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Home » 5. Rites and Festivals » Rituals in Daily Life
Shinsōsai (Shinto Funeral Rites)
The term shinsōsai refers to funeral rites conducted according to Shinto, as opposed to Buddhist, tradition. In the Edo period, by dictate of the Tokugawa shogunate, all Japanese families were required to be registered with a Buddhist temple as part of efforts to suppress Christianity; also as part of this policy, Buddhist funerals were likewise prescribed. Nevertheless, many Shinto clergy considered theirs to be the indigenous faith, and some petitioned the government for permission to conduct Shinto funerary rites, basing their appeal on the shogunate's own rules pertaining to the Shinto priesthood (Shosha negi-kannushi-sho-hatto). Thus, during the Edo Period, even Shinto funerals came to be performed in some localities.

[The origin and development of Shinsōsai]
A faint trace of uniquely Shinto funeral customs can be seen in the mythological account of the rites performed for Amewakahiko, as recorded in the Kojiki: "They built a funeral house and had a river goose act as the bearer of the burial offerings, a heron the broom-bearer, a kingfisher the bearer of the food offerings, a sparrow the grinding woman, and a pheasant the weeping woman. Having done all of this, they sang and danced for eight days and eight nights." (34:3-4) Funeral rites including Buddhist clergy can be seen as early as those for Emperor Temmu, in which monk and nuns participated in the wailing and eulogizing ceremony at the transitional resting place. Moreover, his consort and successor, Empress Jitō, chose cremation for his remains. In the Shoku-nihongi (Continued Record of Japan), we find this comment: "The custom of cremation began with the priest Dōshō," another historical reminder of the extent of Buddhist influence. Thus, involvement of the Buddhist clergy in Japanese funerals begins at the end of the seventh century, but we find that the style of Buddhist funerary rites that became formalized dates to the Heian Period, in the funeral of Emperor Go-ichijō (1008-36). Yin-Yang masters divined an auspicious date and time for the funeral and conducted ground-purification ceremonies on the site; Buddhist monks made prayers and repeatedly read sutras, while the essential components of funeral rites, such as the hinden-igyo no gi (ceremony at the transitional resting place of the imperial remains) and the gusen no gi (ceremonial offerings of food) conducted at the funeral house) were assiduously performed by that emperor's attendants. Given the expansion of Buddhist Pure Land faith during the Heian Period, one could certainly get the impression that Buddhist priests had cornered the market on funerary rites in that era, but in fact their influence was only partial. It was only after the Heian period, when Buddhist funerary practices gradually spread, that they became incorporated into the funerary customs of the masses. Buddhist involvement in funerals peaked with the temple registration system imposed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. In this way, Japan's indigenous funeral practices, to which Buddhist rites were later added, have been partially preserved to this day.
       In the course of development of funeral practices in Japan, the project of trying to establish a "pure" form of shinto (Yuiitsu Shintō) completely independent of the Buddhist rites began with Yoshida Kanetomo. Thereafter, his Yoshida school conducted funerals following their own formal style that did not involve Buddhist clergy. Shinto priests began demanding such rites in earnest during the mid-Edo Period, when Buddhist temples became increasingly involved in funerals.By the late Edo period, Shinto priests had organized into a formal movement calling for their exemption from the temple registration requirement. The shogunate did come to exempt priests and their legitimate offspring from temple registration provided they first received permission from the Yoshida family, and condoned their performance of shinsōsai. Generally, Shinto priests' other family members were not exempted from temple registration, but in some domains they were recognized as shrine officiates and therefore exempted. A noteworthy example of this movement was centered in the Tsuwano domain of Iwami Province (in present-day Shimane Prefecture), led by Oka Kumaomi, a priest of the shrine Tominagayama Hachimangu. As a result of his efforts, he was granted an exemption in 1847, and by 1867 the domain's government itself adopted Shinto funeral rites as official policy. The daimyo of that region, Kamei Koremi, and a retainer named Fukuba Yoshishizu later assumed important roles in the new Meiji Government's Bureau of Divinities (Jingi Jimukyoku) for the significant role the played in setting religious policy without their domain. Their ideas left a major mark on subsequent Meiji religious policy. In 1868, the first year of the Meiji Era, the bureau issued directive number 320, stating: "It is hereby proclaimed that funerals for Shinto clergy and their family members shall henceforth be conducted in accordance with shinsōsai Shinto funerary rites." In 1872, the government prohibited autonomous funerals (jisō), requiring rites to be performed by either Shinto (shinkan) or Buddhist priests. That same year, the Grand Council of State (Dajōkan) issued Proclamation Number 192, allowing shinkan Shinto priests to conduct funerals if so requested by their shrine parishioners (ujiko). In 1882, shinkan priests designated to perform official state rites were barred from involvement in funerary rites, however, shinkan of shrines at the Prefectural and local levels were allowed to maintain the status quo for the time being. Furthermore, because the schools of sectarian Shinto were permitted to hold funerals, the practice spread quite broadly among their adherents. The system continued until Japan's defeat in 1945; thereafter the various laws were abolished, and Shinto funerals were permitted, and though the great majority of Japanese have continued to follow Buddhist customs, there is a growing demand for Shinto rites.

[Shinto Funeral Procedures]
The late Edo Period in particular saw many individually published works intended to serve as manuals for Shinto funerals. Renowned examples include Furukawa Mitsura's Sōgiryaku [Funeral Rite Outline] and the Tsuwano Clan's Sōgi-yōroku [Funeral Rite Essentials] and Reisai-yōroku [(Shinto) Funeral Rite Essentials]. Classics containing information on Confucian funeral rituals, particularly Zhu Xi's Family Rituals (Ch. Jiali, J. Karei), had an enormous influence on such manuals. In September of 1872, the Ministry of Religious Education (Kyōbushō) enacted the Sōsai-ryakushiki [Summary of Funeral Customs], which established official Shinto ceremonial procedures. Meanwhile, the various Shinto sects developed their own forms. In contemporary Shrine Shinto, procedures are determined by the Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja-Honchō)' two publications, the Sho-saishiki-yōkō [Essentials of All Festivals and Ceremonies] and the Shinsōsai no Shiori [Guide to Shinto Funerals]. According to the latter, the main rituals comprising the rite are: (1) makura-naoshi no gi (pillow-adjustment rite); (2) nōkan no gi (coffin rite); (3) kyūzen-nikku no gi (rite of providing daily food offerings to the deceased); (4) ubusuna-jinja ni kiyū-hōkoku (rite of reporting to the deities the return of the spirit to their natal shrine); (5) bosho-jichinsai or batsujo no gi (gravesite ground-breaking or purification rite); (6) tsuyasai no gi (a ritual wake); (7) senrei no gi (rite for transferring the deceased spirit); (8) hakkyūsai no gi (rite to send the coffin off from the room); (9) hakkyū- go-batsujo no gi (room purification rite after sending off the coffin); (10) sōjōsai no gi (grave-side rites); (11) maisōsai or kasōsai no gi (interment or crematory rite); (12) the kikasai no gi (the rite of the family's return home). Thereafter, rites are also commonly repeated for the deceased's spirit before the temporary altar (mitamaya, lit. "spiritual abode") erected within the family house (yokujitsusai) on the following day, every tenth day after the death (maitōkasai i.e. on the tenth, twentieth, thirtieth, fortieth, fiftieth days after the date of death), on the one-hundredth day, and on the one-year anniversary. The one-year rite is followed by the gōshisai, a rite marking the deceased's joining with ancestral spirits at the family shrine. (This is sometimes held after the 50th or 100th day observances).
       Needless to say, the worldview (sekaikan) underlying these rites differs from that of Buddhist rites, reflecting traditional Shinto conceptions of the afterlife. The contrast can be most clearly seen in the practice of kuzen, whereby the deceased is offered a portion of regular family meals, reflecting the belief that the spirit of the loved one continues to be near to home, living as before. As such, kuzen is a defining element of the Shinto funeral ritual, distinguishing it from Buddhist funerals in which food offerings bear little religious significance. By the senrei no gi that is usually performed during the wake, the spirit of the deceased is transferred to and placed in repose within a reiji (spirit vessel); the body is buried in a grave or mausoleum. The reiji is placed in its temporary abode until the end of the mourning period, when it is joined with those of the family's ancestors, thereby assuming the role of an eternal household-protecting deity. Thus, after interment, both the temporary abode and the grave continue to serve as sites for commemoration. After the rites for sending off the coffin and burial are performed, the family returns home for the kikasai, which includes the seibatsu no gi or purification rite; the common use of salt after funerals in Japan is emblematic of this. This too derives from the "broom bearer" found in Japanese Shinto mythology. The fact that the kuzen food offerings and seibatsu purification rites have passed into Japanese Buddhist customs as well is testimony to the tenaciousness of native tradition. In a sense, this reflects a partial rejection of the Buddhist vision of the afterlife; shinsōsai funeral rites attempt to reflect Japan's pre-Buddhist worldview.

— Motegi Sadazumi
Shinsōsai

Tokyo, 2003

©Ōsawa Kōji

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