Statues of Monks Jikaku Daishi and Jigen Daishi
Buddhism was introduced to Japan during the sixth century (550 to 600 AD) via China and Korea. The rulers of Japan at that time (Prince Shotoku and his father Emperor Yomei) were great supporters of the new religion in their land. They did experience extreme resistance from the followers of the native religion (Shintoism) but later reconciled. Once the support grew within Japan about the new religion of Buddhism, many Japanese scholars were sent to China and Korea to be trained in the Buddhist principles and practices.
This practice of getting Japanese religious scholars trained in China and Korea started in the in the pre Nara period but intensified in the Nara period. And this practice continued through the Heian period (when Kyoto was the capital) and Edo period. During these days, even without the proper travel facilities these scholars risked their lives to go to these foreign countries to be trained in the Buddhist practices.
The evolution of Buddhism in Japan was largely attributed to these brave souls that visited China and Korea and came back with the knowledge. They are also responsible for creating many versions of Buddhism that were tailored to the Japanese population. These versions (or sects) are still existing today catering to various Buddhist religious practices within Japan. Almost every temple in Japan owes it's origin and existence to one of these great Monks.
Not all great Monks went to China or Korea to attain the knowledge about Buddhist practices. Some of them trained in Japan at various temple complexes belonged to different sects of Buddhism and became great Monks themselves.
The title "Daishi" was given to the Buddhist Monks who have made great many contributions to the Buddhism in Japan and are greatly revered. The word "Daishi" translates to "Great Master" in English. Buddhist Monks like Kobo-Daishi (Kukai), in addition be called as Daishi, also reached the status of Bodhisattva after their death and many sub temples were built in their remembrance. Japanese Buddhists visit these sub temples and offer their prayers, after they visit the main worship halls (Hondo) for Buddha.
The title "Shonin" is also used to describe greatest and most revered Buddhist monks. In English it loosely translates to "Saint".
As I introduce the temples of Japan to my readers, I also wanted to give my respects to the Monks that are responsible for preaching Buddhism and building these temples.
Please read my section on Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan
, in the Special Topics section, to understand the evolution and time line of various sects of Buddhism in Japan.
I will add as many descriptions of these Buddhist Monks as I gather information about them. Please keep checking back periodically.