A butsudan is a shrine found in religious temples and homes of Japanese and other Buddhist cultures. A butsudan is a wooden cabinet with doors that enclose and protect a religious icon, typically a statue or a mandala scroll. The doors are opened to display the icon during religious observances. A butsudan usually contains subsidiary religious items called "butsugu," such as candlesticks, incense burners, bells, and platforms for placing offerings. Some buddhist sects place "ihai", memorial tablets for deceased relatives, within or near the butsudan.
Butsudan is a Buddhist shrine ranging from many sizes usually found in temples and homes. "Butsudan" is a Japanese word that means "Buddha's (butsu) Platform (dan)." The shrine is placed in the temple or home as a place of worship to the Buddha, the Law of the Universe, etc. Scrolls (honzon) or statues are placed in the butsudan and prayed to morning and evening. Zen Buddhists also meditate before it.
The original design for the butsudan came long before Japan itself. In India, people built altars the size of multistory buildings as an offering place to the Buddha. When Buddhism came to China and Korea, statues of the Buddha were placed on pedestals or platforms.
Storms blew the statues down and broke them (being so fragile). This was an automatic sign of disrespect. To protect the statue of the Buddha, or later scrolls, the Chinese and Koreans built walls and doors (like a closet) around it. They could then safely offer their prayers, incense, etc. to the statue or scroll without it falling and breaking.
The Japanese finally welcomed Buddhism after many years from the introduction. They took in the religion along with the Butsudan. With many new sects being formed, the Butsudan was placed in many temples. The Japanese took the plain walls and doors and elaborately decorated them. The butsudan became the focal point of every temple.
After time went on, people began having their own Butsudans installed into the home. Here they could pay respects to the Buddha, or the Law, along with the deceased. Butsudans were carried down the family line.
The arrangement and types of items on and around the Butsudan can vary depending on the sect. Frequently in the Butsudan is a statue of the Buddha or a Buddhist deity. Sometimes that is replaced with a scroll with text or an illustration of the Buddha. Other, auxiliary items associated with the Butsudan can include water and food (usually fruits or rice), an incense burner, candles and flowers or evergreens. Frequently a gong or bell is rung during recitation of prayers.
Some Buddhist sects have tablets with the names of deceased carved within or next to the Butsudan. Other Buddhist sects, such as Jodo Shinshu, usually do not have these. Other things can be found such as samurai swords, pictures of deceased, etc.