Why is Kannon so popular in Japan?

I have difficulty believing it’s a major factor, but a recent very insightful piece on BBC Radio 3 about Christmas in Japan mentioned in passing that many secret Christians in the Tokugawa period transferred their affection for Mary mother of Christ to this (usually) female Buddhist Bodhisattva, also known as Kwannon in Japanese and Guanyin in Chinese.

The relevant Wikipedia page also has a brief mention of that use of Kannon statues, along with the details “During the Edo Period in Japan, when Christianity was banned and punishable by death, some underground Christian groups venerated Jesus and the Virgin Mary by disguising them as statues of Kannon holding a child; such statues are known as Maria Kannon. Many had a cross hidden in an inconspicuous location.”

However, the popularity of this figure is by no means limited to Japan, so I can’t imagine that had a large impact overall.

In case you’re wondering, yes that is where the company Canon got its name from.



1 Comment

  1. jgarrott said,

    January 2, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I’m interested to find your blog, since I was born here in 1948 and have lived only 18 years elsewhere. Since I live in Nagasaki Prefecture, I am very aware of “Maria Kwannon.” I have a friend from a Buddhist priest’s family who said they found a statue of Mary at the bottom of a pond on the temple grounds, and it is now a “family treasure.” I’ve also had a man tell me, “My ancestors changed labels because of the persecution, but at heart I’m still a Christian.”

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