Kan-ji Temples (官寺)

Kan-ji temples (state-sponsored temples) were temples that received financial guarantees instead of state supervision. In a broad sense, the term refers to temples for which the imperial court or provincial government offices provided the construction and maintenance costs as well as other funds, and in a narrow sense refers to temples that were self-managed but for which jikifu (a vassal household allotted to courtier, shrines and temples) and cultivated land ownership rights (the right to hold a manor) were provided by the state.

The term is generally considered to be synonymous with dai-ji (great temple, also known as kandai-ji) but kokubun-ji and kokubun-niji (state-supported provincial temples and convents of the Nara period) are also thought of as kan-ji as these are also covered by the definition. In addition, there were also smaller yufu-ji (a status of the temples given jikifu by Imperial Court, also known as yujikifu-ji) and other various types of temple. Among the chokugan-ji temples (temples built by imperial order), which highly resembled family temples of the imperial household, and private family temples of influential nobles and clans that were classified as government protected jogaku-ji temples (government-subsidized temples), some were treated in a manner similar to kan-ji temples.

Kan-ji temples were mainly used to hold Buddhist services to pray for nation and the emperor or for the security of the imperial family based on the idea of spiritual protection of the state. However, there are examples of yufu-ji temples and jogaku-ji temples that were the private family temples of influential nobles and clans that received state protection and became kan-ji temples. In principle, dai-ji temples and kokubun-ji temples received vassal households, farmland and rice loans from the imperial court or provincial government offices, just as the sustenance households of yufu-ji temples and the farmland and rice loans of jogaku-ji temples or chokugan-ji temples were provided by the imperial court or provincial government offices. On the other hand, the system was administrated and supervised both centrally by the sogo (an ancient Buddhist ecclesiastical authority) and locally by the kokushi (provincial governor) and kodokushi (購読師), while being regulated by the Soniryo (regulations concerning monks and nuns) in which an individual would receive a formal ordination license from the state upon entering the priesthood to become an official monk or nun (however, sogo could not or limited to supervise jogaku-ji and chokugan-ji which were much independent from government). Also, within the central dai-ji temples were stationed ryoge-no-kan (officials appointed apart from the provisions of the imperial code) known as Zoji-shi who were responsible solely for the construction and management of specific temples.

The period for which sustenance households could be held was semi-permanent for dai-ji temples and kokubun-ji temples but this was limited to the reign of one emperor (renewed upon the coronation of a new emperor) in 780, whereas the period was limited to 30 years by imperial decree in 680 for yufu-ji temples but reduced to 5 years by the Taiho Code (also renewed). However, the Emperor Komu's ban on monks becoming involved in politics and his reconstruction of state finances after the Dokyo Incident led to the strengthening of temple regulations and a reduction of the number of vassal households that could be held, in addition to the appointment of monks that could be trusted by the imperial court to high-ranking positions such as zasu (temple's head priest), betto (the superior of a temple) and choja (chief abbot of the temple) in order to take control of temples from the sango (three monastic positions with management roles at a temple). Relaxation of the Ritsuryo-sei (law system based on the philosophies of Confucianism and Chinese Legalism in Japan) from the mid-Heian period led to the demise of the kan-ji temple, with some going on to become branch-temples of other temples and others closing down completely. However, such state protection and control of temples is said to have lived on in systems such as Kanto Kigan-ji Temples of Kamakura bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), Gozan Jussetsu (Five Mountains and Ten Monasteries System) of Muromachi bakufu, and Temple Ordinances of Edo bakufu.

The Article for the 4th month of the year 680 (May, 680) of "Nihonshoki" (Chronicles of Japan) contains the words 'Kanshi ruled' and 'two or three kokudai-ji temples' in reference to Daikandai-ji Temple and Kawahara-ji Temple, two temples with deep connections to the Imperial Court, and Hoko-ji Temple, the Soga clan temple and a central temple of Asuka that received protection from the Imperial Court following the Taika Reform. The phrase 'four dai-ji temples' can be seen in the article for the 12th month of the year 702 (December, 702) of "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued) and this is thought to refer to the three above-mentioned temples and Yakushi-ji Temple. When the capital was relocated to the city of Heijo-kyo, Daikandai-ji Temple was moved to the new capital and renamed Taian-ji Temple, while Hoko-ji Temple was also moved and renamed Gango-ji Temple (the former Hoko-ji Temple buildings remained as a branch temple that later became independent as Moto Gango-ji Temple). In 756, Kofuku-ji Temple, Todai-ji Temple and Horyu-ji Temple were added to the previously mentioned 'four dai-ji temples' to create a total of seven temples recorded as the 'seven dai-ji temples' (however, there is a theory claiming that this refers to the subsequent temples called the 'Nanto (southern capital (Nara)) seven dai-ji temples' created when Kofuku-ji Temple was removed and replaced by Saidai-ji Temple (Nara City).
An article from the 4th month of the year 770 (May, 770) contains a record of the 'twelve dai-ji temples.'
The twelve temples to which this refers is unclear.
In 791, Shitenno-ji Temple, Sofuku-ji Temple (Otsu City) and another temple (Kofuku-ji Temple or Saidai-ji Temple) were added to create the 'ten dai-ji temples.'
"Engishiki" (book of laws and regulations compiled during the Engi era) refers to the 'ten dai-ji temples' as well as Toshodai-ji, Shin Yakushi-ji Temple, Moto Gango-ji Temple (separated from Hoko-ji Temple and now named Asuka-dera Temple), To-ji Temple and Sai-ji Temple as the 'fifteen dai-ji temples.'
However, it is thought the precise number of temples had little meaning during this period as there is an alternative theory claiming that Moto Gango-ji Temple was replaced by Hokke-ji Temple, and there were temples such as Bonshaku-ji Temple and Kenko-ji Temple (Toyura-dera, present-day Kogen-ji Temple) which were not included among the 'fifteen dai-ji temples' but treated as if they were dai-ji temples and temples with an ordination platform such as Kanzeon-ji Temple and Yakushi-ji Temple (Shimotsuke City) which were also clearly treated as dai-ji temples.

[Original Japanese]