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Home » 3. Institutions and Administrative Practices » Medieval and Early Modern
Nijūnisha (The 22 Shrines)
Twenty-two shrines (Ise, Iwashimuzu, Kamo, Matsuno-o, Hirano, Inari, Kasuga, Ōharano, Ōmiwa, Isonokami, Ōyamato, Hirose, Tatta, Sumiyoshi, Hie, Umenomiya, Yoshida, Hirota, Gion, Kitano, Niukawakami, Kibune) that received special patronage from the imperial court beginning in the mid-Heian period and ending in the mid-Medieval period. In this case, it is common practice to refer to the two shrines Kamowakeikazura shrine and Kamomioya as one shrine, Kamo. All of these shrines are located in or around Kyoto and were primarily responsible for rain rituals, along with rites for stopping deluges, dispensing with rites during times of calamity and auspicious natural events, and performing rites during times of political and imperial crisis. Along with this role, these shrines took part in annual and twice-yearly rites for agricultural fecundity (these rites began after the mid-Heian period) and received offerings from the imperial court.
       Yoshida Kanetomo's theory of a fivefold development of this system (beginning in 966 with the establishment of the 16 shrines, followed by an increase in member shrines; from 16 to 19, then to 21, and finally 22) has generally held to be correct. However, today this theory is widely thought to be erroneous. However, the observation that the system developed in increments is true. In the mid Heian, 16 shrines (Ise, Iwashimuzu, Kamo, Matsuno-o, Hirano, Inari, Kasuga, Ōharano, Ōmiwa, Isonokami, Ōyamato, Sumiyoshi, Hirose, Tatta, Niukawakami, Kibune) were first included in this system. This was followed by the inclusion of Hirota shrine and then, somewhere during the latter half of the 11th or early part of the 12th century (during the reign of the Ichijō court), Yoshida, Umenomiya, Kitano, and Gion shrines were subsequently added (in that order). It appears that during the Insei period Hie shrine was further included in this grouping. Under the Taira reign in the mid-Heian, a plan to include Utsukushima Shrine was created, but it was never realized, leaving the final number of shrines in the system at 22.
       Although many of the shrines in this system are large-scale shikinaisha, a number of shrines in this system — Iwashimizu, Ōharano, Gion, and Kitano — are not of this class. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ascertain why these shrines outside of the shrine bureaucracy were awarded special favor. However, one reason that can be cited is that with developments in the Ritsuryō system and a decline on court power over the provinces that the interests of the aristocracy and Imperial court focused on the Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara areas. Similarly, restructuring of the bureaucratic system and a stronger focus on Imperial and aristocratic religious beliefs (which had not been as prominent under the jingikan model) can be seen as part of this trend. Recently, as well, some theories argue that the 16 shrine model finds its origins in the myōjinsai and also with the establishment of offerings for agricultural fecundity and rain during the Daigo reign (especially 898-922). Other theories state that the inclusion of the five other shrines to this system originates in the jingi-based rule of the Fujiwara regency government (967–1068).
       It should be noted that not only shrines in the 22-shrine system were sites were regular offerings and prayers were held. In many cases, certain shrines were only chosen for special and occasional rites and ceremonies. Until the middle part of the medieval period, shrines in this system were regarded as the highest-ranking shrines in the land. With the decline of the Imperial court, however, the importance of these shrines (excluding Ise, Kamo, and Iwashimizu) also declined.

— Namiki Kazuko

List of Nijūnisha

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