Hayashi Razan’s “Honchō Jinja Kō” — Shinto Texts Course 7

The summer holiday is over, and yesterday the Shinto Texts course at Kokugakuin University started again, with a lecture on Hayashi Razan’s Honchō Jinja Kō. I am confident that very few of my readers will have heard of either the author or the text, but both were of great significance in the history of Shinto, which is why they were covered in the course.

Hayashi Razan was born in Kyoto in 1583. His academic ability was noticed early on, and at the age of 13 (Japanese style) in 1595 he went to study at a Zen temple, Kenninji. However, he did not take vows as a Buddhist monk. Instead, he encountered some medieval texts on Shinto, and became interested in Japan’s native traditions. He was also, however, a very notable Confucian scholar, and when he was 21 he started giving public lectures on the Analects. This led to him being sued by a representative of a family that had made its living by monopolising Confucian instruction. However, the case was quickly dismissed by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the new shogun. The lecturer, Professor Nishioka, suggested that part of the reason for this was that Ieyasu had risen to be shogun from a fairly undistinguished background, so he was not inclined to support family privilege against ability.

In fact, Razan went on to work directly for Ieyasu, primarily as a Confucian scholar. Because these advisory posts had traditionally been held by monks, Ieyasu directed Razan to shave his head and take a new name, Dōshun, as monks did, although Razan still did not become a monk. Razan was strongly criticised for this by other Confucians. They argued that your hair was something you inherited from your parents, so that shaving your hair off was a serious failure of filial piety. As Razan was employed by the shogun and several important daimyos, and his critics were not, I suspect that he was able to take the criticism fairly easily.

Honchō Jinja Kō, or “Investigation of the Shrines of our Country”, was published some time between 1638 and 1645, although the precise year is unknown. It was divided into three parts, each consisting of two volumes. The first part discussed the shrines in the 22 Shrine System, a late Heian period (eleventh to twelfth century) group of shrines that received direct Imperial patronage and worship. The Grand Shrines of Ise were, of course, the most important of these shrines, and most of the others were around the capital, Kyoto. The second part discussed other shrines throughout Japan, while the third part also looked at legends from various areas.

We can get an idea of the importance that Razan placed on various shrines by looking at the number of pages his discussion takes up in a modern edition. The Grand Shrines of Ise unsurprisingly get the most, at 17 pages, but Hiyoshi Taisha, near Kyoto, gets eight and a half, and Kitano Tenmangu, in Kyoto, gets ten and a half. In the second part, the section on Shōtoku Taishi, an early seventh century figure, is six and a half pages long.

Kitano Tenmangu is a shrine to Tenjin, Sugawara no Michizane, a kami of scholarship, so it is, perhaps, not surprising that a scholar like Razan gave quite a bit of space to this shrine. However, in the case of Hiyoshi Taisha, the article is long because Razan uses it as an opportunity to criticise aspects of contemporary Shinto.

Razan was, in fact, highly critical of the current state of Shinto. As is fairly well know, at this period Shinto had a lot of Buddhist elements, and vice versa. Buddhist monks read sutras to the kami, who were often regarded as manifestations of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or the Buddhas were regarded as manifestations of the kami, and Buddhist images were sometimes used as the sacred object housing the kami in a shrine. This was regarded as perfectly natural, which is unsurprising because it had at least four or five hundred years of history behind it by Razan’s time. However, Razan pointed out that Shinto kami were originally completely separate from Buddhas, and that some people who venerated the kami had opposed the introduction of Buddhism. Thus, this could not be the original state of things, and therefore, he argued, was not natural. Rather, people had been brainwashed into thinking it was normal because no-one had spoken out against it.

Thus, in the section on Hiyoshi Taisha, Razan was very critical of Ryōbu Shinto, which is either a heavily Buddhist version of Shinto, or a heavily Shinto version of Buddhism, depending on how you look at it. He went beyond that, however, to describe Buddhism as a “religion of foreign barbarians”. That didn’t go down well with Buddhists, and they were apparently still publishing refutations of his claim two centuries later. When, in the section on Yoshida Jinja, he considered Yoshida Shinto, the dominant version at the time, he was no less scathing. While Yoshida Kanetomo, the founder of the tradition, had asserting the primacy of kami over Buddhas, Razan pointed out that he had taken passages from Buddhist texts and claimed them as his own ideas, and that many of the ideas in Yoshida Shinto were Buddhist in origin. He was also highly critical of Shōtoku Taishi, who is famous for, among other things, his vigorous promotion of Buddhism in Japan.

Razan, then, argued strongly for the removal of Buddhist elements from Shinto, on the grounds that they were foreign additions that did not belong in the tradition. One of his students put that into practice a little later, getting the Buddhist elements removed from Izumo Taisha, and the idea was to become very influential, culminating in the 1868 law separating kami and Buddhas, which essentially created Shinto in its modern form. Of course, there was an internal conflict in Razan’s thought. He was pushing for the removal of foreign elements from Shinto, but was himself a Confucian. Confucianism is, of course, not a Japanese school of thought, and no-one in Japan has ever thought that it was. It was, therefore, natural that some people would develop Razan’s thought in the direction of removing Confucian influences as well. That was Kokugaku, or National Learning, the tradition within which Kokugakuin University was founded, and which directly influenced the law separating kami and Buddhas.

The roots of a strong separation between Shinto and Buddhism thus go back at least as far as the seventeenth century, and were already influential, if not mainstream, at that time. I’m not sure whether it can be traced back before Razan; obviously, there are records of people holding this position in the sixth century, but there is probably not a continuous tradition from them to Razan, despite the persistence of a separation between Shinto and Buddhism at the Grand Shrines of Ise. If Razan was responsible for starting the modern form of the idea, then he is arguably the individual who has had the largest influence on the form of modern Shinto.

Ōharaikotoba — Shinto Texts Course

Yesterday we had the fourth of this year’s Shinto lectures at Kokugakuin. The lecturer was Professor Okada, and the theme was the ÅŒharaikotoba. The ÅŒharaikotoba is a purification prayer, and one of the most important norito (ritual prayer) in Shinto. Indeed, it is almost certainly the most important single norito, which is why it earned a whole lecture to itself on the course. It’s about 900 characters long, so probably around 500 words in English. If it’s recited at a stately pace, it takes about ten minutes, which is why it isn’t a standard part of Shinto ceremonies, although purification certainly is.

“Kotoba” just means “words”, although with the kanji used in this case it means “specially composed words”. “Harai” is purification, and the “ÅŒ” prefix indicates a public and official purification. The norito was originally used at the twice-yearly ÅŒharai in the capital, where all the government officials and palace staff would gather outside the main gate, the Suzaku gate, of the imperial palace to be purified of everything that had built up over the past half year. The prayer was read out by a member of the Nakatomi family, so it is also known as the Nakatomi Harai. The earliest ÅŒharai referred to in historical records was in 676. (There are earlier ones, but they are said to have happened under emperors who didn’t actually exist, and so the records are not believed to be trustworthy.) This was an exceptional one, held in the eighth month, as opposed to the ones that later became standard, in the sixth and twelfth months. The first reference to those is in 702, when the record states that the ÅŒharai was not held in the capital, although the corresponding regional ceremonies were. Since it only makes sense to say that something was not held if there was an expectation that it would be, the regular system must have been set up before that. A new set of Chinese-style laws was introduced in Japan in 701, so it is thought that the ÅŒharai was instituted at the same time.

In the past it was quite common for Japanese people to know the ÅŒharaikotoba by heart, but that’s much less common today. Professor Okada commented that all the students in the Department of Shinto Studies knew it by heart by their third or fourth year, but they didn’t understand it. That is hardly surprising; it’s in archaic Japanese, and as he went through Professor Okada commented on some points for which the interpretation is still unclear.

The norito starts by telling the story of the descent of Ninigi (the ancestor of the imperial line) to earth. At the beginning it mentions the male and female ancestor kami of the imperial line, but it does not say, specifically, which kami it means. The most common interpretation seems to be Takamimusubi and Amaterasu, respectively, and that fits pretty well with the Kojiki and Nihonshoki. However, some people apparently replace Amaterasu with Kamumusubi. The norito also talks about gathering kami from across Japan, thus emphasising that Japan and Takamagahara, the High Plain of Heaven, are not separated. It then describes Ninigi’s descent, and the construction of an imperial palace.

Next, there is a list of the things that cause pollution. This is split into two groups, the Ama tsu Tsumi, or “Crimes of Heaven”, and the Kuni tsu Tsumi, or “Crimes of Earth”. As the norito is used today, the crimes are not explicitly listed, although they were in the original version. Professor Okada’s explanation for this was that it is inappropriate to say such things in a shrine; they are words that should be avoided. Originally, the norito was not read in a shrine, so it was fine, but the situation changed.

All of the Ama tsu Tsumi are connected to rice agriculture. They include breaking down the banks between fields, filling in irrigation ditches, sowing extra seeds, and something to do with excrement. If you look at the legend of Susano-o in Takamagahara, the Ama tsu Tsumi are basically all the things he is reported to have done, which suggests that the last one, written with two characters, for “excrement” and “door” or “village” in the Japanese, refers to desecrating ritual sites with excrement.

The Kuni tsu Tsumi are much more varied, falling into five categories. The first two concern wounding people, either so that they die, or so that they don’t. The next two are illnesses. Being white is apparently a Kuni tsu Tsumi; in Japanese, it’s written as “white person”. However, it means a skin disease, like leprosy in the Bible. Then there is a group concerning sexual behaviour. Incest and bestiality apparently cause impurity. The next group concern disasters happening to you: attacks by insects, lightning strikes, and problems with birds. The possibility of birds and insects destroying the rice crop are, I take it, obvious. The last one is a form of sorcery.

“Tsumi” is normally translated “sin” or “crime”, but the reason I’ve been avoiding that should be obvious; having a disease or being struck by lightning is hardly a sin. They are, however, things that disrupt the community, and therefore need to be purified so that the community can rebuild. The emphasis of the norito is on these impurities being washed away and destroyed, and the way in which that can be done, not on punishing the people responsible. Indeed, punishment is not mentioned at all.

The reference to “washing away” is not metaphorical. People would transfer their impurity to a small, stylised doll, wooden and first, but paper by the twelfth century, and the doll would then be cast into a river to flow away to the sea. (This custom has had to be abandoned in many places now, because there are enough dolls to damage the environment.) The last section of the norito describes four kami who are responsible for this purification. The first, Seoritsuhime, is a female kami who dwells in the swift current of rivers. The second, Hayaakitsume, is another female kami, who dwells in the mouths of rivers, where they enter the sea. The third, Ibukitonushi, is a male kami who lives out to sea, and the fourth, Hayasasurahime, is another female kami, who dwells in the underworld. These kami are not mentioned in any other classical sources, but the association of rivers and the sea with purification is a very widespread motif in Shinto.

There were quite a few points in the norito that Professor Okada did not have time to go into, and as interpretation of the ÅŒharaikotoba was extremely popular in the middle ages, several books could be written about its position in the history of Shinto. However, a 90 minute lecture can still give a useful introduction.

Archaeology and the Kogoshui — Shinto Texts Course

Yesterday we had the third Shinto texts course, this time looking at the Kogoshui and the archaeological background. The Kogoshui may not be familiar even to people who know a bit about Shinto, so I’ll say a bit about it first, as the lecturer, Professor Sasao, did.

The Kogoshui was written in 807 by Inbe Hironari, who was eighty years old at the time, and, in the preface, famously complains that young people today (in 807) don’t pay attention to the wisdom of the past. The work is polemical, and has its origins in a dispute over family rights at the imperial court. In the Yamato court, three families were responsible for the rituals to serve the kami: the Inbe, the Sarume, and the Nakatomi. Each family claimed descent from one of the kami responsible for the ritual that lured Amaterasu out of the cave in heaven: the Inbe from Futodama, the Nakatomi from Amenokoyane, and the Sarume from Amenouzume. (It seems quite likely that those three kami play important roles in the legend because they were the ancestral kami of the ritualist families.) However, a member of the Nakatomi, Nakatomi Kamatari, played an important role in the coup in which Emperor Tenji seized power in the mid seventh century, and was granted the new name “Fujiwara”. The Fujiwara became extremely influential, eclipsing the emperor in actual power, and so their relatives, the Nakatomi, became more dominant in ritual. In 806, things came to head in a debate over which family should supply the emissaries who carried imperial offerings to shrines around Japan. The emperor initially solved it by saying that both families should supply emissaries, but asked the Inbe for an account of their traditional rights. That account it is Kogoshui.

It is not very long, but it covers quite a bit of ground. The lineage and origins of the Inbe are, of course, central, and the other kami led by Futodama also play an important role. There is a detailed discussion of the legend of Amaterasu in the cave, and of the roles of the kami associated with Futodama in providing the offerings for the kami. In addition, the history of the Inbe is brought down to the end of the eighth century. Throughout the whole work, there are also criticisms of the Nakatomi, and the Kogoshui contains a number of legends that are not found in the Kojiki or Nihonshoki. All of these factors make it a very valuable resource, telling the early legends of Shinto from a slightly different perspective from the official histories.

As Professor Sasao said, the main point of the work was to criticise the Nakatomi, so if we don’t say something about them, it’s a bit rude to the author. Essentially, Hironari complained that the Nakatomi were monopolising the ritual roles. He said that the other two families had been excluded from the chief priest’s position at the Grand Shrines of Ise, and that all the offerings from the regional shrines to the imperial court were being funnelled to the Nakatomi. He also said that, in forming the system of shrines venerated by the court, any shrine connected to the Nakatomi, no matter how small, was being listed, while shrines with no connection to them, no matter how big, were being ignored. It’s now very difficult to confirm this, because there is no independent evidence for the size of shrines that were ignored by the court; to the best of my knowledge there are no contemporary shrines that are known to have been important in the eighth century but to have been ignored by the court.

Professor Sasao picked up three points to illustrate the light that archaeology and the text can shed on each other.

The first concerns the imperial store rooms. According to the Kogoshui, Emperor Jinmu put the Inbe in charge of the imperial storehouse, called the “imi no kura”. In later years, when tribute started to come in from the Korean peninsular, a second storehouse, called the “uchi no kura” was established, and its administration entrusted to people who had come from the Korean peninsular themselves. Somewhat later, in the fifth century, a third storehouse, the “ohkura”, was established, and put under the administration of another family of immigrants (the Hata, who founded the Inari cult). The imi no kura housed ritual items and treasures of the kami, while the others housed imperial property.

Archaeology backs up the substance of this account, although it greatly compresses the timescale. The remains of storehouses have been excavated near ritual sites from various places in Japan (Chiba, Shizuoka, and Nara prefectures), dating from the fifth century. This suggests that it was not at all uncommon for storehouses to be associated with rituals. In addition, the Grand Shrines of Ise include storehouses, rebuilt every twenty years, and the designs are very, very similar to those reconstructed from the archaeological remains. Similarly, in the same period, remains of large storehouses have been found associated with imperial palaces.

In a later section, Hironari claims that an Inbe was the head of the bureau of divinities in the mid seventh century, and that the practice of using turtle shells to divine the health of the emperor was introduced at that time. The official histories claim that a Nakatomi held the post, but the Kogoshui appears to preserve the seventh century name for the post, and thus may be more accurate. In any case, archaeology shows that, in the mid seventh century, the court started building imperial palaces on a far larger scale than before. Thus, this seems to have been an important point in the introduction of the classical Ritsuryo system, and thus a reasonable time for a divinatory ritual to start. In addition, the first evidence of turtle shell divination in Japan is from the late sixth century, and after a peak in the seventh, it declines sharply in the eighth. The Nihonshoki records the import of books on many subjects, including divination, from the Korean peninsular in the sixth century, so this form of divination may have been introduced to Japan at that point. In that case, the most advanced form of divination was used to discover the emperor’s condition.

Finally, the Kogoshui attributes the development of the Boso peninsular in modern Chiba prefecture to a kami associated with Futodama, Amenotomi. It records the foundation of Awa Shrine in the south of the peninsular, and this shrine, along with Kashima and Katori shrines, had dedicated villages to support it, indicating its importance. Archaeology in the shrine precincts turned up items from the fifth century, suggesting that rituals on the site may go back that far. An earlier ritual site, from the fourth to fifth century, was found to the south of the shrine, at the extreme of the peninsular, so the rituals may have moved in the fifth century.

Once again, the evidence suggests that a lot of recognisably Shinto elements, and worship at contemporary shrine sites, can be traced back to the fifth century, reinforcing that as a strong candidate for the date when Shinto began. In addition, the reminder that there are other legends not found in the Kojiki or Nihonshoki once more brings the diversity of Shinto to the fore. This course is continuing to be extremely interesting.

Shinto Texts Course — The Kojiki and National Learning

Yesterday we had the second lecture in the Shinto texts course, and it was also about the Kojiki, this time from the perspective of National Learning, and more specifically from the perspective of Norinaga Motoori. Norinaga Motoori was one of the four great scholars of National Learning, a scholarly movement in the Edo period that aimed to recover genuinely Japanese ways of thinking from behind the accumulation of foreign influences, such as Buddhism and Confucianism. Obviously, their basic project is treated with significant suspicion these days, given that most scholars no longer believe that any country has a “genuine way of thinking” uncontaminated by foreign influences, but their scholarship is still respected, particularly in philology. National Learning had a very strong influence on the structure of the post-Meiji Japanese state, and an even stronger influence on post-Meiji Shinto. Indeed, it is thanks to National Learning, and Norinaga in particular, that the Kojiki is now important enough to get two of the ten lectures on this course.

Incidentally, Norinaga is normally referred to by that name. It’s not quite as straightforward as saying that this was his personal name, because Edo period Japanese naming conventions were complicated, and I don’t fully understand them, but it seems to be generally agreed that, if you want a short version, “Norinaga” is it.

Norinaga lived from 1730 to 1801, near Ise, in what is now Mie Prefecture. His father was a merchant, but Norinaga had no talent for that, so his mother sent him to Kyoto to learn to be a doctor. He did become a doctor, and that’s how he made much of his living, but he also discovered National Learning. Another National Learning scholar encouraged him to make a thorough study of the Kojiki, and Norinaga made it his life’s work, the 44-volume commentary finally being published in full after his death.

The Kojiki is the oldest surviving substantial work of Japanese literature. It is a history of Japan, from the beginning to the early seventh century, and it was completed in 712. It is actually written in Japanese, using unique conventions to write it in kanji; in contrast, the Nihonshoki, a similar history of Japan completed in 720, is basically written in Chinese. (The Japanese wrote in a form called “kanbun”, which, I believe, is almost Chinese but not quite; I don’t know the details, however.) The Kojiki’s age, concern with Japanese beliefs about the world and their place in it, and language all made it very interesting to National Learning scholars, and Norinaga made it interesting to everyone else.

Most of the lecture was taken up with discussing Norinaga’s interpretation of the Kojiki. The lecturer, Professor Nishioka, pointed out that, although Norinaga thought he was discovering the worldview of the ancient Japanese, modern scholarship is much more sceptical about that, so it is better to see Norinaga’s interpretation as just that. Since Norinaga wanted to promote a return to “true Japanese” thinking, he generally agreed with the positions he found in the Kojiki. Incidentally, if Norinaga’s philosophy sounds a bit racial supremacist, that’s because it was. As far as I’m aware, he wasn’t particularly aggressive in his belief that the Japanese were superior; it seems to have been similar to the beliefs about American superiority held today by the typical American. However, that strand in his thought did get amplified by his successors, and was one of the legacies of National Learning for modern Japan.

Professor Nishioka drew attention to two points in Norinaga’s interpretation that were quite distinctive. First, Norinaga did have a theory about life after death. However, his theory was that, after death, everyone’s body remained on earth, while everyone’s soul went to Yomi. It didn’t matter whether you were good or evil, rich or poor, emperor or slave; everyone went to Yomi, and that was it. In addition, Yomi was not a pleasant place, so you really didn’t want to go there any earlier than necessary, and death was, according to Norinaga, the saddest thing that could happen, so it was entirely proper to cry when someone close to you died. Thus, although he thought there was an afterlife, he didn’t think that your behaviour in this life had any influence on what happened to you afterwards, and he thought that avoiding going to the afterlife was the best plan. The end result, then, was a very strong emphasis on the current life, something that seems to have been a characteristic of Shinto throughout much of its history.

The second point was Norinaga’s view of the kami. Norinaga’s definition of “kami”, found early in his commentary on the Kojiki, is extremely famous, and is the standard definition used these days. Paraphrased into English, it is this. “Kami refers not only to the kami who appear in the ancient legends, but also, of course, to the kami venerated at shrines, but also to people, animals and plants, and other natural phenomena that are seen to have some sort of power or attainment that goes beyond the norm. It does not matter whether the kami are worthy of respect or not, whether they are strong or weak, whether they are good or evil. They are all kami, and all venerated.”

It is obvious from this that “god” is a really bad translation of “kami”, as something “evil, weak, and not worthy of respect” is not a god. This is, of course, why I don’t translate “kami”. (Some people use “spirit”, which is better, but on Norinaga’s definition Mount Fuji, the actual mountain, counts as a kami, and Mount Fuji is not a spirit. Most people these days insist that the mountain itself is not the kami, but I think that’s a debatable point within Shinto, so I don’t want to prejudge it by my translation.) Norinaga also claimed that there were no kami that were purely good, and equally none that were entirely evil.

For example, when discussing the birth of the Three Great Children from Izanagi’s purification, he said that Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi, being born from the clean eyes, were good kami, and that Susano-o, born from the dirty nose, was an evil kami. Certainly, in the legends, Susano-o goes to Takamagahara and causes a lot of trouble, but then, after he is thrown out of heaven, he kills the Yamata no Orochi, a great eight-headed serpent, and saves the life of Kushinada. Thus, the earlier interpretation was that the purification Susano-o received when he was thrown out of heaven turned him into a good kami. Norinaga disagreed, pointing out that in a later legend Susano-o tries several times to murder Okuninushi. Norinaga insisted that Susano-o was always an evil kami, but that the defeat of the Yamata no Orochi was indeed a good act, showing that even evil kami do the right thing sometimes.

Professor Nishioka pointed out an interesting consequence of that. Amaterasu’s son, the ancestor of the imperial line, was born when Susano-o crushed Amaterasu’s jewellery to prove that he wasn’t trying to conquer Takamagahara (it’s complicated), which means that the imperial line was born from both a good kami and an evil kami. This particular aspect of Norinaga’s philosophy was not so influential on State Shinto.

Going beyond the kami, Norinaga said that there was always good and evil in the world. Right at the beginning, things were good, as Izanagi and Izanami had sex so that Izananmi could give birth to the islands and kami of Japan. Even then, though, they made a mistake when Izanami addressed Izanagi first, and had to do it again. The birth of the fire kami and Izanami’s death marked a decline into an evil situation, which began to recover when Izanagi purified himself after his return from Yomi. Norinaga thought that this sort of cycle would continue, although he also said that good would ultimately win. That doesn’t strike me as particularly consistent with everything else he said, so maybe his students were getting a bit too depressed by his approach.

Because Norinaga believed that good and evil were irrevocably mixed in the world, he thought that you could never guarantee a good reaction. Even if you behaved perfectly virtuously, other people might still behave badly to you. Thus, there would always be tragedies in the world. According to Professor Nishioka, this was an important source of Norinaga’s belief in “mono no aware”, often translated as “the pity of things”, as a central part of the Japanese worldview.

One final point, mentioned in passing. Norinaga did not believe that stoicism, and hiding your emotions, was the true Japanese way. Real Japanese men, he thought, cried when they thought their fathers didn’t love them (Yamato Takeru no Mikoto does this in the Kojiki), and expressed their love and hate openly. This is one aspect of his interpretation of the Kojiki that seems to have had approximately zero influence on modern Japan, which is a shame. I can’t help thinking that it would have been a more positive influence than his belief in the inherent superiority of the Yamato race.

Shinto Texts Course — The Kojiki and Archaeology

The Open College course on Shinto at Kokugakuin University has started again today, and the theme for this year is Shinto texts. They are working through in roughly chronological order, and thus starting with the Kojiki, which was completed in 712 (so next year is the 1300th anniversary). The last lectures will cover important twentieth-century figures, like Kunio Yanagita, so this promises to be another interesting year. Of course, given the emphasis that Shinto places on not putting things into words, there is a certain irony in basing a course on texts, but then this is a lecture course, so words are rather unavoidable.

Unlike the previous two years, the lectures this year are being given by various staff at Kokugakuin, and today’s was given by Professor Sasao, whose speciality is the archaeology of religion. Thus, “The Kojiki and Archaeology” was the theme of the lecture. While the Kojiki is not a very long text, it’s still far too long to cover in its entirety in a 90 minute lecture, so he focused on one incident: Ame no Iwayato, when Amaterasu hides in a cave and the other kami have to entice her out.

His initial description of the Kojiki was interesting, though. He said that it tells us what people in the early 8th century thought about the origins of the world, the birth and activities of the kami, and history up to Suiko Tenno. That is, the Kojiki does not tell us what actually happened in any of those categories. The context here is important. Kokugakuin is one of the two Shinto universities in the country, and this course is about Shinto. So, a western equivalent would be a public lecture on the Bible at a Catholic university that started by saying that the Bible tells us what people in the early 1st century thought about things. There is thus one clear respect in which Shinto is not about words, then: the Kojiki is not believed to report the truth.

So, back to the Ame no Iwayato legend. On my Japanese blog, I could assume that people knew the story, but I’d better not here. This is the very abbreviated version.

Susano-o, the younger brother of Amaterasu, the sun goddess, went to her home in Takamagahara. Once he got there, after promising to behave himself, he started breaking down the banks and filling in the ditches of the rice paddies, and scattered shit around the hall for the harvest ceremony. Amaterasu excused him, saying that he was drunk, and maybe trying to enlarge the paddies. However, he then made a big hole in the roof of the hall where the sacred clothes for the kami were woven, and threw in a horse that had been half-skinned backwards. This surprised the weaving woman so much that she stabbed herself in the vagina with the shuttle, and died.

At this, Amaterasu lost her temper, and went to hide in the Ame no Iwayato, a cave. When she did so, both Takamagahara and this world were plunged into darkness, a lot of kami made trouble, and everyone was at a loss as to what to do. All the kami gathered on the banks of the Amenoyasu river, and asked Omoikane what they should do. He told them to find a cockerel and make it crow, then get iron from Amakana Mountain, make a curved jewel and a mirror, and hang them all from a sakaki tree outside the cave. Amenotajikarao, a strong kami, hid beside the cave’s entrance. Then Amenokoyane and Futodama used a deer’s shoulder blade to divine the will of the kami, and the ceremony began.

Amenouzume danced outside the cave, becoming possessed by the kami, so that she opened her clothes, exposing her breasts and vagina, and all the kami laughed and cheered. Hearing this, Amaterasu became very confused.

“I’m hiding in this cave, so it must be really dark out there. How come everyone’s having so much fun?” she asked.

“An even greater kami than you has come,” Amenouzume replied, “so we are having a party to welcome her.”

Amaterasu wasn’t sure whether she believed that, so she pushed the rock at the cave’s mouth open a little. When she did so, Amenokoyane and Futodama pushed the mirror forwards, so that Amaterasu saw her reflection. Thinking it was another, greater, kami, Amaterasu couldn’t resist coming a little further out. As soon as she did so, Amenotajikarao grabbed her and pulled her out the rest of the way, and in that moment Futodama slipped in behind her and put a rope across the entrance to the cave, telling Amaterasu that she couldn’t go back in now, because the way was blocked. And so light was returned to the world.

As central myths go, this has some odd elements. For example, lying to the kami of the sun is a central part of restoring the order of the universe, and the kami of the sun can’t tell the difference between her own reflection and another kami. However, there are a couple of points that, taken literally, make no sense at all. First, Amenokoyane and Futodama perform divination to learn the will of the kami. This is a bit peculiar, as all the kami are right there, at the council, and they could just ask them. Second, Amenouzume is possessed by the kami when she dances. Which kami, exactly? Wouldn’t it rather be Amenouzume who did the possessing? These elements suggest that this scene is actually a description of a Shinto ritual, moved to Takamagahara, and that is how it is usually interpreted. It’s also how Professor Sasao interpreted it, so now we can get back to the content of the lecture.

Archaeology can tell us something about the rituals and social background at various periods in history, and thus help us to place the origins of the story. So, what does it have to say about this legend?

First, paddy fields separated by banks and supplied with water by ditches were found all across Japan by the late Yayoi period, about two thousand years ago, so Susano-o’s actions make sense in that context. Such damage would have caused serious disruption to agriculture. As for his desecrations, shit is always available, but horses only came to Japan in the 5th century AD, so that part of the story cannot date any further back than that. What’s more, miniature looms have been excavated from ritual sites dating from the 5th century in Shizuoka prefecture, and are still found in sites dating from the 7th century elsewhere in the country.

The inclusion of a cockerel in the story also relates to archaeological discoveries. Burial mounds from the 4th century on sometimes have clay models of cockerels set around them, among other things, which suggests that cockerels were a part of rituals by that point. On the other hand, if we go back a hundred years or so, we find that cranes are depicted instead, which tends to date the legend to the period after the 4th century.

Next, let us look at the items gathered for the ceremony. First, the kami are told to gather iron. Iron implements are found in 5th century ritual sites in Ehime Prefecture (on Shikoku) and in Chiba Prefecture (just east of Tokyo), along with iron ingots. In the 5th century, iron was not mined and refined in Japan; rather, ingots were imported from Korea, and made into tools and weapons in Japan, which is why the ingots are also important. Curved beads are also a common find in 5th century ritual sites, again from all over Japan. Mirrors go back a bit further, becoming important in the 3rd century, when they were made in China, although they were, later, made in Japan, following Chinese models. In the 5th century there was a vogue for making mirrors modelled after Chinese mirrors from the 3rd century, and they were commonly included in grave goods in the burial mounds. Thus, the ritual significance of mirrors in this period is also clear. Finally, the mirrors, including stone mock-mirrors, and curved jewels recovered from sites of this period very often have small holes drilled through them, so that they could be hung from something. It seems very likely that they were hung from trees, although I don’t think there’s any direct evidence of that.

If we now turn to the divination, this was performed using the shoulder-bones of deer. The excavated evidence of this form of divination suggests that holes were burned through the bones with hot needles, and the resulting cracks analysed. The dates are significant here, because divination using deer bones seems to have started in around the 2nd century BC, and continued until the 5th century AD. From the 6th century, divination shifted to using turtle shells, or cow bones if there were no turtle shells available.

Amenouzume’s naked dance is also supported by archaeological evidence. The clay figures from burial mounds of the 5th and 6th centuries include naked dancing figures, both male and female.

Putting all the evidence together, the conclusion is clear. This legend describes a 5th century ritual. The horse could not have been involved any earlier, deer-bone divination would not have been used any later, and all the other elements correspond to items found in 5th century ritual sites. The 5th century is also the period in which the unification of Japan got seriously underway, and the first period in which there is conclusive evidence for the use of writing by people who understood it. Thus, the 5th century also seems to have been the period of a very significant change in ritual practice, because when people came to record a ritual 250 years later, it was a ritual from that period that they described.

Now we go back to my editorialising. It is very hard to say when Shinto started, because there is no clear foundation event. However, we can say that there is a point at which it becomes useful to talk about the religious practices as “Shinto”, and start looking at the changes in Shinto, rather than at the practices that preceded it. I think that point is the 5th century, and I thought that before I heard this lecture and thus knew about the connection of the Kojiki myth to that period. There is also good evidence at Omiwa Shrine and Munakata Shrine that rituals that show strong continuity with contemporary Shinto started around the 5th century.

Of course, there have been significant changes. Deer bone divination had vanished by the sixth century, and naked dancing is no longer a prominent part of the overwhelming majority of Shinto rituals. (Shinto being Shinto, however, I’m sure it still happens somewhere, although it is quite likely to be a secret ceremony.) More subtly, although mirrors and sakaki are still important parts of Shinto ritual, mirrors are not usually offered to the kami, and offerings are not normally hung from sakaki branches.

However, I think that the common features mean that, if we are going to accept that Shinto has changed over time, the best time to start calling the rituals “Shinto” is the 5th century. That makes Shinto a fairly young religion, as religions go; Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism are all significantly older.

This lecture was extremely interesting, so if the rest are going to be like that, this is going to be a very good year.

Shinto Traditions Course — Hachiman

This year’s Shinto course at Kokugakuin University came to an end this week, with a discussion of the Hachiman shrines. By one measure, this tradition boasts the highest number of shrines, and unlike most other traditions those shrines are spread evenly across the whole country (apart from Okinawa, which is a special case). The count, which is based on the names of shrines, misses one Hachiman shrine just down the road from me, because it takes its name from the area, but it does include Shirahata Hachiman Daijin, which is our local shrine. While you can debate the details of the count, the Hachiman tradition is, without doubt, extremely large and prevalent.

The first question, then, is why. This is generally traced back to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the newest, and furthest east, of the three great Hachiman shrines. It is in the city of Kamakura, southwest of Tokyo, and was moved to its present location, and prominence, by Minamoto no Yoritomo, the shogun who founded the Kamakura government in 1192. He was devoted to the Hachiman kami, and made a habit of visiting the shrine, with all his retainers, on the first day of the new year. This appears to be the beginning of the custom of a new year shrine visit, which is now, by a large margin, the most widely observed Shinto custom in Japan. As a result, Yoritomo’s retainers also developed a devotion to Hachiman, whether genuine or politically motivated, and when they were given land elsewhere in Japan, they often founded a Hachiman shrine as part of developing the area. This practice was continued into later centuries, with the result that Hachiman became closely associated with the samurai class, and now is often described, in western accounts, as a kami of war. Ironically, Hachiman’s sacred animal is the dove.

So, why did Yoritomo place so much importance on Hachiman? This goes back to Iwashimizu Hachimangu, the second oldest and second furthest east of the three great Hachiman shrines. In 858, Emperor Seiwa took the throne at the age of nine, and Hachiman announced that he wanted to protect the new emperor. He was brought to the capital, Kyoto, and enshrined on a hill south of the city, forming Iwashimizu Hachimangu. This shrine was specifically dedicated to protecting the emperor, as the capital was protected by the Kamo shrines. This connection with the imperial family rapidly became stronger, with Iwashimizu Hachimangu becoming the second shrine of the imperial line, together with the Jingu at Ise. It was also connected with the Minamoto, because the Minamoto were the descendants of Emperor Seiwa, their ancestors having been made into commoners. Thus, Yoritomo was continuing a family tradition when he founded Tsurugaoka Hachimangu.

The next question is, why did Hachiman decide he wanted to protect the emperor? This goes back to the oldest and furthest west of the three great Hachiman shrines, Usa Jingu, on the north coast of Kyushu. The direct connection between Usa Jingu and the imperial court starts in 749, when Hachiman announced that he wanted to help with the construction of the great Buddha in Nara, and the kami was enshrined anew in Nara. The connection became very close in 769. Dokyo, a Buddhist monk with a great deal of influence at court, aimed to become emperor when the emperor at the time abdicated. There was some opposition to this, so he sent Wakë Kiyomaro to Usa to ask Hachiman’s opinion. The oracle that Kiyomaro brought back said that only a descendant of the imperial line could become emperor, and this marked the end of Dokyo’s power. As a result of this oracle, Hachiman was honoured as a protector of the imperial line, and envoys were sent to announce the accession of each emperor, thus providing the opportunity for Hachiman to say that he wanted to protect Emperor Seiwa. It is an interesting feature of Japanese history that the oracle has been respected ever since; the emperor has always been a member of the imperial family, and there has never been a change of dynasty. None of the shoguns ever declared themselves emperor, even as they stripped the reigning emperor of all real power.

I mentioned in the previous paragraph that Hachiman sent an oracle that he wanted to help construct the Great Buddha at Nara. This indicates an important feature of the Hachiman tradition: it has always been very closely connected with Buddhism. The Ise tradition always maintained some distance from Buddhism, but the Hachiman tradition did not. Indeed, until the Meiji Restoration Hachiman was referred to as “Hachiman Dai Bosatsu”, which means “Hachiman Great Bodhisattva”, a Buddhist title. (After the restoration, norito began to refer to Hachiman as “Yahata no Ohkami”, using the Japanese reading of the characters, and replacing “bosatsu” with “kami”.)  This connection manifested in many ways, including the fact that Hachiman shrines were staffed primarily by Buddhist monks. While I do not agree with the theory that says that all pre-Meiji Shinto was just a kind of Buddhism, you could make a good argument for that in the case of the Hachiman tradition.

This connection appears to go all the way back to the eighth century, or even earlier. Hachiman may well have been a kami who came over from the Korean peninsular with refugees from the wars there, but, in any case, he was a patron kami of that group, and at least one of the priestly families at Usa was from the continent. The accounts of the foundation of Usa say that Hachiman was enshrined there in 571, which is around the time Buddhism was brought to Japan, and a period when there was a lot of contact with the continent. In addition, it seems that two local kami, Usa tsu Hiko and Usa tsu Hime (a male and female pair) were worshipped there before Hachiman, which tends to support the idea that Hachiman was an immigrant.

In any case, in the seventh and early eighth centuries there were serious problems on the Korean peninsular, and a substantial number of refugees. In the early eighth century, 5,000 of them were apparently settled in southern Kyushu, resulting in a rebellion by the Hayato, the original inhabitants, who didn’t like having all of these asylum-seekers turn up on their doorstep. Hachiman is said to have joined in suppressing the rebellion, in which many Hayato were killed.

What happened next is interesting. Hachiman is said to have expressed regret over his actions, and effectively converted to Buddhism to overcome the guilt of murder. Until Meiji, a distinctive feature of the Hachiman tradition was the “hojoë”, festivals at which living creatures, such as birds and fish, were released. Further, fish was never offered to Hachiman, much less meat, and when he was portrayed he was almost invariably portrayed as a Buddhist monk.

Professor Okada suggested that this also explains another unusual feature of Hachiman shrines. Ancient shrines are very often found near the base of a mountain, or a little way up the slope, but they are never found at the top; humans were forbidden to climb into the realms of the kami. The exception is Hachiman shrines. The main sanctuary at Usa is on top of a mountain, as is that at Iwashimizu. Climbing to the top of a mountain was something that Buddhist ascetics and Taoist sages did, when they wanted to meditate and overcome their sins, so Professor Okada suggested that the reason Hachiman’s shrines were placed near the top of mountains was that Hachiman was an ascetic, pursuing Buddhism and trying to purify his karma.

At this point, I need to change subject slightly. While “Hachiman” is the name of a kami, it does not necessarily indicate a single kami. It is worth remembering that Japanese does not distinguish singular and plural, so that “Great Kami Hachiman” could be a group, as well as an individual. At Usa, it indicates Emperor Ojin, the Princess Kami (Himegami), and Empress Jingu, Ojin’s mother. At other shrines, the Princess Kami might be identified as Tamayori Hime, or as the three female kami of the Munakata shrine. Empress Jingu might not be enshrined at all, or might be enshrined by herself. Instead of Emperor Ojin, you might find his father, Chuai, or his son, Nintoku. These are all “Great Kami Hachiman”, at least when enshrined in a Hachiman shrine. Professor Okada said that the differences arise because Shinto does not have a central authority in the way that Buddhism does. Thus, while all the temples in a particular Buddhist tradition have the same central Buddha, Shinto shrines get to choose their own interpretation of the kami. This, obviously, makes explaining a Shinto tradition rather more difficult than it might otherwise be, and Professor Okada gave the distinct impression that he didn’t go into any more detail because he couldn’t.

It’s been a very interesting series of lectures, but Professor Okada is taking a year off from doing everything himself next time. Instead, we’ll get a team-taught course on “Reading the Shinto Classics”. It should be interesting, particularly if the Sendai Kuji Hongi, Gobusho, and Yoshida texts are included.

Shinto Traditions Course — Ise

As the Shinto Traditions course at Kokugakuin University approaches its end, it has been covering the really big traditions within Shinto, the ones that it is hard to miss. This week’s lecture was about the shrines connected to Ise. The Grand Shrines of Ise enshrine Amaterasu Ohmikami, the kami of the sun and the legendary ancestress of the Imperial line, along with numerous other kami, the most important of which is Toyouke Ohkami. The Grand Shrines comprise 120 separate shrines, with the Kotai Daijingu (or Naiku, inner shrine), where Amaterasu is enshrined, at the head, and the Toyouke Daijingu (or Geku, outer shrine), where Toyouke Ohkami is enshrined, in second place. The Grand Shrines are the most important single shrine complex in contemporary Shinto, but given the diversity of Shinto this does not make them equivalent to the Vatican or Mecca; there are plenty of people who practise Shinto but do not pay special attention to Ise. However, there are relatively few who ignore it entirely.

Professor Okada started the lecture by talking about the origins of the Ise shrines. According to the earliest legends, written down in the eighth century, the Naiku was founded in the reign of Emperor Suinin. In the previous reign, that of Emperor Sujin, the mirror housing Amaterasu’s spirit had been moved out of the Imperial palace, because the emperor thought it wasn’t right for it to be close. In Emperor Suinin’s reign, Yamato Hime no Mikoto took it round central Japan, until she reached Ise, and Amaterasu told her that this was the right place for the shrine.

Now, Professor Okada didn’t explicitly say that this was just a legend, but it is; the consensus is that the emperors involved never existed, and the date attached is too early. Since Professor Okada went on to talk about other hypotheses for its origin, it’s fairly clear that he also does not believe the legend is literally true.

The point Professor Okada emphasised was that, if you draw a line from Makimuku, in Nara Prefecture, through Mt. Miwa (the sacred mountain of Ohmiwa Shrine), it goes just south of east to pass through Ise, and on to Kuzaki, a place on the coast which has always provided the abalone offered in the main festivals at the Grand Shrines. The lines isn’t exact, which is not at all surprising given that he was suggesting it was laid out around the fourth century, but it is a lot closer than chance would suggest. Makimuku is not yet well known outside Japan, because it has become famous as the result of recent (and still ongoing, I believe) excavations. It’s the area near Ohmiwa Shrine, at the excavations have uncovered a third century palace complex and capital city. This is particularly exciting because the dates match up with a mention of a Japanese ruler of “Yamatai” in Chinese historical documents, so there is a suspicion that this could be her palace. Although Chinese-influenced capital cities are normally laid out around a north-south axis, Makimuku is laid out on an east-west axis, matching the line to Ise. This suggests a foundation date for Ise around this period, right at the beginning of anything that can helpfully be called Shinto.

The Geku has a separate foundation legend. An early document from Ise states that Emperor Yuryaku had a message in a dream, where Amaterasu said she was lonely at Ise, and asked him to bring another kami, Toyouke hime, to the shrine, to serve her. The date given for this is 478. In this case, Emperor Yuryaku is a real historical figure, from the late fifth century. Two swords with inscriptions referring to him (as “Great King”, not “Emperor”) have been unearthed, one from Kyushu, and one from near Tokyo, so his existence is not in doubt, although the name “Yuryaku” is a later one; his name at the time was Wakatakeru. (Japanese emperors have always received new names on their deaths, although the practice is thought to have been applied retrospectively to some of the earlier ones.) Therefore, it is quite possible that the Geku was established in the fifth century, at the behest of Emperor Yuryaku, and that the Naiku was already there at that point.

The next big change in the Grand Shrines was the introduction of the Shikinen Sengu. This is the event in which all of the main shrines and shrine treasures are completely remade, once every twenty years or so. (The next one is in 2013, although the preparatory festivals have already started.) The Nihonshoki says that this was commanded by Emperor Tenmu in 685, and first carried out under his wife and successor, Emperor Jito, in 690. This date is generally accepted, because the first other record of the ceremony is a document from the mid eighth century listing the decorative metalwork required for it. The original document survives (in the Shosoin in Nara), so at the latest the ceremony started within 5o years of the date given in the Nihonshoki. Given that that’s only two or three occurrences, there is no reason to doubt the Nihonshoki date.

If you visit Ise near the time of the Sengu, there are two sets of shrine buildings at both the Naiku and Geku, the old and new structures. At all other times, there is one set of shrine buildings, and an almost empty area, where the last and next buildings were and will be. However, it’s only almost empty. A little way towards the back, there is a small hut-like structure. This covers the Shin no Mihashira, one of the most sacred and mysterious parts of the Ise shrines.

The Shin no Mihashira is never on public display, but records from people who have seen it say that it is a block of wood about 1.5m long and about 12cm thick. The bottom 50cm are set into the ground, so that it projects up by about 1m. It is underneath the main sanctuary of the shrines, but they have raised floors, about 2m from the ground, so the pillar is not structural. It is said to be directly underneath the point at which the mirror containing the spirit of the kami is kept in the sanctuary, and thus may provide symbolic support for it. The Shin no Mihashira has been called the central axis of Japan, and there are stories that it cracks when Japan faces a crisis. Until the Meiji Restoration, the offerings at the most important festivals at Ise were made in front of the Shin no Mihashira, underneath the shrine buildings, rather than in front of the doors. (Personally, I think they should go back to doing that as soon as possible, but that’s just me.)

There are a number of theories as to what the Shin no Mihashira is, but none have strong support. It could well be the original form of the shrines, because there is good evidence that, in early Shinto, the kami were summoned into trees or wooden pillars to participate in festivals. However, it could also be something unique to Ise. In this context, the important part is that it is the only part of the old shrine that is not disassembled. The new shrine is built around it, to ensure that it is in the right place.

The Sengu is very, very expensive. Originally it was paid for by taxes on the regions of Japan around Ise, but in the Heian period that was replaced by a national tax. In the Sengoku period of civil wars, the Sengu was suspended for over a hundred years, because the shrines could not afford to do it. When the country was reunified, however, the shoguns took over responsibility for it, and at the Meiji Restoration it became a state ceremony, paid for out of taxes. However, after the second world war, state contributions to Shinto ceremonies were forbidden. The first post-war Sengu was in 1953, having been delayed because of the occupation of Japan. However, much of the material for that Sengu had been gathered before the war, so the first one to be funded entirely by voluntary contributions was the 1973 Sengu; the 2013 one will be the third.

I think that the fact that it can be funded by voluntary donations shows that the Grand Shrines of Ise still have an important place in the Japanese psyche. This is despite the fact that, originally, people other than the emperor were strictly forbidden to make offerings at Ise, and having a shrine tablet (o-fuda) from there was a criminal offence. This rule was relaxed as the shrine came to rely more on the support of people in general, and low-ranking priests travelled the country, extolling the importance of Ise.

If you look at the contemporary distribution of shrines connected to Ise, there is a heavy bias towards eastern Japan, the area to the east of Ise. This was a surprising discovery, because most Shinto scholars had assumed that Ise was fairly evenly nationwide; certainly, the fact that there are no Ise-related shrines at all in Tottori prefecture was a bit of a shock. However, the reason seems likely to be that the priests recruiting supporters tended to head east, to the areas that formed the headquarters of the newly powerful warriors. Since the shrines tended to be founded on land given to support the Grand Shrines, they tended to be founded in the region targeted for recruitment.

Although Ise is closely associated with the Imperial family, it is also an important part of folk Shinto. It’s also a very old shrine complex, with fascinating customs that have very old roots. While it is certainly possible to exaggerate the importance of Ise in Shinto, both historically and today, it’s probably a bigger mistake to minimise it.

The next lecture will be the last one, covering Hachiman, the largest tradition in Shinto, and one that does cover the whole country fairly evenly.

Shinto Traditions Course — Tenjin

This week’s Shinto Traditions lecture at Kokugakuin University was on Tenjin. Tenjin is, these days, best known as the kami of passing entrance exams, but originally he was Sugawara no Michizane, a scholar and politician of the late ninth and early tenth century.

The Sugawara family were mid-ranking aristocrats in Heian Japan, with hereditary jobs in the university, and in preparing drafts of official documents. Michizane was recognised as being exceptionally talented early on, and was promoted quite quickly. At the age of 42 he was appointed governor of Sanuki, part of Shikoku, and unlike many such governors he actually went to his region, where he was reputedly responsible for many improvements to irrigation and other agricultural systems. (Obviously, at the distance of a thousand years and with the legends that have grown up around him, it’s hard to be sure.) He returned to the capital when his term as a governor expired, and continued his rise through the ranks. When he was 53 his eldest daughter entered the imperial court, and became the wife of one of the sons of the emperor. Soon after that emperor abdicated, in favour of another of his sons, Michizane was, at the age of 55, appointed Minister of the Right, the second-highest actual post in the government. (In theory, the third highest under the emperor, but the nominal highest post, the Prime Minister, was vacant at this point.)

Alongside his political career, he was a significant scholar. He edited a volume of the official history of Japan, and produced several collections of poetry, in both Chinese and Japanese, along with other writings. He was also famed for the quality of his calligraphy.

Two years after that, early in 901, a rumour spread that he was plotting to put his son-in-law on the throne. He was appointed assistant head of Dazaifu, the main governmental centre in Kyushu, and sent from the capital. This was, effectively, the end of his political career; it was a way of punishing him without having to formally decide that he had done anything wrong. These days, the consensus seems to be that the charges were made up by the Fujiwara, the highest aristocrat family, who had almost succeeded in taking control of the government by ensuring that all the emperors were married to Fujiwara daughters. Michizane’s rise was a threat to their dominance, which was not yet secure. With his defeat, it became secure, so that for the next 150 years or so the Fujiwara effectively ruled Japan, with the emperors as little more than figureheads. (Figurehead emperors are the normal state in Japanese history; the actual authority that the emperors had from the Meiji Emperor to the end of the Second World War was unusual. The power behind the throne has changed quite a lot, however.)

Michizane died in Kyushu in 903, and when his body was taken for burial, the ox drawing the cart stopped at one point, and refused to move any further. This was taken as a sign that he should be buried on that spot, and so he was, directly under what is now the sanctum of Dazaifu Tenmangu, the big Tenjin shrine in Kyushu.

A couple of years later the Fujiwara responsible for Michizane’s exile, Fujiwara no Tokihira, died, and this was attributed to Michizane’s curse. Lightning struck the palace, and in the mid 920s two crown princes died in quick succession, which was also attributed to Michizane’s curse. He was restored to Minister of the Right, and his court rank was increased. In the end, he was appointed Prime Minister (after his death), and raised to the First Rank. Buddhist rites were also performed to calm his spirit. This sort of thing was fairly normal at the time; it’s called Onryo Belief. However, Michizane was different in an important way.

Most dead people suspected of cursing the living were calmed with Buddhist rites. Michizane, however, came to be worshipped with Shinto rites, as Tenjin, or Jizaitenjin, a title originally used for the version of the Hindu god Shiva that made it to Japan. According to Professor Okada, he was the first human to be worshipped as a kami. (There is a possible exception, in that Hachiman was said to be Emperor Ojin, but since Emperor Ojin was mythical in the first place, and the association with Hachiman came after the Hachiman tradition was established, it isn’t the same sort of thing.) The question is why. In Kyushu, a Buddhist temple, Anrakuji, was established around his grave to pray for his soul, which was normal. However, in Kyoto a shrine was established, which wasn’t.

The details are difficult to put together at this distance, but several key points can be noted. In 939 Taira no Masakado, a rebel in the region around Tokyo, received an oracle purportedly from Hachiman and Michizane saying that he should be the emperor. This rebellion really frightened the central government, so oracles associated with it were well known. A few years later, in 942, a girl living in Kyoto received an oracle that she should worship Michizane, and set up a small shrine. In 945, a mikoshi carrying Michizane, as Jizaitenjin, was among a group that came from Kyushu to the capital (I think; the details of this got skipped over a bit). In 947, the son of a priest near Kyoto received an oracle telling him to build a shrine on Kitano, a plain to the northwest of the capital which was used for many Shinto-related ceremonies, and in 959 the Fujiwara started contributing to building the shrine there. Fairly soon it became a major target of Fujiwara patronage, and also of imperial patronage, becoming one of the 22 shrines that received special imperial attention.

The popular spread of the Tenjin tradition was probably partly due to the fact that Tenjin was a thunder kami, and thus associated with rain and agriculture. To become popular in that period, an association with agriculture was basically essential, as that was what most people did. However, due to his scholarship in life, he became associated with scholarship by the late Heian period, the late twelfth century, at the latest. In the Edo period, from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, Tenjin was closely associated with the local schools for townsmen, the terakoya, and this cemented his association with scholarship, and particularly with school studies. When entrance exams became important, particularly after the Second World War, he became known as a kami of entrance exams, and the major Tenjin shrines in Tokyo are very, very busy around exam season (December/January).

I’d like to mention three other points of interest. First, the dates of Michizane’s birth, exile, and death were all the 25th of the month, although in different months. Thus, the 25th is Tenjin’s “day”, and the shrines are particularly busy on that day. December 25th and January 25th, falling in exam season, are the busiest. So, if you want a Shinto substitute for Christmas, you can study for exams. I can’t really see this catching on.

The second point is that, although the historical records are quite clear that Michizane’s father was Sugawara no Koreyoshi, the legends that had grown up around him by the thirteenth century were clear that this was not the case. In one collection, preserved in an important Tenjin shrine in Yamaguchi prefecture, in western Japan, it is stated that Koreyoshi found a young boy playing in his garden, and the boy claimed to have no mother or father, so he was adopted by Koreyoshi. This is thought to be because it was still not easy for people to think that an ordinary person could become a kami, so Michizane needed some sort of supernatural origin.

Finally, there is a Japanese poem said to be by Michizane that goes roughly as follows:

If you follow the true path, the kami will protect you even though you never pray.

The first record of this poem dates from 1377, so its attribution to Michizane is rather shaky, but Professor Okada has found late medieval references to it from Mt Koya, the centre of Shingon Buddhism, and from court nobles, indicating that it had some spread. It is interesting that even within Shinto, which places such importance on ritual practice, also includes traditions that say ritual does not matter.

Shinto Traditions Course — Inari

Today, the Shinto course at Kokugakuin University started again after the summer break. Of course, I’ve not posted any reports of the course in English since the very first lecture, way back in April, due to not having enough time, but I’m going to try to cover the last four lectures, because they cover the four most important and widespread traditions in Shinto.

Today’s lecture covered the fourth largest tradition, Inari. Now, if you’ve read about Shinto you may have heard that there are more Inari shrines in Japan than any other kind, up to around 30,000. However, according to Professor Okada there is no basis for that statement. The analysis that they did at Kokugakuin of a survey conducted by the Association of Shinto Shrines suggests that there are only a few thousand Inari shrines, and that it is the fourth largest tradition. However, as he pointed out, that survey was based on the names of the shrines, so it only reflects the primary kami. If you go to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura, it’s a Hachiman shrine, but it has three Inari shrines in the precincts. So, if you count all of the sub-shrines, and the shrines on the roofs of department stores (which are not part of the Association of Shinto Shrines), and the shrines in people’s gardens, then it might get up to 30,000. However, nobody has counted them, so there is no real evidence for the large number. Thus, Inari is a large Shinto tradition, but maybe not the largest.

The central shrine of the Inari tradition is Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. According to the shrine tradition, it was founded in 711 by the Hata family, who were immigrants from the Korean peninsular. The story is that one of them, Irogu, became rich from rice farming, and made a rice cake, and then set it up as a target for archery. However, it turned into a white bird and flew away, and where it landed lots of rice sprang up. It landed in a cedar tree, and Irogu took one of the branches as a lucky charm. The shrine was founded where the bird landed, and branches from the tree remained lucky charms. It is said that if you plant one and it flourishes, you will be rich, but if it withers, you won’t be.

The name “Inari” is written with the characters for “burden of rice”, but it was originally written with those for “growing rice”. The most common kami at Inari shrines (it isn’t always the same one) is Ukanomitama no Mikoto, and his (or her) name is sometimes written with the characters for “rice granary”. It is, as you might guess, uncontroversial that Inari was originally an agricultural kami. Many kami were, of course, so this is hardly unusual.

So, the question is why Inari’s cult spread so much. Professor Okada suggested several reasons. First, in the ninth century Fushimi Inari became associated with the Imperial court. The emperor fell ill, and he despatched a messenger to make offerings at the shrine, because the illness was judged to be due to the kami’s curse. One of the causes was that Kukai (Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism) had chopped down trees on Mount Inari to build Toji, his large temple in Kyoto. This incident seems to have created a link between Inari and Shingon, as well as with the imperial court. In the later Heian period, Fushimi Inari became one of the 22 shrines that received special attention from the imperial court, which helped it to become more popular. In addition, its association with Shingon meant that it spread as Shingon temples spread across Japan.

Another reason for Inari’s popularity was that women were allowed to worship there. Most Buddhist temples, particularly the ones with sacred mountains, forbade entry to women. This was true until the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century, and I believe there is still one place that maintains the tradition today. This was, obviously, a problem for women who wanted to visit sacred places. However, Fushimi Inari allowed women to visit all parts of the shrine, and it was quite close to the capital, so it became a popular destination for pilgrimages. It features in quite a few works of literature from the later Heian period (from about 950 to 1100), generally in the context of women visiting the mountain. This factor seems to have increased its popularity with ordinary people; indeed, Fushimi Inari may well have been one of the first shrines that people in general visited for personal worship.

A further reason is Fushimi Inari’s attitude to distributing divided spirits of the kami. Basically, this is what you need to found a new shrine; it’s a kami to enshrine there. Fushimi Inari would, basically, give one to anyone who made an appropriate offering. That meant that, if you wanted to establish a shrine to look after your new house, it was easiest to establish an Inari shrine.

A final reason is connected to Inari’s current area of influence. These days, Inari is seen mainly as a kami of commercial prosperity. Professor Okada suggested that this started because the people living in the area of Kyoto that was taken to be under Fushimi Inari’s protection were mostly craftsmen (particularly metalworkers) and tradesmen. Thus, Inari became associated with business success and when, in the Edo period, people founded businesses in the towns that grew up around the castles of the samurai, they established Inari shrines as well.

As a result, Inari spread widely, but if you tabulate the shrines by region, there is a noticeable bias towards eastern Japan. The reasons for this are not entirely clear.

To prepare for this lecture, Professor Okada visited Fushimi Inari, for the first time in about twenty years. He said that the famous tunnel of red torii, set up by people making offerings to the kami, has got longer, and now covers most of the main path up and around the mountain. At the top, there are areas full of torii erected in the Heisei period, which means since 1989. Thus, this practice is still current. He also mentioned that there are, along the tunnel, signs giving a price list for the torii. The smallest one is 500,000 yen, or about $6000 (at the moment), and for the largest ones you can expect to pay a few million yen. Not exactly an impulse purchase, but within the budget of ordinary individuals.

One shrine on the mountain is called “White Fox Shrine”, and it enshrines a white fox who serves Inari. The association of foxes with Inari is very strong, and very famous, but its origin is also very obscure. There is one theory that says that Inari was associated with a Shingon Buddhist deity called Dakiniten, and that, as Dakiniten rode a white fox, the fox became associated with Inari. Another theory, however, says that Inari was associated with Dakiniten because they were both associated with foxes. This is a mystery, but everyone knows about Inari and foxes, if only because the guardian statues at an Inari shrine are invariably foxes rather than the koma-inu that most shrines have.

At the end of the lecture, Professor Okada told us an extra story, nothing to do with Inari. Over the summer, he went to Tsushima, an island near Korea, and found an interesting shrine. It isn’t very big, and looks like any other small shrine, but the kami is Maria Konishi, the wife of a lord at the beginning of the Edo period. As you might guess from her name, she was a Christian. While Christianity was forbidden in Japan, the hidden Christians used the shrine as a way to worship, but now it is an ordinary Shinto shrine, as the Christians have churches. Professor Okada commented that he wasn’t sure how Maria Konishi herself felt about becoming a Shinto kami, but it shows how ready Shinto is to accept and incorporate outside influences, of various sorts.

One thing that this series of lectures has made clear is the variety found within Shinto. Inari might be very popular, but the Inari shrines are noticeably different from other shrines, with their red torii and foxes. The diversity of Shinto is, for me, one of the most appealing things about it.

Shinto Traditions Course — Kasuga

The Japanese academic year starts in April, and with it the Kokugakuin Open College courses also start again. Once again, they are offering a Shinto course, and once again I’m taking it. The number of people taking the course has increased every year, and this year there are over 180 students. The lecture room is about three-quarters full, and they make about 360,000 yen (about $4,000) for every 90 minute lecture. This may not be entirely unconnected with their decision to continue offering the course, although the fact that Professor Okada enjoys giving it is probably also an important factor.

Anyway, this year he chose Shinto traditions as his theme. “Traditions” is the way I have chosen to translate “shinkou”, which would more normally be translated as “cults” or “religions”. However, those have misleading overtones. Shinto encompasses the worship of many different kami, and there are some shrines to kami that are worshipped nowhere else. There are also shrines that are all connected to the same kami, and back to one or two major shrines. A few years ago, Professor Okada led a project to analyse the data for the shrines affiliated with the Organisation of Shinto Shrines, and look at the size and distribution of the various affiliations. For this course, he is planning to spend one lecture on each of the top ten affiliation groups. I’ve decided to call these affiliation groups “traditions”, because that seems to be the least misleading way to describe them.

In fact, he decided not to talk about the tenth largest tradition, that of “mountain kami”. This is because most of the shrines are very small, and they don’t tie back to a central shrine. There may not, in fact, be any unified tradition to talk about, as all the cults may be local. In any case, I suspect that it was also more work than he wanted to put into a single 90-minute lecture, even if it would earn the university $4000. So, instead, he chose to talk about the eleventh tradition, that of Kasuga. Since he is starting at the bottom, and working up to the biggest tradition (Hachiman), this week’s lecture was the one about Kasuga.

The Kasuga tradition is based at Kasuga Shrine in Nara. This shrine is closely connected to the Fujiwara family, who provided the wives of the Emperors for several centuries in the Heian period, and effectively ruled Japan for much of that time, and their patronage and that of Emperors born to Fujiwara mothers is why the shrine is so significant. The prefecture with the largest number of shrines in the Kasuga tradition is Nara, unsurprisingly, but the second highest number is found in Fukui, in southern Tohoku. I suspect that this is because an important branch of the Fujiwara had its headquarters in this area.

Most of the lecture was about the origins of the shrine. That wasn’t the original plan (it was point one of six), but it’s clearly something that interests Professor Okada, so he got a little involved in it. In addition, the origins of the shrine are intrinsically interesting.

In the Engishiki, the early tenth-century collection of court rituals that provides a lot of information on early Shinto, most shrines are referred to as “jinja”. There are a handful of exceptions; Izumo is “taisha”, and Ise, Kashima, and Katori are “jingu”. Kasuga is also an exception. It is referred to as “matsuru kami”, which means “worship the kami”. Why is this?

The kami enshrined at Kasuga are the clan kami of the Fujiwara. These are Amenokoyane, their ancestral kami, who is originally enshrined in Hiraoka shrine in Osaka, Takemikazuchi, enshrined in Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki, Futsunushi, enshrined in Katori Shrine in Chiba, and Himegami, originally thought to be the bride of Amenokoyane. The precise nature of the connection between the Fujiwara and the two shrines in the region just east of Tokyo (Kashima and Katori) is unclear; some stories say that the first Fujiwara, Kamatari, was born in the area. In any case, they greatly revered the kami of those shrines.

In 710, the capital of Japan was moved to Nara, called Heijokyo at the time. (They are celebrating the 1300th anniversary this year.) This moved the Fujiwara away from the shrines to their clan deities, and it is thought that Kasuga Shrine was initially established as a place from which to worship those shrines from afar. A map of the area around Nara survives from 756, and it shows a number of important buildings. On Mt Mikasa, the small mountain on which Kasuga Shrine is built, however, there is no indication of a building. Instead, there is a square marked, with “ground of the kami” written in it. The characters are written so that they are the right way up if you are facing east, which, judging from the characters for surviving buildings, means that the front of the area was in the west. The square is about the same size, and in about the same place, as the current inner sanctum at Kasuga, and so almost certainly indicates its forerunner.

If you are in Nara, Kashima and Katori Shrines are to the east, so if you want to worship them remotely, you should face that way. However, it is very unusual for shrines to face west, and the main sanctuaries at Kasuga (there are four separate ones, one for each kami) do not. This dates back to their original construction, in 768. According to the records, the Emperor Shotoku (the daughter of Emperor Shomu, who built the Great Buddha of Nara, and Empress Komyo, who was a daughter of the Fujiwara) had a divine vision in which she was instructed to construct shrine buildings, facing south. The fact that the records explicitly mention the direction, which is the normal direction for shrines to face, suggests that they didn’t originally face that way.

So, it seems most likely that Kasuga Shrine originated as a sacred enclosure, without buildings, for worshipping the kami of distant shrines.

Professor Okada then moved on to tell us a bit more about the history of the tradition. He was running out of time, so some of these points were covered rather briefly. The first point concerns two of the minor shrines in the precincts of Kasuga Shrine, Verdant Sakaki Shrine and Withered Sakaki Shrine. Sakaki is the evergreen tree that features in most Shinto rituals, and which grows around Kasuga Shrine. But why are there shrines to these two states of the tree?

The forests around Kasuga Shrine are unusual in the present day, as they are virgin forest in the middle of a city. This is because it has been explicitly forbidden to hunt or cut wood in them since 841, and they were probably untouched before that, since they became sacred at the same time as people moved to the area in any significant numbers. Shinto has always valued trees, and shrines still need the permission of the Association of Shinto Shrines to cut down trees in their precincts. However, the trees at Kasuga were particularly important to the shrine.

First, they were thought to warn of the anger of the kami. If the trees on the Kasuga hills became brown and dead, this was a sign that the kami was displeased about something, and had withdrawn from the area. The number of brown trees indicated the severity of his anger, so the exact number was recorded; it could be several thousand. The Fujiwara would then perform ceremonies to placate the kami, and wait for things to improve.

The second point relates to the attempts of the shrine (and the associated Buddhist temple, Kofukuji) to browbeat the government into doing what it wanted. When the shrine was unhappy with the government, it used to send its men (lots of them) to the capital with a sacred tree, threatening the Emperor with divine displeasure. The men would all carry withered sakaki branches, to show that the kami was angry, and they went to the imperial palace to make their demands. If these demands were not met, they threw the withered sakaki branches into the compound, symbolically throwing the kami’s curse in as well. On the other hand, if the government caved in, they would come back with green sakaki, indicating that the kami was happy now.

Professor Okada briefly mentioned the Kasuga Wakamiya On-matsuri. The Wakamiya enshrines the son of Amenokoyane, and the On-matsuri is its big festival. It happens once per year, and was popular with the local people, while the main festival of the main shrine was more of a government event, with official ambassadors from the Emperor (as there still are, in fact). The people would put on performances for the kami, and these performances were very important in the development of Noh. These days, Noh is still performed at the festival. However, the performances do not take place at the normal shrine. Instead, the kami is taken in procession to a temporary shrine, which is built every time, and then returned to the main shrine when the plays are over. However, he must get back within 24 hours, possibly because his father gets annoyed if he stays out too late at parties. (Or possibly because he turns into a pumpkin, although that’s less likely; Professor Okada did compare it to Cinderella, however.) The On-matsuri was first held in 1136, making it old, but significantly younger than the main shrine.

Finally, he talked about the Oracle of the Three Shrines, very briefly. This is a set of three oracles, from Ise, Hachiman, and Kasuga, which became very popular in the middle ages, and remained popular in the early modern period. Each of the three kami extols a particular virtue, and Kasuga extols compassion. Professor Okada provided a modern Japanese translation, as well as the original text, so I can provide an English translation.

Even if you purify yourself for a thousand days, I will not enter a house of malice
Even if you are mourning your father, I must enter a room of compassion

The death of your father is one of the greatest sources of ritual pollution in Shinto, close behind your own death, so the gist of this oracle is that ritual purity is much less important to the kami than compassion.

As the oracle was very important, and both the other kami are going to be covered later, I suspect we may come back to this topic.

This promises to be another extremely interesting course of lectures. I’m really looking forward to it.