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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Research on Shinto
4. History (Modern) Research
The history of civilization and Shintō
       The "history of civilization" (bunmei shigaku) that was introduced to Japan in the early Meiji Era assumed a historical progression from a state of primitivity to one of civilization. Evident at the most fundamental level in the development of the production and circulation of material goods, this progression was also held to occur in the world of the spirit. In his Nihon kaika shōshi (A Short History of the Opening of Japan), published in 1877, Taguchi Ukichi approached the subject of Shintō in ancient Japan from this historical perspective. Fifteen years later, in January 1892, Taguchi reprinted in Shikai, the historical journal that he edited, an article by the positivist historian Kume Kunitake titled "Shintō wa saiten no kozoku" (Shintō Is a Remnant of the Ancient Custom of Worshiping Heaven). Taguchi's reprinting of Kume's article, originally published the previous year in Shigakkai zasshi (the journal of the Historical Association), showing that he regarded Kume's study of ancient Shintō as resting on the premises of the history of civilization.
       However due to this the relevant issues of both journals were banned from publication and Kume lost his position as professor in the Faculty of Letters at the Imperial University. Because of this, historical investigation of ancient Shintō suffered a major setback and within historical education, increasing emphasis was given to the idea of the national polity (kokutai ron) as founded on the unbroken line of emperors depicted in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki myths of the age of gods (Kiki shinwa) and to the dictum of the supreme obligation of reverence for the emperor (taigi meibun). In the late 1890s and early 1900s, references to Amaterasu Ōmikami and the descent of the heavenly grandchild to rule Japan (tenson kōrin) were placed in the introductions of history textbooks. In 1911 controversy arose over the use of the ideologically neutral term "Southern and Northern Courts" to refer to the period of division in the fourteenth century, when there were two competing imperial lines, and the official school textbooks were changed to stress the legitimacy of the Southern Court. The government-sponsored Historiographical Institute, however, held to its editorial policy and continued to edit and publish documents in the Dai Nihon shiryō (Historical Documents of Japan) series under the heading "Southern and Northern Courts."
       Liberal intellectual trends spread steadily in the 1910's, and in the field Shintō studies, this was reflected in the publication of Tsuda Sōkichi's Jindaishi no atarashii kenkyū (New Approaches to the History of the Age of the Gods) in 1913 and Kojiki oyobi Nihon shoki no shin kenkyū (New Approaches to Kojiki and Nihon shoki) in 1919. Based on a strict critical evaluation of sources, Tsuda denied the historicity (historical existence) of the early emperors and identified the compilation of the accounts of the "age of the gods" as having taken place in the sixth century, in the reign of Emperor Kinmei. He likewise interpreted these accounts not as an epic that had emerged from within the people but rather as something created by the government to explain the origins of the imperial house.


The necessity of research into Shintō History
       On the other hand, parallel to the developments discussed above, circumstances within various different sectors of government and society acted as a stimulus for research on the history of Shintō. First amongst these was the Division of Shrines of the Home Ministry (Naimushō Jinja Kyoku), which was responsible for overseeing the administration of shrines throughout the country, had need in various regards for an accurate, evidentially substantiated history of shrines. The most notable researcher in this area was Miyaji Naokazu, who from 1919 served as head of the Historical Survey Section (Kōshōka) within the Division of Shrines. Adhering to a strict positivist philosophy, Miyaji established the history of shrines and deities (jingishi) as one field of Japanese historiography.
       A second factor spurring research on Shintō was the concerns of people associated with the Imperial Household Ministry (Kunaishō) who were responsible for the management of imperial rituals. One of Kume's critics at the time of the Kume Incident was Miyaji Izuo, who was then head of the Office of Ritual within the ministry. Another critic, Saeki Ariyoshi, later assumed the same post. In 1913 Saeki published Dai Nihon jingishi (A History of the Shrines and Deities of Great Japan). Hoshino Teruoki, who in his essay "Tairei hongi" (The Essential Meaning of the Supreme Ritual) elucidated in great detail the meaning of the Daijōsai enthronement ceremony held in 1928 for the Shōwa emperor, was likewise head of the Office of Ritual at the time of the ceremony and as such was responsible for it.
       A third factor contributing to the development of research on the history of Shintō was the establishment in 1920 of the section of Shintō studies (shintō kōza) within the Faculty of Letters of Tokyo Imperial University. This section, established as a counter to the rising tide of democratic and socialist thought in the wake of World War I, was staffed by Tanaka Yoshitō and Katō Genchi. Both had an academic background in religious studies and pursued the history of Shintō with the aim of clarifying its distinctive character among the various religions (Tanaka was a firm exponent of the thesis that Shintō is not a religion, but regarded sectarian Shintō (kyōha shintō) as religious in nature). Katō, who established the Meiji Seitoku Kinen Gakkai (Meiji Japan Society), also undertook crucial groundwork for the development of Shintō studies such as the compilation of the bibliography Shintō shoseki mokuroku (A Catalogue of Works concerning Shintō) in 1938.
       Another development in the 1920s of importance to research on the history of Shintō was the establishment of the field of Japanese ethnography (Nihon minzokugaku) by figures such as Yanagida Kunio, Origuchi Shinobu, and Iha Fuyū. The methodology they adopted for collecting information on non-literary sources such as rites, ceremonies, and customs so as to clarify the place of Shintō in the regions and the life of the general populace has continued to have an immense influence on historical research as well.


Militarism and Shintō thought
       From the latter half of the 1920s (that is, in the early years of Shōwa) Japan entered a period of repression of socialist movements at home and military aggression abroad. Regarding Shintō studies, this development would lead ultimately in 1940 to the banning of Tsuda Sōkichi's works as disruptive of the national polity (kokutai) and to the laying of charges against him of slandering the imperial house. Prior to this, in 1932, the government created the Kokumin Seishin Bunka Kenkyūjo (Institute for the Study of the National Spirit and Culture) under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The aim was to foster the study and dissemination of information about Japanese culture and Shintō in response to the new needs confronting the nation.
       The figure within the institute immediately responsible for research on Shintō was Kōno Seizō, a professor at Kokugakuin University and an authority on the history of early modern Kokugaku (National Learning). Within the Historical Section however, it was the Kyoto Imperial University professor Nishida Naojirō who directly confronted this topic from a historical perspective. In his Nihon bunkashi josetsu (An Introduction to the Cultural History of Japan) from 1932, Nishida approached "cultural history" not simply as one field of history, but as its most fundamental form, a history of the spirit that encompassed within it various specific historical aspects. He took the spirit of ancient Shintō to constitute the most basic structure of Japanese culture and saw the Fujiwara period, early Tokugawa period and Meiji Era as each manifesting in its own way this age-old heart of Japan. The Kyoto School figure Kōyama Iwao was to elaborate upon this notion from the standpoint of historical philosophy.
       The line followed by the Kokumin Seishin Bunka Kenkyūjo, which was under the direct supervision of the Ministry of Education, culminated in 1937 in the publication of the tract Kokutai no hongi (Essentials of the National Polity). Separate from this, Hiraizumi Kiyoshi, professor of Japanese history at Tokyo Imperial University, developed an interpretation of Shintō as something that found its highest purpose in protection of the imperial polity. Hiraizumi awarded a particularly important place as exemplars of this dimension of Shintō to Kitabatake Chikafusa's Jinnō shōtōki (Chronicle of the Legitimate Line of Deities and Sovereigns) and to Yamazaki Ansai and the Suika Shintō tradition developed by his followers. Under Hiraizumi's direction, ceremonies were held in 1932 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the death of Yamazaki Ansai and in 1934 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Kenmu Restoration. Hiraizumi took the essence of historical study to lie in the commitment of one's whole being to grasping the import of past events and to reenacting on a personal level the actions of past heroes. His approach to history was thus also one of a "history of the spirit," albeit in a form different from that of Nishida.
       Apart from trends such as these, other developments of note in this period include the publication in 1941 of Miyaza no kenkyū (A Study of Shrine Associations), by Higo Kazuo, who in it sought to combine the approaches of historical and ethnographic study, and the publication in 1943 of Sakamoto Ken'ichi's Meiji shintōshi (A History of Shintō in the Meiji Era), a pioneering study of the history of Shintō, or more particularly shrines and deities, in the post-Bakumatsu era.

— Miyachi Masato
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-8440, Japan
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