Buddhism Modern Japanese Buddhist Philosophy
Gereon Kopf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0259


Recent years have seen an increased presence of Japanese Buddhist philosophy in the world of Anglophone scholarship. In 2013 the first issue of the Journal of Japanese Philosophy (SUNY Press) appeared, in 2015 the first issue of the Journal of Buddhist Philosophy (SUNY Press) was released, and in 2016 the first issue of the European Journal of Japanese Philosophy (Chisokudō Publications) was published. Japanese Buddhist philosophy emerges and exists at the intersection of Buddhist and Japanese philosophy. The history of the term “Buddhist philosophy” in Japan commences with the encounter between the Japanese and Euro-American intellectual traditions during the Meiji period (1868–1912). As is well known, Nishi Amane 西周 (b. 1829–d. 1897) coined the Japanese word for “philosophy”: tetsugaku 哲学. He utilized this concept to refer to European and American philosophy and to distinguish these traditions from the works of the Japanese traditions, including Japanese Buddhism, which he classified as “thought” (shisō 思想). Today’s understanding of “philosophy” has somewhat shifted. Rein Raud suggests that “[w]hat matters” for philosophers . . . is “interpretations, their quality, their productivity for further thought.” “Buddhist philosophy,” Dale Wright proposes, “is that form of reflection [the effort to ‘understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together’] as practiced by participants who are Buddhists”; that is, “philosophy practiced by those who regard themselves as Buddhist.” By the same token, Inoue Enryō 井上円了 (b. 1858–d. 1919) asserted with the very title of his 1893 work Buddhist Philosophy (Bukkyō tetsugaku 仏教哲学) that there is Buddhist philosophy in Japan, premodern, modern, and contemporary. This bibliographic essay includes Anglophone texts in the Japanese Buddhist tradition published after the Meiji restoration (1868 CE). The titles are divided into four categories: (1) Translations, (2) Collections, (3) English-Language Works, and (4) Crossover Works. Unfortunately, a lot of brilliant philosophy produced in Japan is only accessible in the Japanese language. Recent years have seen exciting trends and stimulating ideas in the field of Japanese Buddhist philosophy. The disaster of 3/11, for example, has even given rise to the category of “post-Fukushima” philosophy. The purpose of this bibliographical essay is thus twofold. It is the hope of the editors that this bibliography will help raise the awareness of the wealth and significance of the Japanese Buddhist traditions. At the same time, this essay on modern and contemporary Japanese Buddhist philosophy is designed to encourage scholars to generate more translations in this field.


This section contains translations of original works in Japanese Buddhist philosophy. In his, “Zen to sekai” 禅と世界 (“Zen and the World”), Ueda Shizuteru上田関照 uses discursive attitudes to distinguishes between “Zen persons” (zensha 禅者), “Zen thinkers” (zenshisōka 禅思想家), and Zen “philosophers” (tetsugakusha 哲学者). The former stays within the Zen discourse, the “Zen thinker” translates between two idioms, and the latter expresses global or universal content in one, regional idiom. Ueda himself classifies Suzuki Daisetsu 鈴木大拙 (b. 1870–d. 1966), the great popularizer of Zen Buddhism in the Anglophone world, where he is known as “D. T. Suzuki,” as “Zen thinker” and not as philosopher. Nishida 2011 demonstrates what a philosophy that translates Buddhist nonduality in the language of European philosophy can look like. Nishitani 1982 develops a philosophy of religion based on the author’s reading of the Buddhist conception of “emptiness” (Sanskrit: śūnyatā), while Nishitani 2006 provides the author’s vision and understanding of Buddhism. Hismatsu 1999 constitutes a unique rendition of the concept of “nothingness” based on the author’s reading of Zen scriptures as philosophical paradigm. Ueda 2005 presents an attempt to frame a philosophy that is grounded in Zen Buddhist tradition. Similarly, Kiyozawa 1936 develops a unique philosophy grounded in the Shin Buddhist tradition. While Tanabe 1986 receives inspiration from Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism, this volume describes a fundamental philosophical and existential attitude in the face of the absolute. Standing in the tradition of the Kyoto school, Watsuji 2011 reads Dōgen as a philosopher in the modern sense of the term. Sueki 2016 proposes a philosophical critique of the ethical project in the light of religious death rites and political commemoration ceremonies, and Hiratsuka 2006 outlines a feminist philosophy founded in Zen Buddhist principles.

  • Hiratsuka, Raichō. In the Beginning Woman was the Sun: The Autobiography of a Japanese Feminist. Translated by Teruko Craig. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

    The title of this work not only evokes the name of the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu and anticipates the central philosophical and ideological tenet of Simone de Beauvoir’s (b. 1908–d. 1986) landmark work The Second Sex, but also encapsulates Hiratuska’s fundamental belief in the self-determination of all human beings that grounded her feminism and pervaded her political positions from her demand that women have equal access to education and the workforce to her stance on virginity and abortion.

  • Hismatsu, Shin’ichi. Die Fülle des Nichts: vom Wesen des Zen – Eine systematische Erläuterung. Translated by Takashi Hirata and Johanna Fischer. Pfullingen, Germany: Günther Neske, 1999.

    Hisamatsu’s work combines deep philosophical insight and a thorough lived knowledge of the Buddhist tradition. In the Anglophone world, Hisamatsu is known for his conversations with Paul Tillich and C. G. Jung (b. 1875–d. 1961). His most important contribution to the philosophical discourse is the concept “tōyōteki mu” 東洋的無—literally, “Eastern Nothingness.” While his overall conceptual framework reflects the orientalist rhetoric of his time, his formulation of “nothingness” as philosophical concept is profound and deserves more attention.

  • Kiyozawa, Manshi. Selected Essays of Kiyozawa Manshi. Translated by Kunji Tajima and Floyd Shacklock. Kyoto: Bukkyō Bunka Society, 1936.

    These essays discuss matters of faith, spirituality, and the infinite, and thus identify the author, for the most part, as a “Shin person” even as he attempts to define “other power” in terms of the “infinite.” They demonstrate Kiyozawa’s ability to respond to the canonized questions of the discipline of philosophy of religion from a heretofore neglected perspective, and to shed new light on the questions of ultimate reality, freedom, and morality.

  • Nishida, Kitarō. Place and Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō. Translated by John W. M. Krummel and Shigenori Nagatomo. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    “Logic of Life,” translated in this volume, demonstrates the influence of Buddhist thought, as indirect as it may be, on Nishida’s work. The translations are extremely skillful and enriched by John Krummel’s insightful introduction and a meticulously researched index and critical apparatus. The two essays translated in this volume reveal a deeply philosophical mind and illustrate how reality can be imagined by philosophers who stand, in one way or another, in the Japanese Buddhist tradition.

  • Nishitani, Keiji. Religion and Nothingness. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

    This volume addresses the philosophical questions of religion, god, time, and history from what Nishitani calls a “standpoint of emptiness.” Nishitani describes this “standpoint of emptiness” as one that eschews all dualisms, including the dichotomy between negation and affirmation. By using the term “emptiness,” Nishitani locates himself squarely in the Buddhist philosophical tradition. This volume is a brilliant work whose author rethinks the philosophical concepts of “religion” from a nondualistic standpoint, and it should be included in every reading list on philosophy.

  • Nishitani, Keiji. On Buddhism. Translated by Seisaku Yamamoto and Robert E. Carter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

    This volume is neither an introduction to nor a textbook of Buddhism, but rather presents Nishitani’s vision of Buddhist thought and not a survey of Buddhist institutions, ideas, and practices throughout history. If one is willing to accept this, On Buddhism provides an exciting entry into the world of one of Japan’s most significant philosophers of the 20th century. This fact alone makes this book a worthwhile read.

  • Sueki, Fumihiko. Religion and Ethics at Odds: A Buddhist Counter-Position. Translated by Antonin Sevilla. Nagoya, Japan: Chisokudō Publications, 2016.

    This is Sueki’s contribution to the debate on whether or not there is a Buddhist ethics. He commences this volume with a provocative introduction, “Why I Dislike Ethics.” What follows is an insightful tour de force that contrasts an ethics developed in the “face of the other” with a trans-ethics that emerges in the “face of the dead.” The argument Sueki develops in this extremely accessible volume is refreshing, engaging, and controversial. In short, it constitutes philosophy at its best.

  • Tanabe, Hajime. Philosophy as Metanoetics. Translated by Yoshinori Take’uchi and James Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

    The translation of Tanabe’s Zangedō toshite no tetsugaku as Philosophy as Metanoetics has enriched the world of Anglophone philosophy with a remarkable work that constitutes an invaluable contribution to the philosophical project in general. It provides a brilliant argument for the insight that philosophy has to be rooted in epistemic humility, and that philosophy has to provide a critical and self-critical corrective to our ideologies and presuppositions.

  • Ueda, Shizuteru. Zen y filosofía. Translated by Raquel Bouso Garcia. Barcelona: Herder D.L., 2005.

    Thanks to Raquel Bouso Garcia, we now have an anthology of essays by Ueda in one of the major European languages. Ueda is an extraordinary philosopher with a deep understanding of the Zen Buddhist tradition, Christina mysticism, and German idealism. Zen y filosofía combines some of his most pertinent essays on Zen Buddhist thought, Meister Eckhart, Nishida’s thought, and, most importantly, Ueda’s philosophy of language. In Spanish.

  • Watsuji, Tetsurō. Purifying Zen: Watsuji Tetsurō’s Shamon Dōgen. Translated by Steven Bein. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

    This volume introduces Watsuji’s interpretation of Dōgen’s life and thought. Watsuji’s concern with Dōgen’s position on social justice, art, and truth expanded the traditional discussion of Dōgen’s work significantly, moved him away from the sectarian discourse of the Sōtō school of Zen Buddhism, and located him squarely in the world of philosophy. Despite the somewhat misleading translation of the title, this volume introduces the Anglophone readership to a towering landmark that significantly altered the way we think about Buddhism. It is a landmark work of epic proportions that will define the field in the Anglophone language for decades to come.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.