Fighting Brick with Brick: Chikazumi Jōkan and Buddhism’s Response to Christian Space in Imperial Japan

Garrett Washington, College of Wooster
Reinanzaka Church reihaidō. Photo: Kojima Akio.
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In 1915, with the support of Jōdo Shinshū (True Pure Land) Buddhism’s Higashi Honganji sect and dozens of private Buddhist donors, Buddhist priest Chikazumi Jōkan erected a new, one-of-a-kind Buddhist meeting hall in Tokyo, the Kyūdō Kaikan. Chikazumi conceived of the building as a clear and deliberate spatial challenge to the crowded Protestant churches and lecture halls of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Tokyo. He chose prominent Western-style architect Takeda Goichi (1872–1938), rather than a traditional Japanese shrine or temple carpenter, to design it. The new building, in tandem with the adjacent Kyūdō Gakusha (Way Seeking Dormitory) that Chikazumi established in 1902, spoke to, and significantly impacted, the socio-moral, intellectual, and religious life of hundreds of young Tokyoites. These two buildings represented a response to Protestant Christianity’s popularity and relevance like no other in imperial Japan. In order to achieve the religious evangelism and suprasectarian reform that he envisioned for Buddhism, Chikazumi proved willing to apply observations made in the West and appropriate practical Western Christian architectural features. Through an analysis of drawings, photographs, periodicals, institutional records, and other sources, this article tells the story of the rare fusion of opposites as Chikazumi equipped Buddhism to compete with Protestantism for the attention and devotion of the educated elite.