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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Research on Shinto
Anthropological Research
Theories of Kingship and Structural Analysis
       The theoretical impact of anthropology on Shintō scholarship can be divided into two categories: (1) research on the emperor system based on theories of kingship; and (2) mythological research through structural analysis. First, the foundations of theories of kingship were established early on in the twentieth century by British anthropologist A.M. Hocart's Kingship, and by classicist and anthropologist James G. Frazer's The Magical Origin of Kings. Subsequently there followed further theoretical developments and case studies, carried out by British scholars on the subject of kingship in Africa, such as by Meyer Fortes et al. in African Political Systems. In recent years, the areas studied have diversified and broadened in scope, as can be seen in the work of Clifford Geertz on Negara, a study of Indonesia (specifically Bali), and Marshall Sahlins' Islands of History, concerning Hawaii. About Southeast Asia, Ōbayashi Taryō has written The Structure of Shinga Mangaraja, while Matsubara Masanori's Aspects of Kingship (Ōken no isō) deals with the general dimensions of kingship in Asia and Oceania. Next, there are several stages to the development of the structural analysis of kingship. The basis for this was laid by French sociologist, folklorist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss in Primitive Classification (co-authored with Emile Durkheim in 1903), which argued classification and association reflect a systematized world-view (sekai-kan). Emphasis on classification and social organization continued in the work of both Georges Dumézil, an Indo-European religious historian and comparative mythologist and also anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. The latter contributed to the success of structural linguistics and examined the structure of mythology with an original theory using concepts of classification and fusion. Among Lévi-Strauss's contributions the following three points had the greatest importance for the research into Japanese mythology: (1) theoretical methods for the analysis of the structure of myths as related sequences, yet distinct from the flow of language; (2) the idea that the logic of myth appears repeatedly in similar structures; and (3) as articulated in "The Savage Mind", "Science of the Concrete", and "The Structural Study of Myth", the argument that myths are the products of 'bricolage,' developing from concrete symbols such as the heavens, climate, nature, animals, colors, and kinship.

The Emperor System
       The methods and theories of anthropological research on kingship and structural analysis were applied to the study of the components of Shintō and specifically to the imperial system and mythology of Japan. Yamaguchi Masao analyzed the imperial system principally using the concept of the king as scapegoat. Key articles such as "The Deep Structures of the Emperor System", and "Symbolic Spaces of the Emperor System" were republished in book form as The Cultural Anthropology of the Emperor System (Tennōsei no bunkajinruigaku). In her essays on "Others, Strangers, Outsider-King", and "The Mythology of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki: An Analysis of the 'Other'", and in Theories of Japanese Emperorship (Nihon ōken ron; written with Amino Yoshihiko & Miyata Noboru), Ueno Chizuko has applied Sahlin's concept of the 'outsider-king' to explain the family systems that appear in Japanese mythology as expressions of concepts of kingship prevalent in ancient Japan. In his King Myths in East Asia (Higashi ajia no ōken shinwa), Ōbayashi Taryō has compared the characteristics of kingship in Japan, China and the Korean peninsula. Takezawa Shōichirō compared the emperor system of ancient Japan with traditional systems of kingship in Africa in a article entitled "The Ancient Japanese Imperial System as seen from the standpoint of the Anthropology of Religion".

Japanese Mythology
       The structural analysis of myth, both at the level of objectives and also at the level of analysis, had a profound impact on mythological studies in Japan. Studies on Japanese Myths (Nihon shinwa no kenkyū), a seminal work by Matsumoto Nobuhiro, who studied under Marcel Mauss in the 1920s, pointed to the opposition of fire and water in Japanese mythology. Between the 1960s and the 1970s, the influence of Dumézil was strongly felt. In his studies of Japanese myth, Yoshida Atsuhiko argued that the deities Amaterasu, Susano-o, and Ōkuninushi were the respective representations of power, battle, and fertility. He argued that the mythology structure centered on this trinity of deities conformed to the tripartite worldview and triangular structure that can be seen in the social systems and sacred realm of the Indo-European language tribes. He claimed that this was not a coincidence, but that Japanese mythology had been influenced by the tripartite worldview which had been transmitted to Japan through the Korean peninsula from Altaic nomadic peoples who had been influenced by Iranian nomadic peoples who belonged to the Indo-European language group. This explanation was first published in France but was subsequently expanded into the books Greek and Japanese Mythology (Girisha shinwa to nihon shinwa) and Japanese and Indo-European Mythology: An Attempt at the Structural Analysis of Myth (Nihon shinwa to inō shinwa - kōzōronteki bunseki no kokoromi). In Japan and separately to Yoshida, Ōbayashi Taryō also reveals the influence of Dumézil and Lévi-Strauss in his Structure of Japanese Mythology (Nihon shinwa no kōzō). In The Mythological Thought Patterns of the Japanese (Nihonjin no shinwateki shikō), and Messages Related from Heaven and Sea: A Theoretical Approach to Mythology (Ten to umi kara no shishin - riron shinwagaku), and The Cosmology of Japanese Mythology (Nihon shinwa no kosumorojii), Kitagawa Masakuni undertook structural analysis that was the most faithful to the methods and concepts of Lévi-Strauss. More restricted studies into the mythological structure and logic of the Kojiki have also been carried out by Yoshida Atsuhiko in his Characteristics of Japanese Mythology (Nihon shinwa no tokushoku), and by François Macé in Structures of Kojiki Mythology (Kojiki shinwa no kōzō). Finally, while Takezawa Shouichirou's essay "Japanese Mythology and Lévi-Strauss" is recognized as an application of Lévi-Straussian structural analysis to Japanese mythology, it also points out the limitations of this approach.

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