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Japan Seeks UNESCO Listing for 1,000-Year-Old Buddhist Documents

Document from the time of the Heian period Buddhist monk Enchin. From

Japan is seeking to recommend two sets of Buddhist documents, one of which is more than a thousand years old, for inclusion in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. UNESCO’s International Advisory Committee is scheduled to decide on the registration in 2023, The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme is an international initiative launched to safeguard the documentary heritage of humanity:

The Memory of the World Register lists documentary heritage which has been recommended by the International Advisory Committee, and endorsed by the Director-General of UNESCO, as corresponding to the selection criteria regarding world significance and outstanding universal value.


The oldest set of documents in the application are tied to the life of the Heian period Buddhist monk Enchin (814–891), the sixth patriarch of the Tendai tradition of Japanese Buddhism and founder of the Jimon school. The second, larger set of papers are housed at Zojo-ji, the head temple of the Jodo-shu school of Pure Land Buddhism in Tokyo.

The Enchin documents, which are designated as a national treasure in Japan, include the actual permit Enchin used in his travels around Tang dynasty China. 

Enchin, a distant cousin of Kukai (774–835), founder of the Shingon school, studied in China from 853–59, first on Mount Tiantai and later at Qinglong Monastery in the ancient capital of Xi’an (also known as Chang’an) in Shaanxi Province. He returned to Japan with the teachings and practices of Tendai and esoteric Buddhism, and became a central figure in the development of classical Japanese Tendai Buddhism.

The collection of documents is considered extremely important, both as a record and documentary evidence of the history of cultural exchange between Japan and China and as an insight into the regulation of travel and transportation in Tang dynasty China.

Enchin (814–891.

Several hundred years newer, the collection of documents from Zojo-ji is made up of some 12,000 wood-block printed materials that are designated as important cultural properties.

Gathered from across Japan on the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan from 1603 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the documents are considered foundational sources for contemporary Buddhist studies, and also offer insights into the culture of Kanji as well as printing techniques and practices of the era.

One of the 12,000-document collection from Zojo-ji. From

Founded in 1393, Zojo-ji was relocated to its present site in 1598 by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who selected it as his family temple after entering Edo (now Tokyo) in 1590 to establish his provincial government. Zojo-ji is now a prominent landmark in central Tokyo. Standing beside the Tokyo Tower, the temple grounds include a small museum and the Taitoku-in Mausoleum of the Tokugawa clan, which contains the remains of six of the Tokugawa shoguns.

See more

Japan eyes UNESCO listing for 2 sets of Buddhist records (The Asahi Shimbun)
Zojoji: The Chief Temple of the Jodo Buddhist Sect
Memory of the World Register (UNESCO)

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