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An intimate and insightful look into the life of a head Sōtō Zen temple in 21st century Japan

Table of contents

Sōjiji, the Forest for a Thousand Years

Chapter 1
The History of Sōjiji

Chapter 2
The Training of a Sōtō Zen Novice

Chapter 3
Bearing the Mantle of Priesthood

Chapter 4
Struggling for Enlightenment (While Keeping Your Day Job)

Chapter 5
Performing Compassion Through Goeika Music

Chapter 6
Making Ancestors Through Memorial Rituals    

For a Thousand Years

In Perpetuity

Writing Sōjiji



Sōjiji is one of the two head temples of Sōtō Zen, the largest sect of Japanese Buddhism. The temple is steeped in centuries of culture and tradition, but it is very much rooted in the present and future, performing functions and catering to needs that reflect the changing demographic, social, and religious landscapes of contemporary Japan.

Based on more than fifteen years of fieldwork, interviews, and archival research, Sōjiji: Discipline, Compassion, and Enlightenment at a Japanese Zen Temple immerses the reader in the lives and experiences of the different groups that comprise Sōjiji's contemporary religious community. Through clear and accessible prose, ethnographically-grounded analysis, and emotionally compelling stories, the reader will explore the rich pastiche of daily life and ritual activity at a major Japanese Zen temple in institutional, historical, and social context through the lived practices of its community of clergy, practitioners, parishioners, and visitors.

Joshua Irizarry is Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology at Bridgewater State University.

“Combining intimate portraits of lay participants, trainee priests, and senior clergy with informative analyses of the history and operations of one of Japan’s most significant temples, Irizarry’s Sōjiji provides us with a vivid bottom-up account of contemporary Japanese Zen. Meticulous thick descriptions of novitiate training, daily life in the temple’s distinct spaces (from the prayer hall to the kitchen), ritualized debates and other practical engagements with texts, tensions between priestly and lay attitudes toward meditation and enlightenment, and even a vibrant account of taking part in goeika (devotional singing), among many other aspects, animate Irizarry’s compelling discussions of ways immersion in Sōjiji’s communities and their attendant practices shape participants’ worldviews and life courses. Lucid, jargon-free prose and engrossing detail make this book a must for undergraduate courses, and it will also appeal to general readers and specialists alike who want a peek into the inner workings of temple life.”
—Levi McLaughlin, Associate Professor, North Carolina State University

- Levi McLaughlin