Nationalism and Religion in pre-Modern and early Modern Japan

Thursday, 11:30-13:00, 503





The invention of Ise and the problem of pilgrims in Meiji Japan

This presentation explores the dynamic transformation of the Ise shrines in the aftermath of the Meiji restoration (1867/8). The Ise shrines and the myth they articulate came to acquire huge importance for the modern Japanese state, its sovereign and its citizens. That there exists almost no research on modern Ise in Japanese or any other language is a major shortcoming. The particular angle adopted here is an analysis of the problem of pilgrimage to Ise in the aftermath of the Restoration.

A key part of the state's appropriation of the Ise shrines in early Meiji was the abolition of the itinerant Ise priests, known as onshi. One inevitable consequence of this was the destruction of the Japan-wide parishioner network, which the onshi had constructed over the previous 250 years and more. This led, in turn, to a drastic fall in pilgrim numbers and the imminent ruin of the towns of Uji and Yamada, where the inner and outer Ise shrines respectively are located.

What precisely was the effect on Ise pilgrimage of the Meiji state's policies? How did the shrines and the population of Uji and Yamada respond? How successful was their response? These are the critical questions that inform this paper.


Between the Two Mandalas

The presentation will deal with the production of sacred space in Japan during the late medieval period in text and image. It will focus on two cultic sites in the Yoshino-Ōmine-Kumano Mountain range: the central cult of the god Zao Gongen on Mt. Kinpu, and the peripheral cult of the goddess Benzaiten in the village Tenkawa, and explore the dynamics between these cultic sites in their pursuit of centrality within the sacred realm.

In 1180 the text Shozan engi ('Origins of Various Mountains') described this mountain range in cosmological terms, deriving from esoteric Buddhism, as the physical manifestation of the Diamond and Womb Realm mandalas. The two great mandalas of esoteric Buddhism were projected onto the land and turned the area into a primary site of practice for Shugendō mountain religion and into an important destination for pilgrimage. While the Shozan engi manifests, on the one hand, an integrated view of sacred space, on the other hand, it includes and excludes cultic sites that existed in the area. In the following centuries, these cultic sites came to compose their own mythologies that both appropriated and challenged the cosmological view of the Shozan engi, and most importantly, placed themselves at the centre of the Buddhist universe. The social imagination that developed in medieval Japan thus came to embrace the notion of multiple sacred centres.

An examination of the Kinpusen himitsuden, a ritual and mythological text compiled in 1337 by Monkan Gushin (1278-1357), which contains foundation legends about Mt. Kinpu and about Tenkawa, will unravel ritual, symbolical, meditative, and also political means by which cultic sites produced their notions of sacredness and centrality. In the visual realm, the Yoshino (i.e. Mt. Kinpu) and Tenkawa Benzaiten mandalas, which were executed a couple of centuries later and yet are closely related to the aforementioned text, will be shown to reflect the dynamics between the two cultic sites in their pursuit of centrality within the sacred realm. Although these mandalas are categorised as besson mandala, namely, mandala of an individual deity, and are not normally discussed in spatial terms, the presentation will demonstrate that cosmology infiltrated every aspect of Japanese religious thought and was inseparable from the worship of individual deities and from their representation.

The discussion will more generally bear on means of production of sacred space, and on the multiplicity of sacred centres in the Japanese medieval imagination.


"State" Shinto as a Contemporary Religious Phenomenon

This paper examines the ongoing influence of "State" Shinto ("kokka" Shinto) in postwar Japan. Despite its abolition as the state religion, its supporters preserved/promoted its views of the relations between Shinto, National History (kokushi), and Nation, and managed to influence several national debates on key issues. The paper considers, for example, the activities of the Association for Studies of Japan (Nihongaku kyokai), formed in the early 1950s by disciples of Hiraizumi Kiyoshi (1895-1984), Professor of National History at Tokyo Imperial University until 1945; the Association remains active today. The study is based on archival research and fieldwork conducted over several years, in which I interviewed devotees of "State Shinto" and observed both private ceremonies and public commemorations. The paper combines historical methodology with approaches used by anthropology and religious studies to explore this "national religion" as a contemporary religious phenomenon.