or in reference publications like the comprehensive Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha characterizes Shinto as «Japan’s indigenous religion», saying that: Shintō is a rich and complex system of religious practices, ideas and institutions which slowly emerged at the dawn of Japanese history, crystallized as a religious system during the Nara (710–794) and Heian (794–1185) periods, and subsequently was in a constant and dynamic interaction with the other religious and philosophical systems of Asia: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism (Kodansha VII 1983: 125).
J. Havlicek APPROACHING SHINTO AND NATIOANLISM IN JAPAN. PERSPECTIVES FROM THE SCIENCE OF RELIGIONS A student interested in religions in Japan should be aware of an intriguing complexity of the phenomena he or she is about to encounter4. His or her position could be compared to that of a botanist amidst Amazonian rainforest or that of an ethnologist in Papua; therefore it is not surprising that a number of scholars have tried to arrange religious phenomena of Japan in a reasonable system. If someone wants to learn more about one of the many topics of Japanese religiosity, as for example about Shinto, it is not hard to find basic information on the internet
It is usual to find such a schematic and simplifying statement in a reference handbook. But it is still not that unusual to encounter it in scholarly texts as well, even though it is usually followed by lengthy commentaries and includes historical overviews1. Considering the richness of religious phenomena in Japan, it is intriguing to make an attempt to arrange available data (both contemporary and historical) into a systematic structure in order to better understand the phenomena we observe. Moreover, the process of setting up the data to systematic classifications, together with the development of theoretical models, can be considered as a very basis of the Western scientific discourse. However, if the theoretical frameworks, systematic classifications and conceptualizations become a subject of a more detailed examination, one often comes to realize that they are marked with more or less implicit bias and prejudice. They influence the process of gathering, choosing and arranging data and the methods applied. Discovering such implicit bias obviously questions the concluding systematizations. Speaking about religions in Japan – and about Shinto in particular – the question of conceptualising and systematizing the whole matter becomes of a vital importance. It is still quite usual in the scholarly texts to consider Shinto a coherent, unique religious phenomenon particular to Japan, with its own continuous history. From this point of view it appears to be quite easy to systematize, describe and interpret the matter. Nevertheless, things are far more complex then they seem to be and this simplifying approach has been questioned by scholars who understand Shinto «as a product of history rather than as the indwelling essence of Japaneseness» (Teeuwen 2007: 386). For example the recent work of Mark Teeuwen examining a close relationship between Shinto and Buddhism in medieval Japan clearly shows how deceptive it is to treat them separately in our attempts to describe and interpret the history of Japanese religious thought. Furthermore, he also puts stress on the idea that many elements, which have been automatically considered to be particular to Shinto, are in fact quite commonplace throughout Asia: The ubiquitous nature of all these phenomena shows that it makes little sense to label their occurrence in Japan as «Shinto».... Even when taken together, they are simply not particular enough to lend the term any distinctive meaning (Teeuwen 2007: 375).
This paper was supported by the grant program of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, 2007.
1 Such a systematic account on Shinto can be found in Byron Earhart’s «Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity». Originally published in 1969 and re-edited several times thanks to its persistent popularity, its last edition dates from 2003 (cf. Earhart 1982).
Referring to the «iconoclastic» work on Shinto by Yoshio Kuroda which has been published in English translation in 19811, Teeuwen scrutinizes medieval Japanese texts focusing on the context of such terms as «Shinto» and others that are related to kami worship. Teeuwen finds out that their meaning has undergone considerable change and that the term «Shinto» had not been used for a specific body of knowledge, teachings or rituals related to the kami before the XIV century or maybe as late as by the turn of the XV century (Teeuwen 2007). From this point of view it lacks sense to attempt to draw some systematic descriptions of the history of Shinto as a specific religious tradition, with its «origins» in the «dawn» of Japanese history. Mark Teeuwen’s critical view of the «essentialist» concept of Shinto is based on the work of Yoshio Kuroda, who states that the notion of Shinto as Japan’s indigenous religion originated only with kokugaku – or «National Learning» – school of Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801) and that it was fully established with the concept of Shinto as a state ideology during the Meiji period (1868–1911), when the separation of Buddhism and Shinto took place: During this period the «historical consciousness» of an indigenous religion called Shinto, existing in Japan since ancient times, clearly took shape for the first time. This remained the basis for defining the word Shinto down to the present (Kuroda 1981: 19).
It is important to emphasize that Kuroda does not reject the historicity of such phenomenon as the kami worship, but he questions the notion of Shinto as a coherent religious system independent of Buddhism throughout the history of Japan. But considering the impact of Kuroda’s work, the idea of Shinto as «Japan’s indigenous religion» cannot be maintained any longer. Kuroda proves it is misleading to label various phenomena such as kami worship or shrine rituals simply as «Shinto» (cf. Teeuwen – Scheid 2002). Along with this critical approach towards the notion of Shinto as to an everlasting, unified religious tradition, it is vital to see Shinto itself as a conceptualisation that has been produced and applied under specific circumstances to a disordered world of kami worship, shrine rituals, etc.2 Besides that, it is no less important to take into account a possible influence of Western concept of «religion» on the understanding of Shinto as a systematic religious tradition. It is some sort of «implicit» understanding of religion as a body of more or less systematized teachings, philosophy, ethics, pantheon, mythology, rituals and a community of priests and worshippers. Moreover, it is also vital to consider the approach of «common» Japanese people to this problematic. The Japanese, if asked about their religious affiliation, refuse to label themselves explicitly as «Shintoists» or «Buddhists»; they usually deny de-
scribing their activities at shrines and temples as «religion» (shukyo) since there is no need for a specific religious affiliation and, needless to say, the term «religion» itself constitutes an ambiguous category not only in the Japanese context1. It can be seen as symptomatic that the so called «popular religious practices», previously underestimated and often neglected, have become recently the main subject of more comprehensive scholarly texts2. If understood this way, we have to see the term «Shinto» as an empty jar that has been (and continues to be) filled up with different contents according to specific historical and social contexts. Therefore it is not surprising that recent writings on Shinto deal with specific localities or treat particular questions with their historical, social and other contexts, as for example treatises of John Nelson on Kamigamo Shrine (Nelson 2000) and Suwa Shrine (Nelson 1996), Scott Schnell’s book about Furukawa matsuri (Schnell 1999) or Karen Smyers’s work dealing with contemporary worship of Inari, a popular Shinto deity (Smyers 1999). As for the notion of «Japanese religion»3 (singular) as it has been applied for example by H. Byron Earhart (Earhart 1982), one has to get over similar problems as in the case of Shinto. The term itself originated at the beginning of the XX century and has been marked by certain ambiguity – «Japanese religion» can be perceived either as a unique «religion» particular to Japan, constituting one of the distinctive features of «Japaneseness» or it can be simply seen as a set of religious phenomena in Japan (cf. Isomae 2005). Even if it is deliberately avoided, the term tends to be understood, more or less implicitly, in the first, «essentialist» or «nativist» sense – as constituting an independent entity or a body of features particular to the «Japanese nation». As such, it can be identified with nihonkyo or «religion of Japan», understood as Japan’s «civil» religion. The term nihonkyo, translated sometimes as «Japanese religion» as well, refers to a set of symbols and characteristics presented as being particular to the «Japanese nation», which is re-produced and promoted by both educational and political systems in Japan. The concept of nihonkyo includes for example the image of Japan as a homogenous nation state with a unique, distinctive culture, but it also stands for a set of rituals and ritualized behaviour connected to those «unique» and «distinctively Japanese» features4. At this point it is legitimate to bring up the question if the conceptualisation of «Japanese religion» did not go a bit too far. As we have seen, Shinto as one of the constitutive elements of the so called «Japanese religion» can be perceived as a mere construct taking on different meanings under various circumstances. Does the establishment of another unifying concept or generalizing category of «Japanese religion» really help to better understand the complex of Japanese religious phenomena? Us-
For a brief recapitulation of Kuroda’s work refer to Okuyama (2001–2002). «...Shinto is not something that has ‘existed’ in Japanese society in some concrete and definable form during different historical periods; rather, it appears as a conceptualization, an abstraction that has had to be produced actively every time it has been used. In contrast to the shrines, or even kami, which are part of a landscape and have formed a concrete focus for ritual action and theological speculation, Shinto has ‘existed’ only as an outcome of such speculation, as an attempt to impose some form of coherence on a chaotic reality. ...“Shinto”... is a concept that creates its own meaning, and that refers only to itself» (Teeuwen 2002: 233–234).
1 For the concept of «religion» in Japan cf. Breen – Teeuwen (2000), Anderson R. (1991), Reader (1991b), Reader – Tanabe (1998), Reader (1991a). 2 Refer e. g. to «Practically Religious» of Reader and Tanabe (Reader – Tanabe 1998). 3 The English term «Japanese religion» has been introduced for the first time by Anesaki Masaharu in 1907 (cf. Isomae 2005). 4 For the concept of nihonkyo refer e. g. to Fitzgerald (1993). Cf. Befu (2001).
ing such terms carelessly brings about a risk of being misunderstood and to be seen as establishing a category of specific religious phenomenon particular to the so called «Japanese nation», a concept that has been recently revealed as an example of «imagined community» (cf. Morris-Suzuki 1998). According to Benedict Anderson, the nation is «an imagined political community» (Anderson B. 1991: 6). It is «imagined» because the members of the community imagine themselves as belonging to the group called «nation», without really knowing all its members. The members of a nation imagine themselves to share a common system of values, historical background, system of communication (language) and a common «destiny». All this – the system of values, language, «national» history and shared destiny – can be seen as elements of «national culture». It is not that unusual to find religious elements constituting an important part of national culture we want to analyze. Indeed, it is not surprising that religion tends to occupy a significant place within the concept of cultural values of nation states which proclaim themselves as «secular» states. It is possible to mention the debate on the constitution of European Union where the «Christian values» as the basis of European culture have had to be mentioned or the well known motto «In God We Trust» on American currency. The elements of national culture are supposed to be particular for each nation and constitute the distinctive markers distinguishing the members of one nation from the members of another one. The nationality provides the individuals with the particular distinctive attribute; it allows their «self-identification» with the group of other members of the nation. It means that the idea of the nation, based on the concept of «national culture» – the complex of distinctive marks of a nation, serves as a frame of orientation. It allows the individual to define his place in the world. The nationality defines such categories as «us» and «them», «citizen» and «alien». It defines the position of an individual within the dimensions of space – as inhabitant of national territory, and time – as bearer of national traditions and national destiny (Handler 1988). National identity became the main form of collective identification (Parmenter 1999). At the same time, the national ideology provides a very solid legitimacy for the system of political power based on the concept of the nation state – that is the reason why modern states are generally defined as nation states. In Japan, the concept of nation state was applied after the Meiji restoration in 1868 and from the beginning it was closely connected with the educational system conceived by the government (Parmenter 1999). The basic purpose of the changes adopted by the Meiji government was to enable the creation of a modern state based on the model of ethnically and culturally unified «Japanese nation». The principles of «Japanese national identity» were conceived in the Imperial Rescript on Education, promulgated in 1890 (Befu 2001). The document came to be regarded as a sacred text and even became object of worship (Parmenter 1999). The emperor and the nation itself became sacred institutions and an elaborate system of national ideology re-presenting «sacralized» essence of Japanese identity was established. The national ideology was intimately connected to the system of official Shinto which is known as «State Shinto» (Hardacre 1989).
The defeat of Japanese Empire in World War II and the subsequent democratization of Japan did not mean the complete abolishment of Japanese national ideology. Even though the separation of religion and the state has been declared, the connection of Japanese state and religion could not be fully abolished. It is because some important religious elements lie in the very roots of modern Japanese state. In modern Japan, those who refuse to pay a proper respect to national symbols such as national flag or anthem are regarded almost as blasphemers and even punished by law. The government officially requires honoring these national symbols (Shimizu 1999). Japanese national ideology was – and still is – closely united with religion and applied in the political sphere. Japanese political representatives officially visit Yasukuni Shrine, the Shinto sanctuary in Tokyo, where souls of Japanese war dead are enshrined. They are believed to have become kami, «deities», or – in this particular context – protective «deities» of Japanese nation. This is based on the idea of sacrifying one’s life to the nation, to the country and to its ruler – the emperor. The visits take place on national holidays and are the topic of great controversy, because among these 2.5 million souls are fourteen convicted Class A war criminals and the shrine is intimately connected with Japanese national militarism (Sturgeon 2006). It is obvious that religious elements constitute an important part of national ideologies. Moreover, national ideologies themselves could be considered as «similar» to religions for their use of elements functioning by a «quasi-religious» way. A national concept can possesses not only doctrines or ideologies, but also sacred symbols, objects of worship, rituals and ceremonies. National ideology creates «national myths» defining the basic principles upon which the nation developed throughout its history. Nation states establish also national or public holidays, serving to commemorate the basic principles or the key-moments in the history, when «national principles» have been applied or founded. These holidays are usually marked with spectacular ceremonies organized by the political representatives of the nation state. Briefly, both national ideologies and religions can serve as «frames of orientation», as ways of organizing time and space, as identity-making frameworks. At this point it is necessary to raise the question which phenomena can be labelled as «religious»? This question reveals that there is still a lot of work to do within the study of religions in Japan. Considering the topic of making the image of «Japanese national culture» and the process of constructing Japanese national identity, it is correct to ask if it is justifiable to exclude these issues from the study of religions in Japan only because these processes «seem» to comprise some elements that «appear» to be «implicitly religious» or «quasi-religious». Should we restrict our research only to doctrinal systems or «explicitly» religious practices of e. g. Japanese Buddhism or new religions? For resolving the problem it is vital and promising to develop a theoretical approach, detailed, broad and innovative, towards the issue from the point of view of the science of religions. At the same time it is no less important not to restrict the area of the research to the «explicitly» religious phenomena. It is also necessary to conduct further fieldwork, mainly within the domain of Japan’s educational and cultural policy.
It is promising to turn our attention to the science of religions that understands religious phenomena as being constituted under specific circumstances, with specific historical, social, political, etc. contexts. If understood this way, it is impossible to begin scholarly analysis with establishing a universal category of «religion» as a phenomenon «sui generis». This is also the case of Shinto, since it should also be seen as a concept that takes shape in a specific context. From this point of view, the term «Shinto» has to be seen as an analytical term, as a general expression similar to that of «religion», even though it is a native, quite archaic Japanese word1. It also means that a responsible approach to the concepts of Shinto from the point of view of social sciences should perceive the issue in the context of creating Japanese national identity and culture. It is evident that Shinto constitutes a significant component in the making of modern Japanese national state; therefore it is vital to take into account all possible political and social influences in the process of constructing the concepts of the way of the kami. Such a critical position has a significant consequence to the scholarly approach towards religious phenomena of Japan and towards Shinto in particular. It means that the bias affecting many accounts on the issue lies mainly in the inherent understanding of Shinto as a consistent, unique phenomenon distinctive to the equally homogenous and exclusive «Japanese culture». This assumption is arguable, since «Shinto», «Japanese nation» and «Japanese culture» are mere conceptualisations that can be deconstructed as originating under specific historical, social, and other circumstances. They can be seen as terms that do not have any meaning «per se», if considered apart from their context. Similarly, it is necessary to pay more attention when using such terms as «Japanese religion», «religion in Japan» (singular) or «religions in Japan» (plural) – a more cautious application of such terms is able to discourage confusion that could arise from implicit understanding of those terms. In short – it is useful to set up an explicit preliminary description of such general terms at the very beginning of one’s work. It is also of vital importance to carry out the process of systematizing the data with severe methodological precautions. That is bound to prevent bias and prejudice from becoming a subconscious part of our conclusions on religions in Japan. Bibliography: Anderson B. Imagined Communities. N. Y., 1991. Anderson R. W. What Constitutes Religious Activity? (I) // Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1991). Vol. 18. № 4. P. 369–372. Befu H. Hegemony of Homogeneity. An Anthropological Analysis of Nihonjinron. Melbourne, 2001. Bellah R. N. Imagining Japan. The Japanese Tradition and Its Modern Interpretation. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London, 2003. Breen J., Teeuwen M. Introduction: Shinto Past and Present // Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami. Ed. by J. Breen, M. Teeuwen. Honolulu, 2000. P. 1–12. Earhart B. H. Japanese Religion: Unity and Diversity. 3rd ed. Belmont, 1982.
Fitzgerald T. Japanese Religion as Ritual Order // Religion (1993). Vol. 23. P. 315–341. Handler R. Nationalism and the Politics of Culture in Quebec. Madison, 1988. Hardacre H. Shintō and the State, 1868–1988. Princeton, 1989. Isomae J. Deconstructing «Japanese Religion». A Historical Survey // Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (2005). Vol. 32. № 2. P. 235–248. Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. In 9 vols. Tokyo, 1983. Kuroda T. Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion // Journal of Japanese Studies (1981). Vol. 7. № 1. P. 1–21. Kuroda T. The Discourse on the «Land of Kami» (Shinkoku) in Medieval Japan. National Consciousness and International Awareness // Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1969). Vol. 23. № 3–4. P. 354–385. Morris-Suzuki T. Re-Inventing Japan. Time, Space, Nation. N. Y., 1998 Nelson J. A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine. Seattle; London, 1996. Nelson J. Enduring Identities. The Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan. Honolulu, 2000. Okuyama M. Redefining Shinto // Hieron. Religionistická ročenka (2001–2002). Vol. VI– VII. Parmenter L. Constructing National Identity in a Changing World: Perspectives in Japanese Education // British Journal of Sociology of Education (1999). Vol. 20. № 4. P. 453–463. Reader I Religion in Contemporary Japan. London, 1991. Reader I. What Constitutes Religious Activity? (II) // Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (1991). Vol. 18. № 4. P. 373–376. Reader I., Tanabe G. J. Practically Religious. Worldly Benefits and the Common Religion of Japan. Honolulu, 1998. Shimizu T. Japan, the Ambiguous, And Its Flag and Anthem // Japan Quarterly (1999). Vol. 46. № 4. P. 3–9. Schnell S. The Rousing Drum. Ritual Practice in a Japanese Community. Honolulu, 1999. Smyers K. The Fox and the Jewel. Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship. Honolulu, 1999. Sturgeon W. D. Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine: Place of Peace or Place of Conflict? Regional Politics of History and Memory in East Asia. Boca Raton, 2006. Teeuwen M. Comparative Perspectives on the Emergence of jindō and Shinto // Bulletin of SOAS (2007). Vol. 70. № 2. P. 373–402. Teeuwen M. From jindō to Shinto. A Concept Takes Shape // Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (2002). Vol. 29. № 3–4. P. 233–263. Teeuwen M., Scheid B. Tracing Shinto in the History of kami Worship. Editor’s Introduction // Japanese Journal of Religious Studies (2002). Vol. 29. № 3–4. P. 195–207.
1 The word «Shinto» appears in «Nihon Shoki», but its meaning and the reading of the term have undergone significant changes over time (cf. Kuroda 1981; Teeuwen 2007).
or in reference publications like the comprehensive Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha characterizes Shinto as «Japan’s indigenous rel...
Published on Feb 4, 2012
or in reference publications like the comprehensive Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan. Kodansha characterizes Shinto as «Japan’s indigenous rel...