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.

Posted in Kokugakuin.

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