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Home » 1. General Introduction » History of Shrines and Shinto
1. Ancient Shinto (2)
Kami Rites under the Ritsuryō System
With the establishment of the Ritsuryō system of legal codes from the latter half of the seventh century, Shinto ritual gradually came to be systematized. The two main pillars of the establishment of the new nation were the Ritsuryō codes and the compilation of national histories. The compilation of the Taihō Code and the epic works Kojiki and Nihonshoki from the reigns of Emperor Tenmu (r. 672-686) and Empress Jitō (r. 687-697) thus signaled the establishment of this new government with centralized authority.
       Tense relations with the Korean peninsula and the Chinese mainland, as exemplified by the Hakusonkō war of 663, can be seen as factors in the background to this quickly paced nation-building. In seventh month of 645 (the year of the Taika Reforms), Soga no Ishikawamaro memorialized the emperor toward making rites preeminent, thus indicating the fundamental ideal of "unity of ritual and rule." This stance towards ritual from a "national" standpoint was given paramount importance over all other affairs, as evidenced in the later division of government into the Council of State (Daijōkan) and the Department of Divinities (Jingikan; see Ritsuryō Jingikan), and instructions that provincial governors undertake rituals and keep shrines in good repair. Offering prayers to Amaterasu ōmikami, Ōama no Ōji was victorious in the Jinshin War of 672 and was enthroned as Emperor Tenmu, thereafter working aggressively to institutionalize policies toward kami worship and Ritsuryō ritual.
       While the Tenmu-court placed emphasis on the Hirose, Tatsuta and other old Yamato shrines of the Ōmiwa type, in the tenth year of Tenmu's reign (681), orders were issued toward implementing the Ritsuryō and for recording "imperial records" and "events of antiquity" (prerequisites for compilation of the national histories). As part of that process, tribute (heihaku) was offered in the first month to the various kami, and orders made to repair the shrines of kami of heaven and earth, as well as the Grand Shrines of Ise (Ise Jingū). It was from this era that genuine shrine construction began, with the appearance of architectural structures called miya in place of the earlier yashiro with their simple roofs, a development that was both influenced by, and meant as a response to, Buddhist temple architecture. It is also believed that the outlines of the regular annual "nineteen rites of thirteen types" established in the later Yōrō Code of 757 date from around this time. Along with making the paying of tribute at kinensai the center of ritual performance at imperial shrines, the foundation was laid for a national system of rites with the institution of a Department of Kami (Kantsukasa, later, the Department of Divinities or Jingikan). The Ritual of Enthronment (Daijōsai) and Regular Removal of the Grand Shrines of Ise (Shikinensengū ) were also institutionalized by Emperor Tenmu, implemented in the reign of his successor Empress Jitō, and perpetuated thereafter for some 1300 years (although with some interruptions).
       The first occurrence of the word shintō is seen in the section of Nihonshoki dealing with the period preceding the accession of Emperor Yōmei (585-587), but there it is merely a word borrowed from the continent and used to distinguish kami worship from "Buddha-dharma" (Buppō), and did not become widely used. However, although the word shintō itself was not widespread, the cult that shared and reconfirmed reverence for the power of kami at the architectural structures called jinja is demonstrated clearly by the time and space of worship held there. It is certain that important aspects of Shinto were incorporated into rites of the Ritsuryō period. Among these were three rites performed by the emperor himself, the tsukinamisai in the sixth and twelfth months and the niinamesai in the eleventh month. All of these utilized old and new grain to prepare a meal shared by the emperor and Amaterasu ōmikami as an expression of thanks for the harvest of that year and to pray for the harvest of the next year. These rites were based on the rice cycle and on rice agriculture. Rites of the sixth and twelfth months coincided with folk rites for the ancestors, showing that the ancient form of Shinto united agricultural and ancestral ritual in a single form.
       The Jingikan addressed its rituals to the kami of heaven and earth (tenjinchigi), but rites for dead spirits (Ch. rengui), in vogue at that time in Tang China, were not incorporated into the rituals of the Japanese court. Such rites can be confirmed as having existed in limited areas in Japan, but while such beliefs spring up in the cults of goryō or "noble spirits" that were oriented toward pacifying spirits of the dead thought responsible for cases of vengeful spirits and violent apparitions (tatari), the actual practice of worship directed to human spirits did not appear until the latter half of the medieval to the Edo periods.
       The Nara-period Ritsuryō codes imposed six abstinences on ritual masters and participants (government officials). In sansai, the days preceding and following rites, it was forbidden to participate in funerals or to visit the sick, and also to eat meat, a uniquely Japanese addition. Although this must be considered in relation to the Buddhist prohibition on taking life, it is also necessary to take into consideration older rites connected with rice agriculture. No severe asceticism was required, but a person's attitude when approaching the kami was emphasized. As may be seen in imperial proclamations (senmyō), brightness, purity, and honesty (meijō seichoku) were Shinto virtues, increasingly emphasized as time went on. In the Heian period, beliefs concerning impurity became more prominent through the influence of Yin-Yang divination (see Shinto and Onmyōdō). Sentiments regarding the pollution of death and childbirth became intertwined and came to restrict the lives of the nobility. Contact in funerals was especially abhorred, and kami priests (shinshoku) participated only in rites for "great kami" (ōkami), not in other unrelated rites. Thus these other, so-called "outside rites" were entrusted to Yin-Yang masters and Buddhist priests, who performed invocations and ascetic rituals; in this way kami priests were isolated from places where such other rites were held.

Shinto in the Heian Period
       Accompanying the weakening of the Ritsuryō system at the end of the Nara period, the great distances involved made it difficult to continue the system of presenting tribute (hanpei) at shrines for kinensai. During the reign of Emperor Kanmu a plan was made to reorganize the Ritsuryō system by dividing official shrines into two categories, kanpei (imperial) and kokuhei (provencial). According to this plan, shrines outside the Kinai region would be placed under the jurisdiction of provincial administrations of the respective provincial governor. The central government thus attempted a loose ordering of shrines by establishing a system of tribute (hōhei) for famous kami (myōjin), and granting ranks (shin'i, shinkai) to the enshrined kami (saishin) of eminent shrines, but as the administrative system of government itself weakened, the Jingikan came to take on the increasing characteristics of a low-level arm of the Daijōkan, and the two-branch system of government fell into disuse. The Heian institutionalization of official shrine worship, and the impmentation of systems of offerings to eminent kami (myōjin) and a group of "sixteen shrines" developed simultaneously with the shrine system of the ancient Ritsuryō, but the latter system gradually faded away. Under emperors Saga (r. 809-823), Seiwa (r. 858-876), and Daigo (r. 897-930), systems of legal procedures called shiki were legislated, and ritual procedures were systematized, and with the appearance of the Procedures of the Engi Era (Engishiki, c.905-927), the earlier system of civil codes fundamentally changed, as detailed rules were no longer carried out, a fact hinted at by the critical views voiced by Miyoshi Kiyoyuki (847-918) in his "sealed memorial" (iken fuji) submitted to the emperor in 914.
       The religious world diversified in the Heian period. Buddhism, Onmyōdō divination based on Chinese Yin-Yang beliefs, and Shugendō saw new development from the ninth and tenth centuries, and Shinto also changed. First, kami commanding veneration beyond their original locales began to be apportioned and dedicated (kanjō) to widely separated areas. The quest for this-worldly benefits was widespread, leading people to enshrine famous, powerful deities. Kami invited from outside the local area came to be regarded as ranking higher than local tutelary kami (jinushigami) or so-called clan deities (ujigami). Considered "great kami" (ōkami), these newly arrived kami from outside were installed in shrines belonging formerly to the local or clan kami, while the latter were relegated to branch shrines (massha) in the precincts. The divine power (shintoku) of the newly arrived kami tended to be more highly regarded, and frequently demonstrated a strong flavor of kami-buddha combinatory religion (see shinbutsu shūgō ). Prior to the dedication of such deities from outside, ancient religion had been centered on local ujigami cults; transmitted since ancient times, these cults represented closed organizations limited both by geographical area and participants, and within which religion was a communal affair performed by the uji (clan) community. In such cases, the enhancement of the kami's powers was unnecessary since one was a clan member (ujibito) under the kami's protection by virtue of birth into the local clan. Today, it is common to speak of a local "clan deity" (ujigami) even where no clan consanguinity is involved. This occurred as original clan deities absorbed cults of the aforementioned kanjō type (dedicated from outside), and thus become geographical "landlord deities" (jinushigami) or "tutelary deities" (ubusunagami) of everyone living in their locality, a reflection of the ancient historical process. It should be noted that from the end of the medieval period, members of a clan came to be called ujiko ("children of the clan") or ubuko ("[local]-born children"), and these terms have become common usage today.
       More than two-thirds of extant shrines are devoted to the four kami Inari, Hachiman, Ise (Shinmei), and Tenjin, a reflection of their development as deities with great supranormal powers and with faddish popularity (see hayarigami). The dissemination of such eminent kami to local regions was spurred on by the expansion of the system of private land estates known as shōen. Commending itself to the protection of a powerful patron shrine or temple (called the "principal" or honjo), a smaller shrine would dedicate a branch shrine of the patron on its own estates; in the case of a temple, a branch tutelary of a patron shrine might be dedicated on the temple estates. In this way, the weaker temple or shrine would rely on the greater protective power of the eminent shrine's kami. Perhaps because of their widespread land holdings, branches of the "twenty-two shrines" (nijūnisha) favored by the court came to be particularly widely enshrined.
       With the passage of time, Shinto cults played the role of receiving a wide variety of religious expectations. The fact that the Inari cult rests on religious beliefs connected with rice may be hinted at by possible alternate readings of the kami's name meaning "rice ripens" or "rice is born" (ina-nari), but it also came to be known as a tutelary of commerce and industry. Likewise, while Tenjin is now popular as a tutelary of success in examinations and academia, it originated when the vengeful spirit of Heian-period courtier Sugawara Michizane was called Karai Tenjin ("kami of fire and thunder"); the thunder kami, in turn, also possessed the characteristics of an agricultural tutelary that brought the rain necessary for agriculture, as implied by its alternate names inabikari or inazuma (both of which mean "lightning," but can be read literally to mean "rice-light" and "rice-wife").
       The origin of most kami, in fact, cannot be separated from cults of agriculture and fertility, but a variety of new divine virtues and characteristics were appended to the agricultural origins through beliefs in musuhi, the symbol of life and production. Since Shinto was originally a form of religious practice passed down as part of everyday life customs, it did not originally possess so firm a "system" as to even warrant the discriminating name "Shinto." And since it did not depend upon missionaries and scriptures, it is unreasonable to discuss it the same terms as Buddhism and other so-called founder religions. A major reason Shinto was able to coexist with Buddhism is that Buddhism successfully accommodated itself to Japanese culture, and while basing itself in the cult of clan temples, dealt with issues on the periphery of Shinto, or underwent combination (shūgō) with Shinto, resulting in mutual influence between the two. In short, Shinto in the ancient period was a part of everyday life, and it continued to exist interiorized within Japanese culture. Even after the acceptance of Buddhism, little history of conflict is evidenced between the two. On some occasions, Buddhism was excluded from presence at kami rites, but the only active conflict occurred at the initial time of Buddhism's initial introduction; thereafter, the formation and development of medieval Shinto was accomplished under the influence of Buddhist thought.

— Okada Shōji
"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/
Copyright ©2002-2006 Kokugakuin University. All rights reserved.
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