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Home » 6. Belief and Practice » Introduction: Belief and Practice
Introduction: Belief and Practice
This chapter takes up the issue of belief and cultic practice transmitted through shrines and a wide variety of other cultural media. Descriptions are given here of mountain beliefs that developed from the medieval to early modern period, kōshin and similar folk cults, together with varieties of invocations and divination (bokusen) that are also treated here as forms of religious cult, together with the social groups formed around such cultic observances. These are presented in hopes of broadening our perspective of the variety of types of religious observance.
       Of the main forms of observance discussed here more than twenty are noted focusing on specific shrines, such as the cult of the shrines at Ise (Ise Jingū). Several typologies can be suggested for the distribution of the kami involved in such cults as well. As an example of the spread of a shrine cult centered on an ethnic group, the Suwa and Munakata cults presented here, a form based on the cult of the Kamo Shrines in Kyoto, as indicated by the nationwide distribution of place names and shrines of that lineage. These kami were originally worshiped by specific lineages, but subsequently evolved into tutelaries of geographical regions.
       In relation to the central shrines involved, the Heian period saw the spread of the cult of the "child kami" (mikogami) of the shrine Kashima Jingū to Japan's northeastern region, and the original Kashima Jingū is considered to have been related to the rituals of this cult. The Kashima kami was likewise moved to Nara to be enshrined at the shrine Kasuga Taisha, where rites were supported by shrine taxes from the Kashima region, thus illustrating the relationship between locally dedicated kami and their original shrines. Even into the early modern period, the distribution of Kashima emblems (shinsatsu) by itinerant Kashima priests called kotobure was a means of spreading the Kashima cult among the common people. The popularity of the "three-shrine pilgrimage" that included Katori, Kashima and Ikisu was the result of the development of inland waterway transport on the Tonegawa and other rivers, and is also related to the growing economic status of the Edo populace. Since the ancient period, the cults of the Katori and Kashima kami were strongly devoted to these deities as mighty military tutelaries, and particularly at the time of the Mongol invasions (1274 and 1281), entreaties were made to the shrines for defeat of the foreign power. The custom of kashima-dachi (making a visit of supplication to the Kashima Shrine before beginning an important battle or journey) and the common practice of enshrining these kami in martial arts dōjō are likewise based on their nature as strong military deities.
       As exemplified by the case of shinmeisha (small local shrines dedicated to the kami of Ise ) and shrines dedicated to Kasuga, some kami were enshrined upon lands donated to large shrines as shōen and mikuriya (manors or estates meant for the provision of grains and other supplies to the shrines). And these small shrines continued to exist even after the dissolution of the manor organizations themselves. Great roles in the spread of shrine faith were also played by the later priestly class of onshi (or oshi) who distributed emblems of Ise and encouraged pilgrimage there. Many provincial and district governing offices (kokuga and gūke) were transformed into estates of the temple Kōfukuji and shrine Kasuga Taisha through connections with the Fujiwara family, with the result that the kami of Kasuga was frequently enshrined as a tutelary (chinjusha) on such estates, leading to the nationwide spread of such shrines. The cult of the deity Hachiman proliferated first due to its service in connection with the building of the Nara temple Tōdaiji and subsequent role as Buddhist temple tutelary, and later in the medieval period as a tutelary of rising warrior clans. In the same way, the cult of the shrine Hie Sannō was spread due to its role as tutelary to temples of the Tendai sect, and many of those shrines gained independence from the Meiji period on, representing another pattern in the spread of shrine cults.
       Some coastal areas are populated by peoples who migrated on ocean currents, resulting in another form of shrine distribution. It has been said that the large concentration of Kumano shrines on the Bōsō Peninsula (Chiba Prefecture) is related to this kind of seaborne migration, but the nationwide spread of such shrines is more a result of the widespread propagation efforts by Kumano oshi (priestly guides for pilgrims), and bikuni (itinerant female nuns who canvassed for donations to the shrine).
       Cults to the shrines of Gion (Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto) and Tsushima are intimately connected to the combinatory Buddhist-kami worship of the deity Gozu Tennō, but through linkage to the myth of the kami Mutō Tenshin in the Bingo no kuni fudoki, they also came to be worshiped primarily in the Kansai region in the form of the Somin Shōrai cult (see gozu tennō ). This cult is also the source for the nationwide custom of passing through a ring of cogon grass (chi no wa) on the occasion of summer rites of purification (nagoshi no harae). Invocatory prayers for healing are also linked to cults of the Buddha Yakushi, but shrines of this lineage that go by names like Yasaka and Yagumo enshrine the powerful deity Susanoo.
       Further, in cases where illnesses are thought to be the result of evil-spirit possession, healing is effected by exorcizing the spirit involved, an element of shrine cults important around Izumo and other parts of western Japan.
       Ascetic practitioners called yamabushi who had practiced in the mountains and achieved supranormal kami power there were active in aiding the masses through the use of faith healing and folk remedies, using their knowledge to treat both physical and mental conditions. One example of this is the so-called patent medicines of Toyama (Toyama baiyaku). This kind of mountain cult derives from beliefs that the mountains are dwellings or domains of kami, and that the kami there will provide water, instruction about weather, and knowledge of one's position on the sea. At times, such mountain kami also may become the kami of rice paddies or ancestors. Within Buddha-kami combinatory cults, mountains could be viewed as both hell and the Buddha's "Pure Land." And over the generations, these multifarious cultic practice also changed their forms. The style and naming of cult groups may also vary depending on local custom and organizational requirements of the time.

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