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Home » 2. Kami (Deities) » Concepts of Kami
An archaic term used to refer to deities of particularly impressive power and virtue, as noted in Nihon sandai jitsuroku (863) by the expression myōja shinmei (lit., "divine-luminaries of eminent-shrines"). The term myōjin first occurs in a Shoku Nihongi entry for the year 730, where it states that offerings from the Chinese kingdom of Bohai were offered to "the eminent shrines in each province." Subsequent records show that during the reign of Emperor Kanmu, offerings were forwarded to the "eminent kami of the Kinai (region)" and to the "eminent kami of the provinces of the seven regions" on the occasion of moving the capital and rain-making rituals (see amagoi). In 811, the shrines of Hayatani and Itsukishima (Itsukushima) in the province of Aki were presented offerings as myōjin and simultaneously listed as imperial shrines (kansha). From that point on, the six standard national histories list some 120 occasions of shrines being added to the list of "eminent kami."

From the time of Emperor Saga in the Kōnin period (810-824), frequent mention is made of offerings being sent from the central government to eminent kami on the occasion of annual prayers for harvest, as well as from provincial governors on the occasion of their appointments. The practice of sending offerings to the shrines of "eminent kami" led to the practice of providing regular offerings to a specified group of shrines including Ise Jingū and others in the capital region. By the early tenth century, the number of these shrines had grown to sixteen. Further, shrines selected as recipients of daijinpōshi, namely, gift-bearing envoys sent on the occasion of a new emperor's coronation (a custom which began during the reign of Emperor Uda [r. 887-897]), and those selected as provincial "first shrines" (ichinomiya) were almost all taken from the class of "eminent kami," a sign of the importance in which they were held within the religious institutions of the Heian period.

The litany of extraordinary festivals listed in Engishiki makes note of "285 festivals to eminent kami," including those at shrines to Kunaishō ni imasu Sonokami, Kara no kami, Kamo no Wakeikazuchi no kami, and Kamo no Mioya no kami. This number differs somewhat from the 310 (at 224 shrines) listed in Engishiki's "register of names of the kami" (Jinmyōchō), as well as from the 306 speculated by some other commentators. Some scholars assert that the homophone myōjin ("shining deity") is actually synonymous with the myōjin meaning "eminent kami," while others assert that the character combination itself existed prior to Engishiki and was originally used to refer to the kami themselves, in contrast to , which was used in the names of shrines. Whatever distinction once existed, it became increasingly blurred from the early ninth century on; by the medieval period, the combination [eminent-kami] was little used, and increasingly replaced by [shining-kami].

-Kobori Keiko
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
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