Timeline of Religion and Nationalism in Meiji and Imperial Japan

Timeline of Religion and Nationalism in Meiji and Imperial Japan


Order for the separation of Buddhas and kami (shinbutsu bunri rei).
Buddhist priests prohibited from serving at shrines unless they became Shinto priests, which many did.

Shrine priests warned not to destroy temple property.
Nichirenshû ordered not to incorporate Amaterasu into its 30 protective deities (sanjûbanjin) or into mandala.

Hachiman shrines ordered to remove the “bodhisattva” suffix from the deity’s name.

Establishment of the Department of Divinities (Jingikan) as central administrative unit for shrines; shrine priests put under its administration (thus severing them from foregoing administration by the Yoshida and Shirakawa houses).


The Meiji government arrests over 3,000 Hidden Christians in an attempt to stamp out Christianity and exalt Shinto.


Tokyo Shôkonsha established as a memorial for the dead of the Restoration on the imperial side, later renamed Yasukuni Shrine.

Tokyo is made the capital; the emperor is moved there from Kyoto.

Buddhist priests in service to at shrines forced to laicize or become shrine priests.


Great Proselytization Campaign begins (taikyô senpu undô); participants drawn from Buddhist and Shinto priests, actors, and others; worship facilities designated throughout the country.

National conscription law introduced.

Around 10,000 people participated in a violent uprising resisting local government plans to abolish or merge their temples. Some 27 Buddhist priests were imprisoned; several were executed.


Shrine and temple lands “returned” to the throne (shajiryô jôchi rei).
Department of Divinities demoted to Ministry of Divinities (Jingishô).
Unified system of shrine ranks established. Within this system, there was a significant distinction between “official shrines” (kansha, i.e., the National and Imperial shrines) and “unofficial shrines” (minsha, shrines of Prefectural level and below).

Shrines defined as providing the “rites of the nation” (kokka no sôshi).
Standard scale established for shrine priests’ salaries.
Ise Shrines made the head shrine of all other shrines, and other reforms initiated at Ise.

Buddhist rites formerly performed in the imperial household are abolished.

Ministry of Education established.

Edo-period system of four classes is abolished, and in its place new categories are established of nobility and ordinary people.

Captain Leroy L. Janes, mentor of the Kumamoto Band, arrives in Japan to teach.


Ministry of Divinities abolished and its functions moved to the Ministry of Religion (Kyôbushô), established that year to manage the Great Proselytization Campaign.

Establishment of the Minatogawa Shrine in Kobe City, enshrining the warrior Kusunoki Masashige (d.1336), a paragon of imperial loyalism.

The first Japanese Protestant church was established, in Yokohama.

Construction of the first Japanese railway.

As of this year, the national population was 34,806,000, and the average life expectancy was 43.5 years.

Father Nikolai (Ioann Kasatkin) established a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Japan.

Founding of Risshô University, representing the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.


Salaries for shrine priests at shrines of the Prefectural Shrine level and below abolished; thereafter, local communities provide salaries.

Introduction of the Western calendar.

Universal male conscription declared.

Ban on Christianity lifted, though Shinto allied with many Buddhists to resist Christianity’s advance.


Aoyama Gakuin (subsequently, Aoyama Gakuin University), and St. Paul’s School (subsequently, Rikkyô University), two Protestant schools, established in Tokyo.


Jôdo Shinshû withdraws from the Great Proselytization Campaign, effectively signaling the Campaign’s failure. In succeeding years the various sects of Shinto also withdraw from the Campaign, and are recognized as independent organizations.

Dôshisha English School (subsequently, Dôshisha University), a Protestant school, established in Kyoto.


Abolition of the Ministry of Religion (Kyôbushô); administration of shrines and religions transferred to the Home Ministry.

Seinan Rebellion, led by Saigo Takamori, quelled after almost nine months of fighting.


Limited subsidies for shrines’ preservation established (and later renegotiated several times), with the provision that these would eventually be phased out. The intent was that shrines would gradually be severed from government support and would come to rely on their local communities.

First Japanese translation of the New Testament.

Japan YMCA founded by Kozaki Hiromichi.


The Home Ministry established two state schools to train shrine priests; later renamed Kokugakuin and Kôgakukan Universities.

Government introduces a distinction between “shrine Shinto” and “sect Shinto.”

Government sends a mission overseas to study constitutional systems of government, led by Itô Hirobumi, who spent most of the time studying the German system under Bismarck.

Establishment of Komazawa University (Sôtô Zen sect of Buddhism).


Great Proselytization Campaign formally ends with abolition of the system of National Evangelists.

The constitutional study mission returns to Japan and establishes operations in the Imperial Household Ministry, to emphasize that the resulting constitution will be a gift to the people from the emperor.


Mori Arinori, Minister of Education, proclaims that education is for the sake of the nation, not the pupils.


Promulgation of the Meiji Constitution, with provisions for limited freedom of religion.

Establishment of the Kashihara Shrine, enshrining the mythical first emperor Jimmu.

National population is 40,000,000.


Promulgation of the Imperial Rescript on Education.

Election of the first Diet (Parliament).


“New Buddhism Movement,” a variety of efforts to reform and modernize Buddhism, led by young priests.


Tokyo Imperial University historian Kume Kunitake (1839-1931) publishes his article holding that Shinto represents the remains of an ancient worship of Heaven. After an outcry by the shrine priesthood, he was removed from his post in 1892.

Uchimura Kanzô “Disrespect Incident” provokes nationalist criticism of Christianity as unpatriotic.


The Civil Code goes into effect. While it recognized some limited individual rights, the household was made the basic legal unit of society, and everyone was to be registered as head of the household or as subordinate to the househead.

Japanese delegation attends the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.


Japanese forces in Seoul seize the Korean king and install a pro-Japanese puppet cabinet. This cabinet demands the withdrawal of all Chinese forces from the country.

The Sino-Japanese War begins between Japanese and Chinese forces in Korea.


Establishment of Heian Jingû, commemorating the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto; Emperor Kanmu named the shrine’s deity; Emperor Kômei added in 1940.

Japan defeats China and wins Taiwan and the Liaotung Peninsula in China under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. Later, Japan is forced to return the Liaotung Peninsula under pressure from Russia, France, and Germany.

When the Korean Queen aligned herself with the Russians in an attempt to expel the Japanese from Korea, the Japanese Minister in Korea had her assassinated. A significant Japanese Buddhist leader, Takeda Hanshin, was reportedly involved personally.


Taiwan Jinja established.

Shrine Office (Jinjakyoku) established within the Home Ministry, along with a Religions Office (Shûkyôkyoku), marking shrines’ declining profile within Ministry priorities and causing disappointment for the priesthood.

First nationwide organization of shrine priests established (Zenkoku shinshokukai).


Uchimura Kanzô established the No-Church movement (Mukyôkai).

Establishment of Ôtani University (Jôdo Shinshû sect of Buddhism).


Government forbids sect Shinto from holding state ceremonies.

Japan declares war on Russia over control of Korea and the Liaotung Peninsula.

Uemura Masashisa founded the predecessor of the Tokyo Union theological Seminary.


Most shrine mergers occurred in this period. Overall the number of shrines declined by 28%; i.e., about 1 in 4 shrines were abolished, mostly affecting the unranked shrines (those at the low end of the official ranking system).


Russia is defeated by Japan; in the Treaty of Portsmouth (signed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire), Japan wins control of Korea and the Liaotung Peninsula, as well as the southern half of Sakhalin Island.

Korea becomes a Japanese protectorate.


Government subsidies to the official shrines restored; soon thereafter a scale for ceremonial offerings to these shrines was established.


Boshin Rescript: “It is now desired …that the shrines will be utilized in promoting the unification and administration of the country.”

At this time, there were approximately 960 Protestant missionaries in Japan.


Korea annexed by Japan and made a colony.


Emperor Meiji dies; succeeded by Emperor Taishô.


Sophia University (Catholic) established in Tokyo.


Shrines of all ranks directed to conduct ceremonies corresponding to rites in the imperial palace, according to standardized procedures.


Construction begins on the Meiji Shrine (completed in 1920), enshrining Emperor Meiji and the Empress Dowager.


Nanzan University (Catholic) established in Nagoya.


Riots over the price of rice break out throughout Japan.


Chôsen Jingû built in Seoul, with Amaterasu and Emperor Meiji as its deities; later there was a debate about whether to enshrine a Korean creator deity.


Completion of the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, enshrining Emperor Meiji and the Empress.

Depression hits, and prices drop by as much as 50%.

National population: 66,660,000; average life expectancy: 42.1.


First suppression of Omoto, on charges of violating the newspaper law and lèse majesté.


Taishô earthquake strikes on September 1, killing over 106,000 people in Tokyo, Yokohama, and surrounding areas.


U.S. Congress passes a bill excluding further Japanese immigration.


Publication of the Taishô Canon of Buddhist scriptures (100 volumes).


Passage of the Peace Preservation Law, making it illegal to advocate change in the national polity (kokutai).

Universal manhood suffrage for men over 25.

Founding of the new religion Reiyûkai Kyôdan.

Founding of Taishô University, representing the Tendai and Shingon sects of Buddhism.


Pacifist new religion Honmichi suppressed after founder Onishi Aijirô denies the emperor’s divinity.

Death of Taishô Emperor and succession of Hirohito (Shôwa).


Severe depression hits Japan, soon becoming a world depression.


Hirohito’s enthronement, in ceremonies conducted in Kyoto.


U.S. stock market crash, leading to worldwide depression.


Sôka Gakkai founded, then suppressed and its founder jailed after he refuses to worship an Ise talisman.

Japanese population: 64, 450,000; average life expectancy: 48.25.


Japanese military moves into Manchuria.


Japanese military establishes the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria.


Japan withdraws from the League of Nations when it declines to recognize the independence of Manchukuo as a legitimate nation.


Second suppression of Omoto.


Hitonomichi suppressed on charges it held a vulgar interpretation of national mythology.

Attempted military coup, aiming to overthrow the government (2.2.1936).


Ministry of Education publishes Kokutai no Hongi, an ethics textbook promoting the notion, based on the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, of the divine origins of Japan, and advocating absolute obedience to the imperial will. Kôno Seizô, President of Kokugakuin University, was a member of the editorial board. This works sets out the national objective of extending Japanese control over all East Asia, and the South Pacific.

Japanese military massacre 200,000 people in Nanjing, raping tens of thousands of women, and looting the city; the Nanjing Massacre.


Second suppression of Honmichi.


Hitler invades Poland.


Establishment of the Institute of Divinities (Jingi-in).

National population: 71,9333,000; average life expectancy: 51.5

Major food shortages.

Japan signs a military alliance with the Axis powers and occupies northern French Indochina. The U.S. places an embargo on iron and scrap metal exports to Japan.

All political parties are dissolved.

Many religious organizations were forcibly merged into the Imperial Rule Assistance Association.


When Japan extends its occupation to the south of French Indochina, the U.S. freezes Japanese assets and imposes an embargo on oil exports to Japan. Britain and the Dutch East Indies follow suit, cutting off all Japan’s major sources of petroleum.

General Tôjô Hideki becomes Prime Minister.

(12.1): Hirohito approves the military’s plan to attack Pearl Harbor.

(12.7): attack on Pearl Harbor.

Government pressure leads to formation of the United Church of Christ in Japan (Nihon Kirisuto Kyôdan), a union of some 30 Protestant Churches.

Dr. and Mrs. Roy Byram, Christian missionaries, were arrested for propagating a religion opposed to state Shinto.


Japan defeated at the Battle of Midway, losing much of the Navy.


Allied air raids over Tokyo begin on a large scale.


(March) Fire bombing of Tokyo, killing over 100,000 people and incinerating most of the city.

(May) Germany surrenders.

(8.6, 9) Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing at least 140,000 and 74,000 people, respectively.

(8.15) Japan surrenders; the emperor announces the surrender to the people in a radio broadcast.

(9.2) Hirohito signs the terms of unconditional surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Occupation under General Douglas MacArthur begins.

(December) Promulgation of the Shinto Directive.


Type,Article; Theme,Culture; Topic,History-Modern; Theme,Imperial Japan; Topic,Religion; Theme,Religion in Japan; Type,Timeline;
religion, timeline, nationalism, meiji, imperial, imperial Japan, Helen Hardacre, Shinto, Buddhism, Taisho, Yasukuni, Meiji Restoration, teaching religion,Meiji, imperial Japan, religion