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Home » 9. Texts and Sources » Shinto Classics and Literature
§An Overview of Shintō Texts and of Trends in Research
Since the early modern period, the mainstream of Shintō studies has consisted of the analysis and explication of relevant texts. Those texts held to record the essence of Shintō have been awarded a special status as "Shintō classics" (sometimes termed "sacred texts"; shinten).
       The centuries from antiquity to modern times have yielded a large number of sources on Shintō. If books published in Western format since Meiji and scholarly studies are included, the total becomes vast indeed. Here the discussion will be limited to documentary sources and to extant works transmitted in manuscript or woodblock print editions from antiquity up to the early Meiji era. Kokusho sōmoku roku, the comprehensive bibliography of premodern Japanese works, offers a convenient means to check the titles and authors of such Shintō sources and to locate institutions holding copies of them. The number of Shintō texts recorded in this bibliography suggests the historical weight of Shintō and Shintō beliefs within Japanese tradition.
       To take an example, Ōharae kotoba (Liturgy of the Great Purification) is one of the fundamental works of Shintō religious practice. (From the medieval to the early modern period, this text was often referred to as Nakatomi no harae, The Nakatomi Purification.) According to Kokusho sōmoku roku, there exist some five hundred types of commentary on this work. If one were to add to this those that presumably have been lost, the number would be even larger. Of the existing five hundred, approximately one-third have been collected in Ōharae kotoba chūshaku taisei (Compendium of Commentaries on the Liturgy of the Great Purification, 3 vols., published 1935—1941 by Naigai Shoseki; repr. 1981 by Meicho Shuppan). If this is the situation just for commentaries on the Liturgy of the Great Purification, one can imagine the scale of Shintō sources as a whole. Apart from written works and treatises of this sort, shrines and hereditary lineages of priests have retained immense numbers of documents and records of shrine affairs dating from the early modern period. Many of these documents contain important information about the organization of shrines, the conduct of shrine affairs, and the annual round of ceremonial and ritual events. Here, however, priority has been given to those sources that are of the greatest importance to understanding the nature of Shintō doctrines and beliefs.

Studies of Sources
       The foundation for the critical study of Shintō texts was first established by the kokugaku (National Learning; also kogaku, or "ancient learning") scholar Motoori Norinaga. After completing Kojikiden, his extensive commentary on Kojiki, Norinaga wrote Uiyamabumi (First Steps in the Mountains) in 1798 as an introduction to the study of Shintō. In this work he recommended that those beginning the study of Shintō should first "read over and over and with great thoroughness the chapters on the early ages contained in the two classics" of Kojiki and Nihon shoki. As supplementary works for understanding these texts he recommended Kogo shūi (Gleanings From Ancient Stories), Man'yōshū, the national histories such as Shoku nihongi written subsequent to Nihon shoki (Nihongi), and the senmyō. Listing a string of texts largely from the Nara and Heian periods, he continued, "The other works that practitioners of ancient learning must study include Engishiki, [Shinsen] shōjiroku, Wamyōshō, Jōgan gishiki, Izumo no kuni fudoki, Shaku Nihongi, the ritsuryō statutes, [Minamoto no Takaaki's] Saikyūki, [Fujiwara no Kintō's] Hokusanshō, and my own Kojikiden." In his Koshichō kaidai ki, Hirata Atsutane refers to a range of ancient works in addition to Kojiki and Nihon shoki that is largely similar to those mentioned by Norinaga.
       In the modern period, reflecting the increasing weight of philological studies, the ancient sources regarded as most important to an understanding of Shintō were singled out as "Shintō classics." Kōno Shōzō, Saeki Ariyoshi, and Ueki Naoichirō variously discussed what works should be included in this category, and in 1936, the Ōkura Seishin Bunka Kenkyūjo founded by Ōkura Kunihiko put out a one-volume compendium of texts under the title Shinten (Sacred Texts). Included in this compendium were Kojiki, Nihon shoki, Kogo shūi, senmyō, Nakatomi yogoto, Ryō no gige (excerpts), Ritsu (penal statutes; excerpts), Engishiki (excerpts), Shinsen shōjiroku, Fudoki, and Man'yōshū; (excerpts). In this way, these works came to be regarded as the main "Shintō classics." As for the rationale behind this choice of works, Kojiki and Nihon shoki together with Kogo shūi provide extensive information about the deities, events concerning them, and rituals that pertain to the essence of Shintō. The Jingiryō (the section of the administrative code pertaining to deities) included in Ryō no gige and Engishiki are important for the basic information they include about ancient rituals and the system of administration under the Jingikan. From Fudoki can be learned regional myths and legends, while poems in the Man'yōshū give voice to the feelings and consciousness of the people of ancient times regarding the deities. As texts of particular importance to the Shintō tradition, these works also played a major role in the history of medieval and early modern Shintō.
       Shrine rituals are of great importance within Shintō. Our primary sources of knowledge about the nature of the rituals of ancient times are texts pertaining to court rituals (chōtei saishi) and imperial rituals (tennō saishi). Apart from the basic information contained in the Jingiryō, the detailed provisions for the enactment of the items listed in the code found in Engishiki are of particular value. Concrete information about the actual procedures for major ritsuryō rituals such as the Daijōsai and Kinensai and officially recognized festivals such as the Kasuga shrine festival and Kamo shrine festival may also be found in formularies such as the Gishiki (Ceremonial) of the Jōgan period (859-876) and the somewhat later Shin gishiki (New Ceremonial). Also useful are accounts of ceremonial such as Minamoto no Takaaki's Saikyūki, Fujiwara no Kintō's Hokusanshō, and Ōe no Masafusa's Gōke shidai.
       The Ise shrines are another central subject of research. Enryaku gishiki chō, compiled in the early Heian period, and Kenkyū kōtai jingū nenjū gyōji, compiled at the beginning of the Kamakura period, are important sources for rituals at Ise in the ancient period. Daijingū shozōji ki provides a record of events concerning the shrines. Together with sources on Ise from the medieval and early modern period, these works have been published as part of Daijingū sōsho.
       Through their recording of myths and legends on the one hand and rituals on the other, these sources from the ancient period bear either directly or indirectly on the basic nature of Shintō. Throughout the centuries not only have scholars valued them as authentic sources of information about Shintō, believers have revered them as sacred texts. For example, the Yoshida house, the source of Yoshida Shintō, kept Kogo shūi in the main worship hall, and only the current head of the house was allowed to view it. The fact that the Yoshida house developed its own line of Shintō by conducting lectures on the chapters on the age of the kami from Nihon shoki shows how later generations adapted their use and deepened their understanding of the classics in accordance with the changing circumstances of the times.

Sources for Intellectual History
       From the medieval period various thinkers, reflecting the influence of Buddhism, began to pursue theoretical interpretations of Shintō and to set them forth in distinctive bodies of writings. The figures associated with Ise Shintō (Watarai Shintō), which emphasized "uprightness" (shōjiki) and "purity" (seisō), produced a large number of works. These include the so-called Five Shintō Works (Shintō gobusho), Korō kujitsu den, Ise nisho daijinjū shinmei hisho, and Ruiju jingi hongen. While borrowing ideas from Taoism, Neo-Confucianism, and Chinese theories of yin-yang and the five elements, the formulators of Ise Shintō retained a strong awareness of ancient Shintō and sought to base themselves on legends transmitted at Ise and the Shintō classics. The same tendencies can be seen in other proponents of medieval Shintō. The ancient classics continued to exert a strong pull over them even as they came under the influence of current trends in thought.
       Ise Shintō reached its height from the mid- to late Kamakura period. This same general period also saw the formulation by Buddhist priests of various texts of Ryōbu Shintō (Nakatomi harae kunge, Nakatomi harae kige, Reikiki), Miwa Shintō, and Sannō Shintō. Some of these works were passed on only as secret traditions and did not circulate widely.
       Apart from these works central to medieval intellectual history, another key text showing the influence of Ise Shintō ideas is Kitabatake Chikafusa's Jinnō shōtō ki. Written in the mid-fourteenth century, it is especially significant from the perspective of ethical thought. Jihen's Kuji hongi gengi and Toyoashihara jinpū waki, dating from the same period, were similarly influenced by Ise Shintō ideas. Jihen's writings also served as a bridge to the later Yoshida Shintō.
       In the upheavals following the Ōnin War (1467-1477), Yoshida Kanetomo developed his own new school of Yoshida Shintō (Yuiitsu Shintō). Its doctrines are expressed most fully in Yuiitsu shintō myōbō yōshū and Shintō tai'i. Kanetomo's formulations, set out also in a large number of memoranda and transcribed excerpts from his writings and oral transmissions, exerted an immense influence on all aspects of Shintō and remained central to the national world of Shintō until the end of the early modern period.
       Parallel to the flourishing of theories of Shintō in the medieval period, from the late Heian period various materials pertaining to the origins of shrines and the miraculous properties of their deities (shintoku) also began to be produced. These materials, which included illustrated narrative and picture scrolls (ekotoba, emaki), were intended to foster faith in particular shrines. Notable examples include Kumano engi, Hachiman usagū gotakusen shū, Hachiman gudō kin, Kitano tenjin engi, and Kasuga gongen genki. Shintō shū, compiled in the Nanbokuchō period by someone associated with Agui, the Tendai complex at Mt. Hiei famous as a center of preaching, is an early example of a work composed for purposes of proselytization.
       In the early modern period texts by Juka Shintō (Confucian Shinto) and Fukko Shintō (Restoration Shintō) scholars came to figure prominently among works on Shintō. A new appreciation of Kojiki led to its assuming a central place in Shintō studies. From the middle of the Edo period, books on shrines and Shintō based on rigorous evidential research began to appear. This period also saw a flood of popular works on Shintō, and expansion in the number of scholars who devoted themselves to study of the Japanese tradition brought with it an upsurge in the production of Shintō-related sources. Hanawa Hoki'ichi played a key role in making materials related to Shintō publicly available. The materials that he collected and published in the section on deities (jingibu) in the first and second series of the multivolume Gunsho ruiju, a compendium of sources arranged by category, have continued to the present as an immense contribution to the academic study of Shintō.

Yoshida Emphasis on the Classics
       Collections of ancient documents comprise another type of Shintō source in the broader sense. Collections of documents associated with shrines and priestly lineages such as the Iwashimizu, Munakata, Aso, and Usa Itōzu collections are valuable sources of information about the rituals, economics, and organization of the shrines concerned. For the early modern period on, however, many such collections are not yet fully catalogued. For research on shrines in the early modern period, other valuable sources are the proclamations of rank and title (sōgen senji) that the Yoshida house issued to the shrines affiliated with it and the licenses (shintō saikyojō) that the Yoshida granted shrine priests (shinshoku). Records of transmissions of the prerogative to perform rituals likewise offer insight into the forms of belief of the time.
       The Yoshida house, which claimed prerogatives for itself as a "recognized Shintō lineage" (jingidō ke), occupies a special place in the history of Shintō sources by virtue of the importance it placed on upholding a textually based house tradition. The mid-Muromachi period head of the Yoshida Urabe lineage, Kanehiro, wrote in the records of the house, "One must rely on the miraculous grace of the august deities and uphold with reverence the works handed down from the ancestors" (Yoshida-ke nichijiki, entry for the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month, 1371). As these words indicate, the Yoshida regarded the transmission of written texts (primarily Shintō sources) from generation to generation as a fundamental part of their house tradition. This attitude continued from Kanetomo's time as well, with the texts preserved from generation to generation being stored in the house's Kaguraoka Repository. Included in this collection are many works designated today as National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. Almost all are at present kept by the Tenri Library.
       The majority of important Shintō sources have been published in various compendia. Particularly worthy of note as a compendium devoted to Shintō works is the one hundred twenty-volume Shintō taikei (published 1977 1994). This project, a continuation of an unrealized similar effort in the prewar period, was initiated and seen through to completion by Matsushita Kōnosuke. Its publication has greatly facilitated, at long last, the systematic study of Shintō. As a bibliography of Shintō sources there is Shintō shoseki mokuroku, ed. Katō Genchi (Meiji Seitoku Kinen Gakkai, 1938).

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