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Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions (Kyoto)

Explore Japan through the study of its religions, culture and language

Fall Semester (early September – early December).

Program Description

The Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions program introduces students to Buddhism and its more than 1,500 year history in Japan. Through this lens, students explore Japanese society and culture, and study Japanese language. Students examine the development, teachings and diverse cultural expressions of Japanese Buddhism from theory to practice, including daily meditation, and such arts as calligraphy, Kobuki and Noh Theatre, and the tea ceremony. The program includes site visits to Buddhist temples and monasteries, as well as to Zen gardens, and exhibitions of Buddhist art in the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara.


MillerJapan3The program partners with Buddhist-affiliated Ryukoku University, and students experience Japanese campus life through meals at the cafeteria, access to the computer lab, and program classes held at the Omiya campus. Director George Klonos, PhD, leads the program and teaches the core program courses. Guest lecturers and meditation instructors include experts in Zen, Shingon, and True Pure Land Buddhism.

Check out the photo gallery here!

Contact Us to speak with past participants of the program directly!

“The program was perfectly tailored to facilitate my immersion in Japanese religious beliefs and culture.” –Sean, Cleveland State University

Typically, students enroll in four courses of four semester credits each. Contact AEA for course syllabi. Courses include:

Required Courses

RELS 352 Practice and Theory of Buddhism in Japan

BUDJ 396 Field Research: Selected Topics

LLCJ Japanese Language

Core Courses – Students must take one of the following two courses

SOC 331 Japanese Society and Cultural Traditions

RELS 351 Japanese Religions: Buddhism, Shinto, and the New Religions

Kyoto, Japan

The city of Kyoto, the principal location of the Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions program, is a twelve-hundred year old city known as the center of traditional culture in Japan. The city sits in a valley, which is surrounded by three mountains and intersected by two rivers.

Kyoto is a sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists throughout Japan. More than 2,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries have been established in Kyoto over the course of the last 1,500 years. In addition, there are several Buddhist universities in the city where male and female clerics, together with lay scholars, live and conduct research.

Site Visits

At times throughout the program, we will deviate from the regular schedule in order to go on extended site visits. Some of the site visits for 2014 include:

Koyasan, the headquarters and sacred mountain of Shingon (Esoteric) Buddhism
In this week-long visit, students stay on the Koyasan University grounds, with dormitory rooms, a kitchen, meditation hall, morning service hall, classroom, and library. AEA students are also able to use the university gymnasium and have a chance to interact with the students, many of them Shingon priests. Our meditation and chanting instructor is Tom Eijo Dreitlein, an American Shingon priest and long-time resident of Koyasan (over 20 years). Students also have a chance to participate in one of two annual consecration ceremonies performed on the mountain and attended by pilgrims from all over Japan.

Toshoji Monastery, for Soto Zen training in Okayama prefecture
Students engage in five days of intensive Soto Zen training, involving seated meditation, chanting, and other daily practices, led by Zen Master Suzuki Seido Roshi. Students prepare for the flexibility and endurance necessary for intensive sitting with yoga sessions in Kyoto.

Omine Mountain range, the center of Shugendo mountain asceticism
This is a three-night stay, comprised of walking meditation along mountain paths.
In addition, the program takes students on shorter visits to Buddhist temples, monasteries, and sacred sites in Kyoto and Nara.

Schedule and Daily Life

The program begins with a two-day orientation on program content and Japanese culture following arrival in Japan. Classes begin shortly thereafter and continue for nine weeks, followed by three weeks of independent research and travel. The program ends with research presentations in Kyoto.

Sample Daily Schedule
7:00 am: Meditation
7:30 am: Breakfast
10:00 am: Classes
Noon: Lunch
1:00 pm: Classes & Individual
6:00 pm: Dinner
7:30 pm: Meditation


Although there is some variation in accommodations from year to year, students typically live in a hostel or inn nearby shops, restaurants, and Ryukoku University. Students share a room with fellow students, and each room has tatami floor mats and traditional Japanese rolled bedding. Students engage in daily meditation under the guidance of expert instructors in Zen, Shingon, and True Pure Land Buddhist traditions.

Participants also visit and train in other temples within and outside Kyoto, such as Koyasan and Toshoji Monastery (see site visits section).

While residing in temples and monasteries and as part of their Buddhist cultural immersion experience, it will be necessary for students to follow the five basic Buddhist precepts:

  1. To abstain from taking life
  2. To abstain from theft
  3. To abstain from sexual misconduct
  4. To abstain from lying
  5. To abstain from intoxicants


Program Director

Dr. George Klonos
Assistant Professor of Japanese Studies, Antioch University
Program Director, Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions

Ph.D., Stanford University; M.A. School for Oriental and African Studies; B.A. Japanese, Stanford University
George Klonos earned his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Stanford University and his M.A. in Oriental Studies is from the School for Oriental and African Studies in London. His dissertation was on the Shugendo tradition of Japanese mountain asceticism in the early modern period. Additionally, his research interests include Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, the ecology of religion, sacred geography, and asceticism in East Asian traditions. Dr. Klonos has previously taught Japanese Religion courses to undergraduates at Stanford, Yale, and the Center for Transcultural Studies in Greece. Dr. Klonos’ forthcoming publications include “Secret Traditions Amidst the Mountains: Embryology and Landscape in Tokugawa Period Shugendō” in the Medieval History Journal, as well as “Landscape as Imaginary Space and Place of Practice: The Case of Mt. Ōmine in Japan” in Japanese Religious Landscapes.

Affiliated Academic Faculty

Diverse and highly qualified faculty and a low student-faculty ratio are among the strengths of the Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions Program. A combination of Western and Eastern instructors ensures a continuity of American educational patterns, as well as access to the indigenous philosophies in their genuine form. Together they create a rich milieu for intellectual and cultural inquiry.

Satomi Sanada (Japanese Language courses) majored in Japanese language and literature at Kyoto Women’s University and English literature at Bukkyo University. She qualified as a teacher of Japanese in 2006. Since then she has worked for various institutions and organizations, and has taught students of all levels from all over the world, from scientists to businessmen.

Quentin Durning (Japanese Society and Culture course) teaches Comparative Cultures, Japanese Studies, Translation, and English as a Second Language at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies and at Kyoto Gaidai Nishi High School, where he directs the International Exchange Department and the Japanese Studies Center. With a background in cultural anthropology, east and south-east Asian studies, literature and the arts, his particular topical interests include: sacred geography, religion and social change, pilgrimage and performance, both secular and religious, and comparative education.

Buddhist Practice Faculty

Zen Practice
Rev. Thomas Kirchner is the Rinzai Zen Instructor. Rev. Kirchner, a native of Maryland, went to Japan on a junior-year abroad program in 1969. In 1971 he studied at Shofukuji monastery in Kobe as a lay monk under Rinzai Zen Master Mumon Yamada. In 1974 he was ordained and trained at Kenchoji in Kamakura and Kenninji in Kyoto. He has master’s degrees in Buddhist Studies from Otani University and in Education from Temple University (Japan).

True Pure Land Practice
Michael Conway provides True Pure Land lectures, and helps lead morning services at the headquarters, Higashi Honganji temple.

Program Assistant or TA
The TA is traditionally a graduate from the Japan and Its Buddhist Traditions program and typically has intermediate or advanced fluency in Japanese. He or she assists the Program Director with cross-cultural advising and discussions during orientation and throughout the program.