The most recommended books on Buddhism in Japan

Who picked these books? Meet our 2 experts.

2 authors created a book list connected to Buddhism in Japan, and here are their favorite Buddhism in Japan books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of Shapers of Japanese Buddhism

David Brazier Author Of The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dogen's Genjo Koan

From my list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism.

Why am I passionate about this?

David Brazier ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1976, studied all the major schools of Buddhism, and eventually founded Amida Shu, a Pure Land order, of which he was head from 1996 until retiring in 2020. His close disciples now meet as “Global Sangha”. He holds a doctorate in Buddhist psychology, has initiated socially engaged projects in several countries, and still teaches internationally and online. He is the author of more than a dozen books and many chapters, monographs, and podcasts.

David's book list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism

David Brazier Why did David love this book?

This book includes twenty full and seventy-five brief biographies of significant figures in the history of Japanese Buddhism, some of them orthodox, many of them eccentric, each contributing some unique genius to the living tradition from the sixth century up to modern times. An excellent way to enter the spirit of the tradition with many stories to enjoy.

By Yusen Kashiwahara, Koyu Sonoda,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shapers of Japanese Buddhism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

More than thirteen centuries of clergy, laity, and social conditions interacted to mold Japan's Buddhism. Today's resulting characteristics, which distinguish it from its mainland sources, include a proliferation of independent sects, emphasis on religion for lay members, and de-emphasis of clerical codes. The twenty main biographies and seventy-five sketches presented in this book reveal both the individual and social aspects of Buddhist evolution and in Japan, spanning from the sixth through twentieth centuries. They cover the many separate interchanges that brought Buddhist texts and practices from Korea and China as well as the innovations that arose in Japan.


Book cover of Japanese Temple Buddhism: Worldliness in a Religion of Renunciation

David Brazier Author Of The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dogen's Genjo Koan

From my list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism.

Why am I passionate about this?

David Brazier ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1976, studied all the major schools of Buddhism, and eventually founded Amida Shu, a Pure Land order, of which he was head from 1996 until retiring in 2020. His close disciples now meet as “Global Sangha”. He holds a doctorate in Buddhist psychology, has initiated socially engaged projects in several countries, and still teaches internationally and online. He is the author of more than a dozen books and many chapters, monographs, and podcasts.

David's book list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism

David Brazier Why did David love this book?

Most books on Buddhism emphasise the monastic tradition, meditation and a life of strict morality, removed from the everyday world of ordinary people. Much of Japanese Buddhism, however, is conducted by married priests living modern lives in direct interaction with secular society. This book provides an important antidote to contemporary stereotypes.

By Stephen Covell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japanese Temple Buddhism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There have been many studies that focus on aspects of the history of Japanese Buddhism. Until now, none have addressed important questions of organization and practice in contemporary Buddhism, questions such as how Japanese Buddhism came to be seen as a religion of funeral practices; how Buddhist institutions envision the role of the laity; and how a married clergy has affected life at temples and the image of priests. This volume is the first to address fully contemporary Buddhist life and institutions - topics often overlooked in the conflict between the rhetoric of renunciation and the practices of clerical marriage…


Book cover of Theories of the Chakras: Bridge to Higher Consciousness

Rande Brown Author Of Geisha: A Life

From my list on what the West can learn from the East.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an American Jewish girl who was born knowing that I had been Japanese in my previous lifetime. After graduating with a degree in Japanese studies from Princeton University, I moved to Japan at 21 and became a well-known translator. One day the Geisha Mineko Iwasaki, the inspiration behind Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, asked me to co-author the story of her life. Published in 2002, Geisha, a Life became a bestseller. Writing Geisha awakened memories of my past life as a courtesan in fourteenth-century Kyoto. I began a deep study of reincarnation, which has led me to study the intersection of Buddhism and Psychoanalysis. Please look out for my forthcoming book, Reincarnation Karma.

Rande's book list on what the West can learn from the East

Rande Brown Why did Rande love this book?

Finally, the mechanisms that undergird the transformation of consciousness in all mystical traditions, whether East or West, are explained in language that is easy to understand. In this ground-breaking work, Motoyama combines the psycho-spiritual wisdom of Chinese medicine, Kundalini Yoga, and Esoteric Japanese Buddhism to create a model of spiritual evolution that can be utilized to good effect by anyone. 

By Hiroshi Motoyama,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Theories of the Chakras as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of The Monk Who Dared

David Brazier Author Of The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dogen's Genjo Koan

From my list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism.

Why am I passionate about this?

David Brazier ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1976, studied all the major schools of Buddhism, and eventually founded Amida Shu, a Pure Land order, of which he was head from 1996 until retiring in 2020. His close disciples now meet as “Global Sangha”. He holds a doctorate in Buddhist psychology, has initiated socially engaged projects in several countries, and still teaches internationally and online. He is the author of more than a dozen books and many chapters, monographs, and podcasts.

David's book list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism

David Brazier Why did David love this book?

A gripping work of fiction constructed around the known facts of the life of Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism which is today the largest denomination in Japan. The novel reveals a thorough appreciation of the social climate and circumstances while telling the tale of Shinran who - “neither monk nor layman” - carried forward the religious revolution of the Kamakura period.

By Ruth M. Tabrah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Monk Who Dared as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Book cover of Honen the Buddhist Saint: Essential Writings and Official Biography

David Brazier Author Of The Dark Side of the Mirror: Forgetting the Self in Dogen's Genjo Koan

From my list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism.

Why am I passionate about this?

David Brazier ordained as a Buddhist priest in 1976, studied all the major schools of Buddhism, and eventually founded Amida Shu, a Pure Land order, of which he was head from 1996 until retiring in 2020. His close disciples now meet as “Global Sangha”. He holds a doctorate in Buddhist psychology, has initiated socially engaged projects in several countries, and still teaches internationally and online. He is the author of more than a dozen books and many chapters, monographs, and podcasts.

David's book list on the spirit of Japanese Buddhism

David Brazier Why did David love this book?

Honen Sangha (1133-1212) revolutionised Japanese Buddhism. Famous in his own time yet exiled near to the end of his life he introduced an approach to practice that embraced ordinary people and appealed to all ranks of society. His mould breaking innovation paved the way for the emergence of the several new schools that still dominate the Buddhist scene in Japan today. and his humanity and warmth of character still inspire.

By Joseph A. Fitzgerald, Ryugaku Ishizuka, Harper Havelock Coates

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Honen the Buddhist Saint as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Priest, saint, and founder of the independent school of Pure Land (Jodo) Buddhism in 12th century Japan, Honen Shonin's importance has been largely unrecognised in the West, even though his legacy includes over twenty million living practitioners of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan. "Honen the Buddhist Saint: His Life And Teachings" is the first and only English translation of a biography of this remarkable man. Edited by Joseph A. Fitzgerald, this edition combines illustrations from Japanese religious sites as well as Honen's own words which allow him to speak "from across the ages", to any human being, Buddhist or non-Buddhist,…