Shinto Controversies Course — 9th Lecture

Today was the ninth lecture of the Shinto Controversies course at Kokugakuin University. Today’s topic was Ise Shinto, a variety of Shinto developed at the Grand Shrines of Ise, as you might have guessed. However, it was mainly promoted and developed by the priests of the Outer Shrine, not those of the Inner Shrine. The Inner Shrine enshrines Amaterasu, while the Outer Shrine enshrines Toyoukehime, a food kami, and the kami responsible for Amaterasu’s meals. Ise Shinto dates from the middle ages, at which time the priests of the Inner and Outer Shrines came from different families. The Inner Shrine was served by the Arakida family, while the Outer Shrine was served by the Watarai family. Because the Watarai family were largely responsible for the development of Ise Shinto, it is also known as Watarai Shinto.

Central to Ise Shinto are five texts known collectively as Shinto Gobusho (Shinto Five Texts). These texts all claim to date from the Nara period (eighth century) or even earlier, but they were all written in the medieval period; no-one dates any of them earlier than the twelfth century. I’m not sure whether it’s really accurate to call them “forgeries”; they are just lying about their age.

The oldest of the five texts is probably the Hokihongi, which seems to have been written in the early thirteenth century. This one may have been written by priests at the Inner Shrine, because two thirds of it is concerned with the details of the Shikinen Sengu, the rebuilding of the shrines carried out every twenty years, and it does not privilege the Outer Shrine in any way. However, it does show the influence of Ryobu Shinto, in that it puts the Inner and Outer Shrines on the same level. Each is assigned an Onmyodo correspondence, for example, but the two (fire for the Inner Shrine and water for the Outer) are not superior or inferior to each other.

This text contains a significant amount of information about the Shin no Mihasira, the most sacred point of the Grand Shrines. This is a wooden pillar, about fifteen centimetres in diameter, under the floor of the main shrine building. The floor of the building is raised about two metres off the floor, and the Shin no Mihashira is roughly in the centre (judging from the diagrams). It is permanently covered by a small wooden shed. Indeed, even when the shrine is not on one of its two sites, the Shin no Mihashira site is still covered; if you see aerial photographs of the Ise Shrines, you can see a small shed on the empty site. This is what it is covering.

Provided I understood him correctly, Professor Okada said that Ise Jingu will not let people look at the section about Shin no Mihashira in their copy of the Hokihongi, although you can read it in the copies in other libraries, because it tells too much. Until the Meiji Restoration, the offerings at the shrines were made under the buildings, in front of the Shin no Mihashira, and it is said that the column shows cracks and damage when there is a major threat to the state. Of course, as virtually no-one is allowed to see it, it’s a bit hard to confirm such stories.

Anyway, returning to the Gobusho, the second one was the Yamato Hime no Mikoto Seiki, which is thought to have been written around the middle of the thirteenth century, and the final three, known collectively as Jingu Sanbusho were probably written in the late thirteenth century.

The Jingu Sanbusho were almost certainly written by Watarai Yukitada, a priest of the Outer Shrine. He was a major figure in the development of Ise Shinto, and the first person to talk about these texts. In addition, a late-thirteenth century copy owned by Shinpukuji, a temple in Nagoya, has proved to have been signed by Yukitada on the scroll stick. Given the dates, there is a strong possibility that this is the original fair copy of the book, although it is, of course, impossible to be certain. Professor Okada was involved in the project to study this document, and others held by the same temple, over the last five years, and by tracing its likely route to Shinpukuji we can say that it was probably written in Kyoto, and from its content it was completed shortly after one of the secondary shrines at Ise was destroyed in a storm, in January 1287. This is a period when Yukitada is known to have been in Kyoto, and other known dates narrow the likely dates of composition of the work to between April and July 1287.

The Jingu Sanbusho have warnings on them that they are not to be read by anyone under the age of sixty. Remarkably, Yukitada seems to have written them just as he was turning sixty. I suspect this wasn’t actually to give himself special privileges; it was to provide him with an explanation for why he’d never mentioned these supposedly ancient documents before. Obviously, if he’d only just been allowed to see them, he couldn’t have talked about them earlier. (And, equally obviously, he could hardly talk about them before he’d finished writing them.)

So, what about the content of the texts? There are a few significant features of them, particularly of the later four, the ones most closely associated with the Outer Shrine.

First, the kami of the Outer Shrine is said to be the same as the first kami mentioned in the Kojiki, Amenominakanushinomikoto, or the first mentioned in the Nihonshoki, Kunitokotachinomikoto. Thus, the Outer Shrine enshrines a more ancient kami than Amaterasu. Further, there was a secret pact between Amaterasu and the Outer Shrine kami, before the beginning of the world, to jointly support the Japanese emperors and state. Thus, the Outer Shrine is just as much an imperial ancestral shrine as the Inner Shrine, and should be called an imperial shrine.

This is significant because, just about the time the books were written, the Inner and Outer Shrines were engaged in a debate over whether the Outer Shrine should use the character meaning “Imperial” in the shrine name. One reason for producing these texts, then, was to argue that it should.

The second point is an emphasis on Shinto’s support for the state and the emperor. Japan was not terribly stable in the thirteenth century; the central government was weak, and the Mongols tried to invade towards the end of it. (They were prevented by the Divine Wind, Kamikaze, a storm that scattered the invasion fleet.) Thus, these books made a point of Japan being the country of the kami, and that the kami would protect the state if the state properly honoured the kami. This is the period where the concept of Japan as the country of the kami first emerged, possibly within Ise Shinto.

A third point is a distancing of Shinto from Buddhism. The Gobusho say that Buddhist theories should be avoided or hidden when expounding Shinto. Obviously, there are still many visible influences from Ryobu Shinto, and thus Buddhism, but at this point Shinto priests started trying to put some clear distance between the two religions.

Finally, the texts from Yamato Hime no Mikoto Seiki onwards emphasise purity and honesty of heart, saying that this is what the kami truly value, more so than the rituals. The idea of revering the kami and honouring the ancestors is made explicit in them, as is the importance of continuing to do things as they were originally done, going back to the source. All of these ideas were very influential in later versions of Shinto, including current Shrine Shinto.

In fact, apart from the parochial debates between the Outer and Inner Shrines, all of the main ideas of Ise Shinto were extremely influential on later Shinto. Thus, it could be (and has been) argued that what we know as modern Shinto started in the thirteenth century, with Ise Shinto. I still tend to think that it’s better to see Ise Shinto as another important transformation of a living tradition, but its importance certainly cannot be denied.

Posted in Kokugakuin.

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