critical today that Buddhist materials stored aboveground in temple collections are also examined as part of a multidisciplinary approach towards expanding our knowledge of Buddhist doctrinal history.