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The Japanese term shinbutsu bunri () indicates the separation of Shinto from Buddhism, introduced after the Meiji Restoration, and therefore the separation of kami (native Shinto deities) from buddhas (buddhist deities), and of Buddhist temples from Shinto shrines (jinja).
Background before 1868
Until the end of the Edo period, in 1868, Shinto and Buddhism were intimately connected in what was called shinbutsu shūgō (), to the point that the same buildings were often used as both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, and Shinto gods were interpreted as manifestations of Buddhas. However, the tendency to oppose Buddhism as a foreign import and to uphold Shinto as the native religion can be seen already during the early modern era, partly as a nationalistic reaction In a broad sense, the term shinbutsu bunri indicates the effects of the anti-Buddhist movement that, from the middle of the Edo period onwards, accompanied the spread of Confucianism, the growth of studies of ancient Japanese literature and culture (kokugaku), and the rise of Shinto-based nationalism, All these movements had reasons to oppose Buddhism.
Policy of the Meiji government
In a narrower sense, shinbutsu bunri refers to the policy of separating Shinto and Buddhism pursued by the new Meiji government with the Kami and Buddhas Separation Order ( Shinbutsu Hanzenrei?) of 1868. This order triggered the haibutsu kishaku, a violent anti-Buddhist movement that caused the forcible closure of thousands of temples, the confiscation of their land, the forced return of many monks to lay life or their transformation into Shinto priests, and the destruction of numerous books, statues and other Buddhist artefacts. Even bronze bells were melted down to make cannon. However, the process of separation stalled by 1873, the government's intervention in support of the order was relaxed, and even today the separation is still only partially complete: many major Buddhist temples retain small shrines dedicated to tutelary Shinto kami, and Buddhist figures, such as the goddess Kannon, are revered in Shinto shrines. The policy failed in its short-term aims and was ultimately abandoned, but it was successful in the long term in creating a new religious status quo in which Shinto and Buddhism are perceived as different and independent.
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