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Home » 3. Institutions and Administrative Practices » Ancient
Shin'i, Shinkai
Although the terms differ, both words denote ranks granted to deities by the royal court. Such ranks were given to individual deities rather than to shrines. There were three basic ranking systems: civil ranks (ikai), military merit ranks (kun'i), and princely ranks (hon'i). There were also special grants of temporary ranks (shakui) and ranks issued by the Yoshida Shrine family (sōgen senji). Most of the divine ranks were not designed specifically for deities — they were the same as those used for humans. In contrast to the civil ranks for humans, which numbered up to thirty from "junior initial rank, lower grade," deities were allotted only the top fifteen ranks ("senior sixth rank, upper grade," or higher). Merit ranks and princely ranks consisted of twelve and four levels, respectively, for both humans and deities.
       The most commonly granted type of rank for a deity was the civil rank (ikai). The first recorded instance of ranking a deity appears in a Nihon shoki (Chronicles of Japan, 720) entry for the seventh month of the first year of Temmu's reign (672). Three deities -- Kamo no kotoshironushi no kami of Takechi in Yamato Province (present-day Nara Prefecture), the deity of Musa, and Mifutsuhime no kami of Muraya -- all had ranks bestowed on them for having provided divine assistance to the prince who became Great King Tenmu (r. 672-86) during the Jinshin War. Thereafter, many deities were granted civil ranks, and thus the ikai can be seen as the most common among the shin'i. Merit ranks (kun'i) were originally presented to humans as rewards for distinguished military service. From the mid-seventh century on, however, merit ranks were granted to persons outside the military as well. The first instance of a merit rank being given as shin' i was in 765, when Tsukubusuma no kami of Asai District in Ōmi Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture) became the first kami to receive the eighth merit rank, granted to acknowledge his help in pacifying the Emi no Oshikatsu Disturbance of the year before. There are examples of deities receiving merit ranks up through the middle of the tenth century, but the practice seems to have ceased at that time. A merit rank seems to have been usually given to a deity who rendered supernatural assistance in an armed conflict such as a civil war or a war against foreign foes. Princely ranks (hon'i) were reserved primarily for princes and princesses of the royal family, and were not often granted to deities. A famous example of this rare event occurred in the twelfth month of 749, when the first and the second princely ranks were bestowed, respectively, upon the Great Deity and the Hime Deity of the Usa Hachiman Shrine in Buzen Province (present-day Fukuoka Prefecture). The above is an example of the imperial court granting what is commonly called shin'i or shinkai to a deity.
       In the bureaucratic procedure for granting a rank to a deity, the Jingikan (the Council of Kami Affairs) or the provincial governor first petitioned the royal court. The nomination was then discussed at a meeting of senior nobles held in the guard-post chamber (jin no sadame). After deliberation, a memorial was sent to the tennō recommending the nomination. When the tennō approved the memorial, the Jingikan delivered the official announcement of the title to deities established within the capital. For deities outside of the capital, the announcement was passed on via official edict (daijōkanpu). The significance of granting divine ranks has been debated for a long time. Some scholars have suggested that granting ranks and land to deities were essentially measures to grant economic privileges to certain shrines. Others have speculated that differences in types of offerings (heihaku) reflected class distinctions. However, the current consensus is that, unlike human ranks, divine ranks were purely honorific and had little to do with economic privileges. Nor does there seem to have been any particular connection between divine ranks and the official shrine system.
       A temporary rank (shakui) was a divine rank presented by a provincial governor to a deity in his province. In the Heian period, provincial governors and the Jingikan frequently ignored official procedures for approval and arbitrarily granted divine ranks; sometimes, the court issued directives to prohibit this practice. Starting in the late medieval period, the Yoshida family began conferring divine ranks called sōgen senji (literally, "fundamental edicts" upon deities. In the beginning, these ranks were granted with royal approval, but later on the Yoshida family began to issue them on their own (see Yoshida Shintō). [Translator's note: the term sōgen senji stems from Sōgen Shintō (fundamental Shintō) which the Yoshida family advocated.]

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"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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