Since I finished uploading my rough translation of Kawamura Tadanobu’s article “The Ideals behind the Foundation of the Jinja Honcho”, I thought I also might make a few comments on it. Obviously, this is an ideological piece that on the surface aims to justify shrine’s continuing tax exemption under law. However, to my knowledge that isn’t in any especial danger of being taken away currently, so I think the real purpose of the piece is to communicate Kawamura’s imagined future for shrine Shinto.

Note: Shrine Shinto refers to the Shinto rituals conducted at shrines. This is different from sect Shinto (Konko-kyo, Oyashiro-kyo, etc.) which is more focused on doctrine and functions more like a “personal religion”.

Kawamura sees Shrine Shinto as intrinsically connected to the national body, or “kokutai”. Kokutai, in its original meaning was something like the soul of the imagined community that makes of a nation, like the sum of its high-order ideographs. Thus every nation has a kokutai. As Japan became militarized and chauvinistic before WWII, the word kokutai was constantly evoked ideologically to indicate Japan’s superiority to all other nations. Thus today, the word is very much associated with nationalism. Recently, I’ve noticed some (conservative) people, like in this article, have started to break the taboo against using it.

I think a difficulty of this term, however, arises from its connection to the idea of the “nation”. What is the Japanese “nation”? Some scholars argue that nations are a modern invention that developed along with the modern “state”. Even in the Edo period, there wasn’t a strong idea of a single Japanese nation, but identity lay with class or domain/geographic associations. Of course, the kokutai is tied to the Emperor. So I suppose we could think of the state and people associated with the Emperor as the nation. Originally the Yamato court (ancient ancestors of today’s imperial house) controlled only a small portion of the land now considered Japan. Then Japan grew and incorporated other peoples (ex. hinomoto polity, ainu, okinawans, and at one point Taiwanese, Koreans etc.) If we see that as the case, the kokutai cannot be tied to blood/lineage, but must be tied to customs. So while invoking a timeless kokutai might be inspiring, I think it is important for the author to consider what that means on a broader scale.

On a related note, it is interesting to consider what Kawamura’s ideal of shrine Shinto might mean for shrines on the periphery, that is shrines in Hawaii and Taiwan and the like. Most people in the postwar era have a rather restricted view of Shinto as “only for (racial) Japanese”. This idea seems rather shallow. If the kokutai and the seitai (political system) are separate, as Kawamura emphasizes they are, then the kokutai must have some deeper/broader meaning than that legal state boundaries. Do shrines outside of Japan’s legal borders have the ability to protect the kokutai? If so, is the kokutai then a universal ideal rather than something tied the Japanese nation-state? I don’t know what Kawamura might think about these questions, and it is possible he just has a modern nationalistic point of view that does not see shrines as possible in overseas places. And at times, the policies of the jinja honcho can be depressingly political.

Anyway, I though the article was quite interesting, even if I have some serious questions about its stated ideals. I agree about the benefit of ritual. The discussion about “public good” and shrines is a very complex and I think would benefit from a greater historical awareness of the relationship between religion and public good in the West, since that is whence the postwar tax-exemption status comes. But it is quite fascinating to read various ideologues and scholars opinions about it.


That Noble Banner

The Fourth and last part of a translation of an article in the Jinja Shinpo (Heisei 29, 9 Nov., p4) called The Ideals behind the Foundation of the Jinja Honcho by Kawamura Tadanobu

Shrine Shinto After the War
The public benefit and communality of shrines does not come from its position as a judicial person, but shrine’s solemn public ritual. The solemnity of ritual and preservation of the national body are fundamentally connected. Especially because of that spirituality, the public benefit of shrines exists. It is not that communality is preserved through the system. That is why even though the Shinto Directive changed shrines into religious judicial persons, their public benefit and communality is able to exsist independent of the system. On this point, Ashidu Uzuhiko’s “Jingi Seido Shisou-shi ni tsuki Kanken: Honchou Koushi Kyougaku Aninjinin ni saishite” (Jinja Honchou Kyougaku Kenkyuushitsu, Showa 58) explains as follows:

Under the nation’s ritual system, even if the hope for restoring shrines as legally the “ritual of the nation”, it is unforgivable to retreat from defending to the last the creed that the essence of shrine spirituality is “the spiritual foundation of society and nation of Japanese people”. It is unforgivable to allow shrines themselves to be one among many personal religions.

After the war, along with the change in legal status, there was the chance to explore the Way of being a religion diverged from the national body. But most shrines chose to continue the Way of being one with the national body. The Jinja Honcho, which Ashidu and others strove to establish, is not simply a cooperative association, but a group of fellows gathering under a single noble banner. That noble banner is that shrines, passing through the national history, have become inseparable from the national body, and in the future too are suitable as the spiritual foundation of the nation. It is the war banner for which Shintoists have staked their lives and honour to protect and preserve from the very foundation of the nation.

In everyday speech, there is a trend to understand the Jinja Honcho to mean the administrative office located in Yoyogi, but as Mure Masashi (at that time, director of the Jinja Honcho), explained in an article called “The term Jinja Honcho” (this paper, Showa 59 Jan. 23rd, p4), the administrative office is only one part of the Jinja Honcho, and is thus the Jinja Honcho only in a narrow sense. Furthermore, it is valid to understand the Yoyogi administrative office as the standard bearer charged with holding the noble banner by the consensus of all the shrines making up the Jinja Honcho. The path of Shrine Shinto is not in law or organizations, but is together with this noble banner. From the viewpoint of a Shintoist, if this noble banner disappears, the path also disappears. If something happens like the banner being lowered, the social trust and cultural value of shrines which the pioneers struggled to build will have received a terrible blow. It is for this reason that Ashizu used the severe term “defend to the last”, I think.

Shrine Shinto has faced many other dangers besides the Shinto Directive. Whatever adversity, Shintoists must aid the imperial fortune, promote the preservation of shrines, follow the Great Way of Kannagara, anticipate strict deportment of waving that noble banner high, aid their fellows, strictly conducting ritual, and research into scholarly matters. In the over 70 years since its foundation, the Jinja Honcho has had to face many issues relating to standard of protecting shrines. Once more, the noble banner is raised high and for the sake of more unity in this the weight of responsibility as the standard bearer goes evermore heavier.

Part Three of a translation of an article in the Jinja Shinpo (9 Nov., p4) called The Ideals behind the Foundation of the Jinja Honcho by Kawamura Tadanobu

The Public Benefit of Shrines
According to the above law and the property tax revisions, it was established that shrine lands were a place necessary for conducting ritual. Then, around Taisho 13 there were arguments that lands used for social welfare like shrine and temple grounds should be open to the everyone. In response, the Shrine Bureau in the Home Ministry argued that shrines were essentially for conducting ritual so the protection of their solemnity was paramount. In response to criticism that the public benefit of shrines and temples was not a lot, there was a great meaning to the reconfirmation that just the conducting of rituals was plenty of public benefit. If that wasn’t so, shrines which could not afford to turn part of their grounds into public parks for the sake of the public would have no public benefit.

Well, shrine ritual can be divided broadly into two categories of public rites and private rites. Public rites are prayers for the public the nation conducts through shrines, and categories within that were established by law. Through rites for the public, the Great Way of the imperial country can be fostered, and that is a public benefit. In contrast, private rites are conducted for the requests of individuals or groups, and include “kito” rites. Private rites too have public benefit, but influence of them is not as desirable as of public rites due to their difference in intent. However, if ritual to be conducted according to that law, the “ritualists must take the nation upon their backs and face the kami”. Without that spirit, they cannot inspire the parishioners. True public rites, must be conducted by true ritualists.

Here, consider the reason unranked shrines were not given tax exemption. Reasons probably include financial ones, but the reason the government was so hesitant about resolving the issue was that over half of the unranked shrines were served by a dual-employed ritualist. So they were not conducting public rites, but had spiritually diverged from the national body and were just conducting private rites is the main reason, I think. Perhaps for that reason the government worked to investigate the rites and facilities of unranked shrines and raised them to village shrines when the Jingiin was first established.

The essence of public rites is that each areas shrine conducts them together. All shrines in the nation conduct them and support the rites conducted at the imperial palace and Ise Jingu, and thus all citizen receive the Great Heart and can pray for national things like world peace and stuff. The calling for Shintoists is to receive the Great Heart and pray together. This is also why all ritualists distribute the Ise talisman. Because the Ise talisman started being distributed across the nation by the desire of the Meiji Emperor, its connection to the national body has become stronger since the premodern days when travelling oshi distributed them.



Happy New Year!

It is the new year, and the modern tradition in Japan is to make hatsumoude–the first shrine visit of the year–to a local or famous shrine. As I was living in the city these past few years, I’ve been going to not a shrine, but a temple, to ring the Joya bells and listen to the chanting of sutras. There wasn’t a shrine near my house then and I regularly visited the temple for gagaku (Imperial court music) practice. But this year I moved back to the country, so I returned to visiting my local shrine on new year’s day.


Dressing in kimono, we left our house for the shrine shortly after midnight. Along the way we could see aerial fireworks set off over the river by one of the big hotels on hill. At the shrine there was already a lengthy line of people waiting to pay their respects at the shrine. Giving a short bow before passing under the torii gate, we took our place at the end of chattering queue. The night was relatively warm for Hokkaido with a very light snow falling. The moon gave a pale blueish glow above us, but the shrine grounds were lit brightly with lanterns all along the path. Gagaku music also streamed from near by the shrine office, but the happy chatters of new year wishes from the people in line gave the shrine a lively atmosphere.

Nearing the front the shrine, the wind picked up swirling the dry snow around us and tugging at the shawl I was wearing. We pulled out a couple coins from our purses and I took off my gloves in order to be able to clap. Standing before shrine’s door, we tossed in our coin, rattled the suzu bell, bowed lightly, bowed deeply twice, clapped and then recited silently:

“I am ○○ of Furano City. The new year has dawned and I beg your kind attention this coming year.”

Then bowing only again deeply and then lightly, we descended the steps from the shrine. Laughing about the chill wind to peer at the omamori and new year’s charms. After getting a few, we made our way back home to enjoy hot matcha tea along with flower petal sweets. Truly a new year has dawned!


There are plenty of books and sites that describe “how to do hatsumode”, but here is the basic order:

  1. Bow lightly before the first torii gate and pass under it.
  2.  If there is a unfrozen chozu basin, rinse your hands and mouth.
  3. In front the shrine door, toss in your coin and/or ring the bell.
  4. Bow lightly once, then deeply twice. Clap twice.
  5. Silent state your name and address and beg the indulgence of the kami (“Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu”)
  6. Bow deeply once, and then lightly once.
  7. Visit the shrine amulet stall and get new ofuda/omamori if you need them. Many people like to draw an omikuji too.
  8. After passing under the torii when leaving, turn around and bow lightly as a farewell.

Part two of a translation of an article in the Jinja Shinpo (9 Nov., p4) called The Ideals behind the Foundation of the Jinja Honcho by Kawamura Tadanobu

Shrines and “Public”
The words “communal” and “public benefit” have the ring of good influence on society. However, both concepts lack any clear definition. For that reason, in the debate about the communal nature and public benefit in the shrine and religious worlds, we must first give definitions for them. For example, Prof. Kobayashi Masaya, a professor at Chiba University Graduate School in his book “Shrines and Politics” (Kadokawa, Heisei 28), uses the word “communal” (lit. “public togetherness”) not in the binary of “public” and “private”, but rather as a trinary of public, private, and communal as a mediator between them.

Whichever viewpoint one takes–binary or trinary–Shinto scholars must not forget to distinguish between the “national body” and the “political body” when discussing “public” or “communal”. Needless to say, Shrine Shinto and the national body exist as an inseparable whole. The nation that the shrine world has struggled to protect both pre and post war is the “national body” bestowed with the unbroken imperial line, not the “political body”. About the relation between shrines and the nation, Okada Kaneyoshi, staff member of the Shrine Bureau in the Home Ministry in the “Outline of the Shrine Ritual System” (Dainippon Hourei Shuppan, Showa 11) explains concisely, “Shrines existed concurrently with the foundation of the nation and along with the national body are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated from the empire’s future splendour.

Through history from the foundation of the nation the national body and shrines have served as the spiritual basis of establishing the nation, they were not something created during the Meiji Restoration. During the Meiji period, directly in the face of rapid modernization, it was a reconfirmation of the history of the nation’s rituals and no more than reforming and expanding the system of reverence for the kami and emperor, which should clarifying the whole of the Great Way of eternal Heaven and Earth. Modern Shinto history extends straight until the early modern period, in other words the understanding that the so-called “State Shinto” was invented held by many Shinto scholars and citizens is an detached explanation born after the war.

Well, what is the posture of the nation that shinto ritualists can have expectations of? Otsu Junichiro, an diet member from Mito who worked to protect shrines, on the occasion of the Meiji Emperor’s death, collected from the All Japan Shinto Ritualist Society Bulletin (#167, Taisho 1, September) a “Manifesto for each prefecture’s ritualist group”, and pressed for Shintoists to work hard in promoting the Way.

“By heritage, those to become Shintoists are educators explaining the national body and character to the subject masses. They are pioneers spreading to the world the bequeathed teachings of the imperial ancestors. They are evangelists clarifying the imperial morality home and abroad. That duty is exceeding important. How can we express the position of missionaries in the religious world?! Those who are Shintoists, in the singular time of today, revere the bequeathed teachings of the imperial ancestors, make the substance of the previous emperors’ edicts, lecture on how to spread the Way more and more, foster the national characteristics, and aid the imperial fortune coeval with Heaven and Earth.”

That ritualists are those who carry the duty of protecting the national body is written in the first article of the Home Ministry’s Kunrei #9 issued on Taisho 2, April 21st “Guidance for ritualists as shrines below imperial and national shrines”. [Excerpted] For that reason, ritualists are those who regularly serve of the kami, and at the same time aid the imperial fortune by means of rituals.

As made clear from the above, the imperial house and the national body is central to the “nation”, “public” and “communal” in relation to the shrine world. Shintoists, as the model of the embodiment of the nation’s morality, judge themselves stricter than other religious organizations and seek to serve for the sake of the national body.

Shrines and Tax-Exemption

Part one of a translation of an article in the Jinja Shinpo (9 Nov., p4) called The Ideals behind the Foundation of the Jinja Honcho by Kawamura Tadanobu


Fushimi Inari Jinja in Sapporo

The Public and Communal Nature of Shrines
It is certainly a privilege that legal Religious Organizations, including shrines, do not have to pay property tax under the tax law in Japan. The main basis for this privilege is that Religious Organizations are intrinsically public and communal in nature; and citizens expect the operation of Religious Organizations to be more fair than that of average businesses. To put it another way, if the religious world acts as a corporation business that goes against the public good, and looses the trust of society, then there is the concern that that privilege will be taken away. For that reason, Religious Organizations themselves are constantly seeking verification of their communal and public nature, and they must always work towards realizing that nature.

There are those with the opinion that this privilege is not due to Religious Organizations public benefit, but rather is based on their traditional authority, customs, and culture. However, that historical awareness is not pertinent. It is true that in feudalistic society, there were tax-free lands such as the red seal lands, black seal lands, and excluded lands, and after the Meiji Restoration when the land types and tax code was established, generally shrine lands were as a rule tax free (Meiji 6 March 25th, #114 Proclamation, “Chisho Meisho Kubetsu”) However, in the Edo period, not by any means were all shrines, temples, shinshi, and butusdou were given red seal letters. Also, in the prewar period, the “private lands” of unranked shrines were not given the privilege of tax-exemption. Private lands of shrines ranked village shrine (sonsha) or above were tax exempt. In contrast, there were no applicable regulations for unranked shrines. In the survey of Showa 4, there were 60 thousand unranked shrines making up over half the local shrine number. There were no great changes in this until the end of the war. On the other hand, the private lands of temples and churches were given tax exemption by the Showa 14 April 8th law #77, “Religious Organizations Law”. So we can say that temples and churches were given better treatment than over half of shrines in Japan. Naturally, those connected with shrines petitioned for better treatment, but the authorities left it at that. It wasn’t until after the war with the Religious Legal Persons system that all shrines’ land become tax-exempt.

The Meiji government considered the red seal lands etc. as one of the feudalistic privileges that should be dismantled. Also, it limited the expansion of tax-exempt shrines lands to a maximum area for reasons of public finance. For that reason, we cannot say that the privileges early modern land system were carried over directly into the modern nation’s land system. Also, prewar shrines were “the nation’s ritual”, and both physical and human assets were considered public facilities under the national jurisdiction. Generally, those prefectural, district, village, and unranked shrines all called “minsha” were also considered public facilities just like national and imperial shrines were, and their private lands should have been tax-exempt as public facilities, so the tax system lacked consistency. From the above, we can recognize the public benefit and communal nature of shrines and their lands after the Meiji Restoration and understand why that privilege was given.

Watts Yabusame Clinic


Shu-chan, the dosanko horse I often ride.

The past few years yabusame (Japanese horseback archery) has been undergoing an interesting discussion: namely, defining what “yabusame” is. There are three main “elite” schools of yabusame in Japan: Ogasawara, Takeda, and Nanbu. But there is also a “common” style of yabusame, often practiced by small local groups and widely varying in tradition. Since this “common” style of yabusame is not concerned with assiduously protecting a single family’s ancient traditions, it is free to make adaptions to make yabusame for affordable and safe for normal people. A problem arises however when there are too many adaptions. Thus when does it stop being yabusame and become merely “horseback archery”?

In response to this issue, there has been an effort to sort of formulize this “common” yabusame as a sport (kyougi yabusame). I have some thoughts on this, which I won’t go into now, but one condition that has been raised is the requirement to attend a yabusame workshop before being able to participate in some competitions. Thus last weekend, we held such a workshop here in Hokkaido.

The workshop was divided up into a morning lecture and an afternoon practicum. The weather was very fine, cool but sunny, so it was great fun for me, despite my clumsy horseriding…. I found the lecture very interesting as well. It was based on a newly produced textbook. In it, kyougi yabusame was defined as being open to all people (including women, children, and foreigners), but using traditional Japanese saddles, stirrups, bits, clothing, bow, and arrows, as well as horses that are at least part Japanese lineage. This last one is quite important I think because Japanese horses, or at least the breed I’ve ridden (dosanko), are much smaller and move a bit differently than Western thoroughbreds.

There was also a review of some of the characteristics of Japanese horsemanship which differ from Western horsemanship. For example, the horse is mounted from the (horse’s) left and the leg is kept straight, which not only always one to mount and dismount quickly, but also keeps the hem of wide hakama trousers from getting caught beneath you. The saddle is also tied in a different way so that it is adjusted/tightened by the rider while sitting in the saddle. Anyway, its a pretty exciting time in yabusame’s development.