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Home » 7. Concepts and Doctrines » Research on Shinto
Theological Research
The theological approach to Shintō research is claimed by some to be essentially Shintō apologetics, or studies in defense of Shintō beliefs. However, Shintō theology in fact has two aspects. On the one hand it is the public justification of one's private faith in Shintō, and on the other it is inquiry in the interest of shedding light on the intrinsic nature of one's personal Shintō beliefs. Of course, in the realm of historical investigation, it is difficult to clearly distinguish these two theological approaches. Considering the fact that they were compiled after the introduction of such foreign religions as Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, texts generally seen only as literature or historical documents such as Kojiki, Nihon Shoki, Manyōshū or Fūdoki should be seen as attempts to formulate a Shintō theology. The same holds true in the case of works dealing with the systematization of kami worship (jingi saishi) and rites (girei). An attempt to formulate Shintō theology can be assumed in the case of texts such as the Jingiryō and the senmyō (Imperial Edicts) found in the Shoku nihongi as well as early Heian era documents such as Engishiki.

The Orthodoxy of Shintō Theology
       Today, in order to ascertain Shintō orthodoxy, the "hidden Shintō theology" as discerned in the works of the periods mentioned above must be addressed. This is because Shintō following the introduction of Buddhism and Confucianism was an amalgamation with these creeds, and it was greatly influenced by the belief systems and logical categories (including concepts such as ichi soku ta, "the one is, as it is, the many," or yuitsu zettai, absolute monism) of these religions. For example, in the Kamakura period, the Shintō theology developed by the priests (shinshoku) of the Watarai family serving at the Outer Shrine (Gekū) of the Grand Shrines of Ise (Ise Jingū) held that the essence of Japan, first revealed in the Nihon Shoki as a "nation granted protection by the kami" (shinmei no shugo shitamau kuni), was that of a "divine land" (shinkoku). Thus, the indivisible nature of the power of the kami and state-sponsored worship of the kami was asserted. It naturally followed that this school of thought shunned Buddhist influences on rituals of kami worship as it set forth a Shintō wherein "Left is left and right is right, beginnings are beginnings and roots are roots." However, the theology of the Watarai school not only claimed that Toyo-uke-hime no kami, the deity enshrined in the Outer Shrine at Ise, is the child of the Hindu deity Shiva (Jp. Daijizaiten), and held that it is the same deity as Ame-no-mi-naka-nushi, but also argued that the aramitama (rough spirit) of the Ise Jingū Inner Shrine (Naikū) primary deity Ameterasu Ōmikami is manifest in this world as the spirit Ya-so-magatsubi no kami, who spreads evil (magagoto), or otherwise as the purification (harae) deity Seoritsuhime.
       Later, in the Muromachi period, Yoshida Kanetomo, a Shrine priest (shinshoku) at Kyoto's Yoshida Jinja, set out in his Yūitsu shintō myōbō yōshū (Essentials of the Name and Law of the One and Only Shintō) the first classification of Shintō. He differentiates two past types of Shintō, one of which is called Honjaku Engi (Record of Origins and Manifest Traces) Shintō and the other one Ryōbu Shūgō (Amalgamated) Shintō. He gives his own school the name Genpon Sōgen (Fundamental and Elemental) Shintō. His argument that Shintō should be based on the texts Sendai kuji hongi, Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, was a landmark development in Shintō theology. This school asserted the existence of kami prior to the creation of heaven and earth and divided Shintō into exoteric (ken) and esoteric (in) teachings. Shintō and Buddhist ideas were integrated in Yoshida Shintō in the process of asserting that Confucianism and Buddhism are actually derived from Shintō, and subsequently made their way out of Japan, through China to India. Thus, these teachings are said to be native Japanese traditions rather than foreign imports, an explanation that draws on the metaphor of the stem, the branches and the fruits/flowers of a plant (by attributing each teaching to one of these elements). This can be said to have been a complete reversal of Buddhism's honji suijaku (Origins and Trace Manifestations) discourse.
       Because Confucianism was designated as the official Tokugawa state philosophy during the early modern (Edo) period, people - such as Dazai Shundai (a disciple of Ogyū Sorai and author of Bendōsho) - who argued that the origins of Shintō lay in the Liji (Records Concerning Ritual; one of the five Chinese classics cited by Confucius) and schools arguing for the unity of Shintō and Confucianism such as the Suika Shintō founded by Yamazaki Ansai, emerged. However, within Shintō theology, the most groundbreaking developments of this era were the efforts of National Learning (kokugaku) scholars to proclaim an ancient Shintō (koshintō) or pure Shintō (junshintō). They proscribed Buddhist and Confucian influences in order to restore what they claimed to be the original form of Shintō.
       In terms of influence on succeeding generations, the two greatest kokugaku scholars were Motoori Norinaga and Hirata Atsutane. From the point of view of Shintō, Norinaga's Kojikiden (Commentary on the Kojiki) is the culmination of his life's work. In this text he describes kami as "beings beyond everyday existence, superior and wise" (yo no tsune narazu suguretaru koto no arite, kashikoki mono), and states that the three kami mentioned in the Japanese myth of creation (zōka sanshin) and who appear in the beginning of the Kojiki precede the creation of this world (ametsuchi). Norinaga set out a theological structure that ignores Ame-no-mi-naka-nushi no kami, the first of the three kami and the first deity to come into solitary existence, and instead proclaims that the other two deities - Takami-musubi no kami and Kami-musubi no kami - are in fact a single kami imbued with creative force but possessing different names. This notion is rooted in the Watarai Shintō tradition, as set out in Yamatohime no mikoto seiki, one of this school's sacred Shintō gobusho (Five Books of Shintō), wherein a theology is developed that holds Ameterasu Ōmikami, Ya-so-magatsubi no kami and Seoritsuhime as one and the same deity, a discourse that does not differ greatly from the non-dualistic ichi soku ta belief found in Buddhism. In contrast to this, Norinaga's disciple Hirata Atsutane, in order to overcome the contradictions inherent in traditional texts, wrote the work Koshi (later retitled Koshi seibun), saw Ama-no-mi-naka-nushi no kami as being identical with the Judeo-Christian God and followed a monistic approach to truth. The theological discourses of both of these National Learning scholars tend to view Japan's mythological traditions as expressions of historical fact.

The Current State of Shintō Theology
       After the establishment of Imperial rule in the Meiji period, Japan entered the era of State Shintō (kokka shintō), when it was proclaimed that Shintō and Shintō shrines did not fall under the definition of religion. Shintō theology in this period adopted the rhetoric of the Emperor as the center of the national polity (kokutai) and Shintō as the basis of civic morals (kokumin dōtoku). One can point to only few advances in Shintō theology from the end of the Edo through the Meiji eras. However, Shintō was finally re-established as a religious and theological tradition under Occupation rule following the Second World War, when it reconstituted itself as a shrine-centered faith based on free will and individual faith. Scholars such as former Kokugakuin University professor Ono Motonori and former Ise Jingū Junior Suppliant Priest (shōgūji) Hatakake Masahiro served at the Jinja Honchō (Association of Shintō Shrines) in the interest of formulating postwar Shintō teachings.
       At present, from the point of view of a systematized Shintō theology, the study of historical Shintō theology that has emerged out of practical Shintō theology has only been partly achieved. It must be stressed that systematic Shintō theology is still being developed, and that a clear structure for this discipline has yet to be fully established.

— Ueda Kenji
"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
URL http://21coe.kokugakuin.ac.jp/
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