Buddhism, which originated in India about 268 BCE, was imported through China to Japan in the sixth century. Over the next 600 years, the Japanese iconography of the Buddha, the enlightened one, evolved. It was well established by the Kamakura Era (1185–1333) when the Kamakura Buddha, which stands over 50 feet high, was erected in 1252. By then, devotion to the Amida Buddha made Buddhism a broadly accessible religion. It was during the Edo period (1600–1868) that the monasteries and shrines, desecrated by several centuries of civil war, were restored and Buddhism was promoted as an official state religion aligned with the native Shinto faith.
The Amida is the main Buddha and object of devotion of Pure Land Buddhism. This sect, founded by Honen Shonin (1133–1212) taught that anyone could attain salvation by faithfully reciting the name of Amida Buddha. Complex rites and doctrine had kept earlier Buddhist doctrines the province of the educated elite. Through this sect, the religion was extended to the masses.
The Japanese Amida corresponds to the Sanskrit names Amitabha and Amitayus, both meaning immeasurable life span, and the Sanskrit term Amrta, meaning immortal.