Undercover Acolytes: Honganji, the Japanese Army, and Intelligence-Gathering Operations


  • The author would like to thank Tamara Dent and the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions on an early version of the article and to thank Michelle Hall, Mayumi Shinozaki, and Michael Stone for help locating a number of the sources used in the article.


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as the Japanese Army sought intelligence on the countries neighbouring Japan, the military made use of the Buddhist priesthood as a cover for intelligence gathering. In addition, elements of the Buddhist priesthood, in particular the Kyoto-based Honganji sect, were happy to cooperate with the military in its intelligence gathering operations, either by allowing military officers to disguise themselves as monks or by having Buddhist monks gather military intelligence for the Japanese Army. This article examines the relationship between the Japanese Army and the Honganji sect following the 1868 Meiji Restoration, the activities of military officers who disguised themselves as Buddhist monks and the intelligence gathering activities of Buddhist monks, hoping to shed more light on the part that Japanese Buddhism played in Japan's imperial adventures.