The second of the Kokugakuin shrine visits on the 5th was to Okunitamajinja. This is the Soja for Musashi no Kuni. The Soja was a shrine set up near the seat of government with the kami of the most important shrines in the province (or kuni) so that the provincial governor could easily honour the kami. Since this was an important part of his job, the Soja made things much easier for him. There are thus six kami enshrined in the main shrine at Okunitamajinja. Musashi is the old province including the current Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture, Saitama Prefecture, and the eastern end of Kanagawa Prefecture. (Where I live used to be in Musashi; I think the border was somewhere in Yokohama, but it may actually have been the Yokohama border.)

Anyway, when we arrived at the shrine we all gathered in the middle courtyard. Okunitamajinja is very, very big, for a shrine within the urban bit of Tokyo, and it has a courtyard area in front of the haiden. That was where the chief priest (purple hakama with patterns, so first rank) told us a bit of the history of the shrine; the basic Soja stuff, and an unusual feature of the shrine. In most shrines, the kami face south or east, so that you are facing north or west when you pray. At Okunitamajinja, however, the kami face north. This is, apparently, because they are looking north to the region that was still being conquered in the eleventh century, to keep an eye on it. However, apparently the honden were rotated individually, so that the more important kami were on the left as you looked at them, rather than the right. As a result, the shrine now does everything backwards, treating the left-hand-side as more sacred than the right. This tends to throw visitors from other shrines.

After the little talk, we were led out of the courtyard and lined up, with Professor Okada at the front, ready to process into the shrine. The procession was led by one of the priests, and two men wearing happi coats and carrying iron staves with rings on the top. As they walked, they banged the staves on the ground, first one and then the other, so that the rings rang. These staves were originally Buddhist; their use at Okunitamajinja is probably a relic of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism, although I didn’t check to be sure.

The procession did not go to the haiden. There were other people having prayers done in the haiden. Instead, we were led round the back, into the inner courtyard between the honden and the haiden. This is covered with raked sand, so we stood for the sanpai.

The ceremony itself was very simple, just the harae and the tamagushi offering. However, another priest then explained a bit about the honden. (This priest had purple hakama, and so was second rank, and possibly the second priest of the shrine.) The current honden was built in 1667, by the fourth shogun. The previous honden was, apparently, quite spectacular, but it burned down in the early seventeenth century. (I may have mentioned that I’m occasionally tempted by the idea of writing a book entitled And Then It Burned Down: An Architectural History of Japan.) By the time they came to rebuild, the shogunate had spent all its money on building Nikko Toshogu, so they built a very simple building as a temporary measure.

Now, of course, it’s a Prefectural Treasure, because it’s pushing 350 years old. It’s all one building, although it has three doors, because the previous honden had three buildings, with two kami per building. There’s a large courtyard in front of it because, during the shrine’s biggest festival, eight mikoshi (palanquins for the kami) are brought in and lined up there. One effect of this is that you can’t see the honden well from the haiden, and it’s surrounded by a fence so that you can’t see it well from outside, either. Thus, we got a much better view of it than most people do. (Again, obviously, we couldn’t see properly inside, although the doors were open, and I could see another set of doors within.)

After that, we went to the shrine museum. The ground floor has the eight mikoshi for the festival. Apparently, one mikoshi costs about one hundred million yen, or around a million dollars. (They aren’t worth that, though, because they’re impossible to sell; they’re made for a particular shrine, so no other shrine would buy them, and they are very, very distinctive.) These mikoshi are around a hundred years old, weigh about a tonne each, and the most nominally valuable one is the one with the least gold leaf on it. This is because the carvings on it are extremely good, and didn’t need tarting up with gold. According to the priest explaining it to us. Most of the mikoshi have phoenixes on, but there is one that has dragons, and this one is also extremely elaborate. The story here, if I heard it right, is that the patron was rich, and he kept getting the craftsman drunk and telling him he could put whatever he liked on it. This one has lots of gold leaf.

The mikoshi, while impressive, are fairly standard for an influential shrine. Almost unique to Okunitamajinja, however, are the enormous taiko. When I say “enormous”, I mean that the diameter of the drum skin is over two metres. The biggest one was pulled forward in the museum because it got very wet during the big festival this year, and needed to have air flowing on both sides to dry the skins out.

The festival is held in early May. It’s a really big drum.

It’s so big, in fact, that it barely fits through the gate into the middle courtyard, and for the nominal 1,900th anniversary of the founding of the shrine (the legendary founding date is 111) the shrine is planning to rebuild the gate and make it a bit bigger.

After the group visit broke up, I went to get a Red Stamp. This is something that a lot of larger shrines do. You take a book along, and they write the name of the shrine and the date in, then stamp the page with the shrine’s seal in red. The slightly odd bit was that they didn’t ask for money. I had to bring that up. This is the official tradition, but this was the first time I’d encountered it. I suppose they figure that anyone who knows about the Red Stamps knows about the tradition as well. This is not necessarily true for the amulets.

One of these years I want to go to see the festival. I suppose the year after next, when they’re celebrating 1,900 years, might well be a good choice.

Shinto Controversies Course — 6th Lecture

The sixth lecture of the Shinto Controversies course at Kokugakuin was held yesterday. This time, Professor Okada only barely got on to the controversy part, because explaining the background took most of the lecture. Fortunately, the controversies involved are easy to understand once you understand the background, so while it would have been nice had he had a little more time for it, I don’t think the lecture suffered too much for it.

The lecture was about the Twenty Two Shrines and the Ichi no Miya. These two systems were both established in the Heian period (794 to 1192), and the main scholarly controversy is over the extent to which they were separate systems. Most of the lecture, then, was devoted to introducing the systems. Professor Okada remarked near the beginning of the lecture that the previous Open College courses had been largely introductory, but that this year’s was concerned with the cutting edge of research on Shinto, and thus had suddenly become a lot more complex. I think he might be finding it quite hard work to prepare the lectures, trying to present this work to a lay audience.

The first system he dealt with was the Twenty Two Shrines. These are twenty two shrines (there’s a shock), mostly close to the old capitals of Nara and Kyoto, which received direct visits from Imperial messengers. The system appears to have developed around the turn of the tenth century, as the pre-Heian system was disappearing. Under the old system, the court had sent offerings to all the Myojin Taisha (Famous kami, great shrine), of which there were just over 300 scattered across the country. However, that, obviously, required quite a lot of effort, so around 900 attention was focused on, initially, 16 shrines.

For most of these shrines, a high court noble was appointed the Imperial messenger, and sent out by personal command of the Emperor. There were exceptions, which I’ll note below. The despatch ceremony took several days, after the Department of Divination had chosen favourable days for the shrine visits. Most of the messengers were chosen, and the Emperor approved their names and the prayers that they would offer. On the day of the despatch, the Emperor took a bath and was ritually purified.

There was then a ceremony for the despatch of the messenger to Ise. This took place at the main, formal hall of the Imperial palace, where the Nakatomi and Inbe ritualists, and the messenger himself, an Imperial prince chosen by lot, received the offerings and the prayer.

When this was finished, the Emperor withdrew into the inner palace, and there was a second ceremony for the despatch of all the other messengers.

This distinction suggests that the Ise messengers were state functionaries, but the others were personal messengers from the Emperor, at least in origin.

The messengers were despatched at least twice a year, in the second and seventh months of the lunar calendar, to ask for good crops (that’s roughly planting and the beginning of harvest). If there were other crises, such as drought, epidemics, or earthquakes, they might be despatched more often, up to five or six times some years. This was, therefore, a significant part of court ritual.

So, which shrines were involved? (It’s quite possible that many readers won’t have heard of these shrines; at some point I will probably write some introductory articles, but not today.)

The first group of three were the Grand Shrines of Ise, Iwashimizu Hachimangu, and the Upper and Lower Kamo Shrines. These shrines had been closely associated with state ritual since the capital moved to Kyoto. Ise, obviously, is the shrine of Amaterasu Omikami, the Imperial ancestor goddess. Iwashimizu Hachimangu is the main shrine near Kyoto for Hachiman, who was regarded as very closely associated with the Imperial family; indeed, by this time he was believed to be one of the past Emperors, Hondawake no Mikoto, or Ojin Tenno. Finally, the Kamo shrines housed the tutelary deities for the whole of the capital.

The next group of three were Matsu no O, Hirano, and Fushimi Inari. These shrines housed the kami of the areas immediately around the capital, and through various connections with the Imperial family were regarded as protecting the capital and the Emperor.

Next come two shrines associated with the Fujiwara family, Kasuga (in Nara) and Oharano. The Fujiwara provided many Imperial consorts, and thus were the maternal ancestors of many emperors, as well as holding a near-monopoly on genuine political power, so it was important to respect their kami.

Then there is a group of five: Ohmiwa, Isonokami, Ohyamato, Hirose, and Tatsuta. These shrines are all found in the area of the older capitals, and were a central part of court ritual before the capital moved to Kyoto. Naturally, they retained some of their importance, and they were not too far away.

Sumiyoshi is a singleton shrine, some distance to the west in what is now Osaka. The kami of this shrine were associated with foreign relations and sea travel, and thus were propitiated for calm in international matters.

Finally, Niu and Kifune shrines were the kami responsible for the sources of water in Nara and Kyoto, respectively. Given the importance of water, and the danger of floods, it was obviously vital to keep these kami happy, but they were otherwise fairly minor, so the messengers despatched were officials from the Bureau of Divinities rather than high court nobles. Indeed, when the twenty two shrine system fell out of use in the fifteenth century, Niu Shrine was lost; there were a number of candidates, but it was not clear which one (or ones) was the historical Niu Shrine. The issue was finally cleared up in the early twentieth century.

The system expanded a lot in the last decade of the tenth century. in 991, Yoshida, Kitano Tenmangu, and Hirota shrines were added. Yoshida was the shrine of the clan kami of Emperor’s maternal grandmother, while Kitano Tenmangu had become very closely associated with the Fujiwara. Hirota, off to the west in what is now Hyogo Prefecture, had supernaturally contributed to the suppression of rebels and bandits in a recent rebellion.

In 994 Umemiya was added, as the clan kami of the emperor’s maternal great-grandmother.

In 996, Gion Shrine, now known as Yasaka Jinja, although its main festival is still called the Gion festival, was added. This was due to an epidemic in the capital, as the Gion kami was believed to have particular power over diseases.

The last shrine to be added, in 1039 (permanently added in 1081) was Hie Jinja (also known as Hiyoshi Jinja), on Mount Hiei, to the north east of the capital. This shrine was the tutelary kami of the head temple, Enryakuji, of the Tendai Buddhist sect, and its addition to the Twenty Two Shrines was, in part, a political move to improve Imperial relations with Tendai.

In the late twelfth century, Taira no Kiyomori apparently attempted to add Itsukushima Jinja to the list, but opposition from court nobles prevented this, and there were no further additions to the system. However, it fell into disuse from the middle of the fifteenth century, when persistent wars throughout Japan made travel unsafe, and even in the Edo period, when the country was calm again, only the visits to the top seven shrines (Ise, Iwashimizu, Kamo, Matsu no O, Hirano, Inari, and Kasuga) were resumed. Nevertheless, the shrines retained a great deal of influence, which was not purely local.

Next, we have the Ichi no Miya system. Unlike the Twenty Two Shrines, these were found all across Japan, one in each of the old provinces. (“Ichi no Miya” means “Number One Shrine”.) This system appears to have developed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as the provincial governors formalised the shrines they were supposed to support as part of their duties. According to Professor Okada, there were two kinds of Ichi no Miya. The first kind were selected when there was obviously one supreme shrine in the province. The obvious example of this is Izumo, where Isumo Taisha was clearly the most important shrine. The second kind arose in provinces without such an obvious candidate, when an important shrine close to the provincial capital was normally chosen. The second case led to controversies over which shrine in a province was actually the Ichi no Miya. In a number of cases, these controversies still continue, with several shrines claiming that position. (I believe the highest number is four in one province; in Musashi, the province that included Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, and parts of Saitama, there are two candidates.)

Professor Okada believes that there was very little central control over the Ichi no Miya system, which explains the lack of clarity. Rather, provincial governors and the provincial populations designated them over time, so that they became fixed by tradition. However, one scholar, Professor Inoue, believes that the Ichi no Miya system was centrally controlled, and linked to the Twenty Two Shrines system. This is connected to Toshio Kuroda’s Kenmitsu Taisei theory, which will be the subject of the next lecture.

Professor Okada also pointed out that many of the most important shrines are not found in either of these systems. Atsuta Jingu, which enshrines the sword of the Three Sacred Treasures, is neither an Ichi no Miya nor one of the Twenty Two Shrines. During the Kamakura period, the most important shrine was Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura, but that is also found in neither system. Similarly, the Kumano shrines, which drew so many pilgrims they were compared to ants, and which many retired Emperors visited repeatedly, were also outside the systems. Thus, it is a mistake to think of these systems as a list of the most important shrines in Japan. All the shrines on the lists are important, but there are a number of very important shrines that aren’t on the lists.

The summer holidays start now, so the next lecture is not until the end of September. We have to wait to find out what Professor Okada thinks of the Kuroda’s theory.


Every year the Kokugakuin Shinto course organises a formal shrine visit for the students on the course. This is optional, partly because it isn’t covered by the course fee, but also because it involves an extra day coming to Tokyo. Since some people apparently travel enormous distances to attend the lectures, the extra thing should really be optional. Of course, the people who travel enormous distances are likely to be enthusiastic enough to attend the shrine visits as well. The visits so far have always been to two shrines on the same day, and to shrines within Tokyo. I’ve written about the previous ones I attended in my Japan Diary. This year’s visits were on July 5th, and I’ll write about them in separate articles, partly to make them easy to find.

These posts are about the visits, not the shrines themselves. I’m planning to write about the shrines at some point, but not just yet. Although a formal shrine visit has a fairly standard structure, so far all the visits I’ve been on with Kokugakuin have been different. The level of effort the shrine puts in seems to vary a bit, but there’s much more variation in where they put the effort.

Fudatenjinja put the effort into the ceremony. Fudatenjinja is a Shikinaisha (that means it’s recorded in the Engishiki, a compilation of court rituals from the early tenth century; there are just over 3,000 shrines from across Japan recorded there), and despite the “tenjin” in the name, the main kami is not Sugawara no Michizane Ko; it’s Sukunahikona no Kami. Sugawara no Michizane Ko is also enshrined there, however. It’s in Chofu, one of the cities outside the main central part of Tokyo, and it has a nice atmosphere; the shrine forest is still preserved.

We all filed into the haiden (the worship hall), where there were two shrine staff, an older man and a younger woman. I think the older man was the chief priest of the shrine. I’m not sure what the woman was, for reasons I will explain later. Once we were all seated, the ceremony started, with the woman beating a taiko (Japanese drum). She then briefly returned to her seat, before going to stand in front of the ohnusa (the wooden wand with paper streamers used in purification), and recite a harai norito (purification prayer). She then waved the ohnusa over the priest, the offerings, and us. Then she briefly returned to her seat, before going to take the lids of the bottles of sake placed on a table in front of the steps to the honden (the hall where the kami is enshrined). This is a standard abbreviated form for making offerings.

Next, the chief priest went up to the centre of the haiden, in front of the offerings, and read a norito. This was written for us, and, in addition to general protection, asked for aid with our studies. Since Sugawara no Michizane Ko, a kami of scholarship, is enshrined there, this was very appropriate.

After the norito had been recited, the woman danced kagura (sacred dance); a sakaki-mai, with a branch of sakaki.

Next, Professor Okada, representing the rest of us, offered a tamagushi, a branch of sakaki with shide (white paper strips folded into a lightning shape) attached. He received it from the woman, then put it on a table, bowed twice, clapped twice, and bowed once. We all bowed and clapped with him.

After he had returned to his seat, the woman put the lids back on the sake, which, like taking them off, is a standard short form of taking the offerings down again. The kami only get the offerings while the ceremony is happening; afterwards people eat and drink them.

Finally, the chief priest made a single bow, and that closed the ceremony.

Now, why am I not sure about the woman’s status? Her role in the ceremony was that of a subsidiary priest, and she was wearing the headgear specified for female priests. The dances are normally performed by miko, but there is nothing saying that a priest cannot do that. However, the woman’s hakama (trouser skirt) were the wrong colour. This isn’t as random as it sounds; the Association of Shinto Shrines has rules for the colour of hakama, and they depend on your rank as a priest. The lowest ranks, fourth and third, have pale yellow-green, the second rank has purple, the first rank has purple with designs, and the special rank has white with designs. Miko wear red hakama. Her hakama, however, were dark green, which isn’t on the list. My hypothesis, then, is that she is training to be a priest, but hasn’t formally received her rank yet. This may be wrong; someone who knows more about it than me might be able to tell me what it means.

After the ceremony the chief priest told us a bit about the shrine. Although it’s very old, it had to move after a major flood about five hundred years ago, and all the records were lost in the flood, so not much is known about its early history. The honden, however, is over three hundred years old, and recognised as a major treasure of the city (Chofu, not Tokyo). The haiden has been built entirely around it, so you can only see it from inside the haiden, and then only if you walk all the way in to the back. After the talk, the chief priest invited us to go and have a look, so, of course, we all did. After all, it’s rather unlikely that we’ll have another opportunity. It does have interesting carvings on it, and certainly looked old.

Naturally, we couldn’t see inside the honden. The honden’s doors are typically only opened once or twice a year, and even then no-one goes inside. At some shrines, wooden kami images centuries old got rotten and worm-eaten because no-one went into the honden to look at them for decades at a time. I think these days the practice is to go in once a year to clean (at least, that’s what happens at my local shrine), to prevent those sorts of problems. Anyway, the outside of the honden is all you normally get to see, and at most shrines even that is quite difficult. Having it entirely enclosed, as at Fudatenjinja, is a little unusual, but fences to restrict visibility are common.

When we left, we received a very small drink of miki (sacred sake), and an ume sweet, which had been offered to the kami. The ume (Japanese plum or apricot) is associated with Sugawara no Michizane Ko, which is presumably why that was chosen. It was rather tastier than the bonito flakes that seem to be the standard choice.

I enjoyed this visit, and liked the atmosphere of the shrine. It’s also fairly close to our home (about an hour door to door), so I may well go back in the future.

Video of Mayuki

Mayuki is advertising Pentax cameras again. Once again, the videos were taken by Sonoe. Yes, this time it’s videos, because the camera in question has video built in. The video is also embedded in this entry, but the one on the Pentax site seems to be better quality, if a little slow to download and thus a bit choppy on playback. I’m afraid I appear in a few scenes; try not to let it upset you too much. The videos were taken a few weeks ago, so they’re not too far from what Mayuki is like right now.

In the scene with the spoon, when she taps her cheek, she’s using the Baby Sign for “tasty!”. I think she was eating creme caramel at that point, which would explain it.

Shinto Controversies Course — 5th Lecture

Today was the fifth lecture in the Kokugakuin Open College Shinto course. According to Professor Okada, this lecture was a sort of summary of the first half of the course. He’s been considering the structure of Shinto in the classical period, and this time he was discussing the role of the Emperor in religious observances. Since this is a central feature of Shinto in the period, it drew on quite a lot of the earlier discussions; the role of Izumo, the Daijousai, the sacred marriage, and the origins of Shrine Shinto.

He started the lecture by observing that there was a strong tendency in pre-War Shinto studies, a tendency that continued until the 60s or 70s, to focus entirely on the ancient period, on the Kojiki and Ritsuryou period, and to take that as representing ideal Shinto. The ideologues of the Meiji Restoration (1868) talked about restoring the government structure of Emperor Jinmu, the mythical first Emperor of Japan, and did, in fact, start by copying the earliest recorded government structure, even though that was 1300 years later than Emperor Jinmu’s official dates. However, when you look at Shinto, you find that the reality was rather different. The practical details of rites and festivals are taken from the mid-Heian period (around 1000) or later; for example, the vestments worn by Shinto priests are the clothes worn by Heian court nobles. This is because we have basically no records of such things from earlier periods. The Kojiki doesn’t give practical details of festivals, for example.

The Meiji Restoration also introduced a system of nationally-supported shrines, the Kanpeisha. If you look at the list of the shrines that received this status at the beginning of the Meiji period, nearly all of them were either Ichi no Miya, or in the 22 Shrines. Both of these systems were introduced in the mid to late Heian period. In other words, the Meiji system was continuing Heian period judgements of the relative importance of shrines, not the earlier judgements.

On the most fundamental level, it appears that the custom of people worshipping at shrines of their choice, throughout the country, only started in the eleventh century; the mid-Heian period. Before that time, it seems that you had to be a member of the appropriate clan in order to worship at a shrine. The universal reverence for the Grand Shrines of Ise, which was quite important to the Meiji Government, was definitely not an ancient feature.

The body of the lecture, then, considered the changes in the relationship between the Emperor and shrines over time, starting with the earliest period for which we have useful records, the Ritsuryou period (mid-seventh century onwards).

In the earliest period, Professor Okada thinks that the worship of a particular kami was restricted to members of the clan claiming descent from that kami. As in the legend of Yato Shrine, which he discussed in detail last time, even the Emperor could not interfere in such rituals. This was one of the unwritten laws governing the religious structure of the period. In the early period, the only person allowed to make offerings at the Grand Shrines of Ise was the Emperor. Not even the Crown Prince could do it without permission. (He didn’t mention it in this lecture, although he has previously, but in the early period having an amulet from Ise in your household shrine was a criminal offence. It’s now almost compulsory; it’s certainly the generally accepted and encouraged practice.) Professor Okada thinks that this was not actually unique to Ise, but, instead, reflects the exclusive connection between clans and their ancestral deities. Amaterasu was the ancestral deity of the Emperors, so, naturally, only they were allowed to make offerings. The Kasuga kami was the ancestor of the Fujiwara clan, so only they were allowed to make offerings there; in particular, the Emperor was not. The fundamental rule was that the Emperor could not interfere in the rituals of other clans.

This started to change in the Ritsuryou period, when central rituals connected to shrines across the country were started at the imperial court. Of the most important, one was held in the second month, another twice, in the sixth and twelfth months, and a third in the eleventh month (all of the lunar calendar). The one held in the second month, the Kinensai, involved the central government sending offerings to over 3000 shrines across the country (these are the so-called “Shikinaisha”, the shrines listed in the Engishiki). However, the Emperor had no direct involvement in this festival. The other festivals, the Tsukinamisai in the sixth and twelfth months and the Niinamesai in the eleventh month, did have direct Imperial involvement, but offerings were only sent to about 300 shrines. Professor Okada noted that the first festival was asking for a good harvest, while the latter were giving thanks, and that the 2700 kami who got requests but no thanks might have got a bit annoyed.

So, the question is why the Emperor played no part in the Kinensai. Professor Okada’s suggestion, although this is not certain by any means, is that it may have had something to do with the desire not to interfere with the rights of clans to control rituals at their shrines. The central government was not the Emperor, so it was a sort of neutral body that could send lots of offerings. In addition, the Tsukinamisai were connected to important festivals at Ise, and the Niinamesai was the annual version of the Daijousai. In other words, the festivals in which the Emperor participated were derived from the worship of the Emperor’s ancestral kami.

From the middle of the eighth century, however, the Emperor started getting involved in festivals at other shrines. This first becomes clear when Emperor Shotoku makes an offering to the Kasuga kami at that shrine’s main festival. So, what is happening here? Emperor Shotoku’s mother was from the Fujiwara clan, so although the Emperor was not in the male line, she was connected to the Fujiwara, and thus to their kami. Over the following two centuries, more shrines were added to the central list, the shrines enshrining the kami of the Emperor’s mother.

A parallel expansion was to the shrines responsible for the area where the Imperial capital was located, which probably relates to the localism that Professor Okada mentioned last time, but he didn’t go into detail about it today. This was the origin of the 22 shrine system.

However, one great mystery remains. Professor Okada described this as the greatest of the seven mysteries of Shinto, but I think “seven mysteries” is just a standard expression; I suspect he doesn’t have another six in mind. The mystery is that the Emperor never went to worship at shrines.

Before the tenth century, Emperors just didn’t go. They sent agents. Even to Ise, they sent an Imperial princess, the Ise Princess, to attend the ceremonies on their behalf. In the tenth century there were two rebellions, and when they were put down the Emperor at the time, Emperor Suzaku, appears to have felt that he could not properly express his gratitude through an agent, and so went to the Kamo Shrines in person.

Even then, however, he did not enter the shrine. Instead, he stopped just inside the precincts, well away from the main hall that housed the kami, and sent a messenger in to read his prayer to the kami. Although such visits became more common over the next four centuries, the Emperor never approached the main hall closely. (After the fourteenth century, due to wars and restrictions imposed by the Tokugawa shogunate, the shrine visits seem to have been suspended.)

As Professor Okada said, the reason for this failure to approach the shrine closely is a mystery. He thinks that it may have been a combination of a fear that the Emperor might be cursed if he approached the kami too closely and a concern not to intrude on the ceremonies of other clans. Whatever the reason, this unwritten rule was followed quite strictly.

However, when Imperial shrine visits were restarted in the mid-nineteenth century, the Emperor did go all the way in to the heart of the shrine, going to the place normally occupied by the shrine priests. There was no historical precedent for this at all.

Professor Okada’s interpretation of this was that Shinto had changed over the centuries, adapting to the changing times. He said that, as a result of this development, the best elements from the past were combined with new elements to create a living religion that wasn’t just a part of Japan’s past, but still part of the present. He emphasised that this development should continue, so that Shinto could continue into the future.

The most important thing to note here is that he wasn’t talking about the “true essence” of Shinto. He was talking about the religion actually changing, with new elements added for which there was no precedent. I agree with his attitude, but it’s certainly not an attitude that can be characterised as fundamentally conservative, which may be a little surprising given the reputation that the Shinto establishment has.