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Shinto Religion and Japanese Nationalism Proposal


Introduction

Shinto refers to the indigenous Japanese religion, which has always influenced the lives of many people politically, socially, and even economically in the country. The Shinto religion has a set of practices that were created in the prehistoric periods, but are still valued. The practices are conducted meticulously in order to ascertain the connection between current events and the precedent.

However, studies show that these historical records do not give the clear picture as to how Shinto, as a religion, established itself in the Japanese society. The writings give disorganized folklores, narratives, and myths. In modern Japan, Shinto is a term commonly utilized to refer to communal shrines, which are used for various reasons including war cenotaphs, crop celebrations, marriage, historical tributes, and sectarian groups1.

A number of historians and analysts give a unified definition of the role of Shinto in the modern society, by using a standardized language and practice, which entails adopting an analogous style in dressing and ritual.

Shinto was derived from the phrase ‘the way of the Gods’. It was a Chinese name that combined the words kanji (shi), implying the spirit and kami (to), meaning a theoretical path or a study. The spirits were usually understood from various perspectives with some believers suggesting that they were human-like while others holding the view that they were animistic.

A majority of believers were of the view that they were abstract objects meaning that they represented nonfigurative forces such as mountains and rivers. Spirits and people are inseparable meaning that they are closely interrelated. In fact, the relationship between human beings and spirits is complex to an extent that the presence of spirits will always determine the behaviour of an individual.

The national statistics of Japan show that over 80 percent of all Japanese practice Shinto as a cultural aspect, but not necessarily as a religious feature2. Studies show further that even though some individuals believe in Buddhism, they also engage in Shinto rituals meaning that it is a cultural practice among the people of Japan.

In this regard, Shinto is considered a cultural belief that influences the lives of many people, both believers and other non-believers of Shinto religion. Studies shows that Shinto is treated as a way of doing things in society, but not as a religious practice, given the diversity of the Japanese society.

For instance, a number of individuals, both taking Shinto as religion and those believing in Buddhism, tend to celebrate the birth of their loved ones in Shinto shrines.

Thesis Statement

It is true that Shinto culture influences the lives of many Japanese in a number of ways, which means that it cannot be separated from Japan, as well as the Japanese. In some point in history, Shinto was declared a state religion, which had a tremendous effect on national values. In other words, it can be noted that Japanese nationalism is attributed to Shinto culture.

As per the writings of various scholars specializing on Japanese culture, such as John Nelson and Scott Littleton, Shinto religion is closely related to the Japanese nationalism. My research would therefore focus on establishing the relationship between Shinto religious practices and Japanese nationalism.

Nationalism is a political concept suggesting that policies made ought to be based on exclusivity whereby the interests of the nation-state should always be given a priority when making decisions at the global level. Whenever the Japanese people make their decisions, they always consider the teachings of Shinto religion, which implies that Shinto religion has always influenced the decisions of policy makers.

Background Information

Shinto prodigies suggest that Japanese emperors were always related to each other in blood meaning that they belonged to the same clan. This relationship was in an unbroken line, with Jimmu Tenno being the first emperor who was Amaterasu-Omikami grandson. The kami was the first leader of the Japanese people who contributed to the creation of Japan as a state. Japan is an old country whose leader was known as kami3.

All Japanese are descendants of kami, with Amaterasu being the first leader. The imperial family was the valued family unit in the entire clan, yet it originated from the kami. This shows that Japan is the way it is because the gods liked it.

Moreover, the leadership of the country was selected by god hence the people of Japan had a religious responsibility to support the leadership. Before any state function, all emperors had to worship the kami and offer some sacrifices in order to protect the Japanese populace from any form of tribulation.

In fact, a court liturgical was developed to ensure that god was worshiped before any state function could be performed. In the subsequent centuries, Buddhist traditions seemed to take over, but they contained several Shinto elements meaning that Shinto was more of a cultural aspect than a religious belief4.

Towards the end of the 17th century, Shinto took over the affairs of the government, which resulted to the Meiji Restoration. Consequently, Shinto was made a state religion in 1868. The first leader of Japan, Amaterasu, who was also a staunch supporter of Shinto religion, was promoted to be one of the gods. Shinto religion taught that the Japanese leader was not only a political leader, but also a religious leader.

In other words, the country’s leader was made a high priest. The emperor would therefore rule not only Japan, but other parts of the world as well. Since Japanese were related to god, they had a moral responsibility of ensuring that they offer their skills to other people. Since the emperor was associated with god, her position changed in society meaning that he was also a religious leader5.

Some analysts observe that the Japanese emperor was the powerful figure in the land to an extent that he would not respect the law. In the 20th century, the emperor had inadequate powers mainly because she was both a temporal and a political leader. No one would question her leadership given the fact that she would release the military at will.

Article 28 of the Meiji constitution gave people an opportunity to worship a god of their choice, but the emperor made it illegal for an individual to believe in any other faith, apart from Shinto. Every aspect of life, including political, social, and economic, centred on the Shinto religion.

In the education sector, Shinto religion was made a national core subject, both in primary and higher education. It is factual to conclude that Shinto religion controlled the lives of many in Japan until 1946, just after the Second World War.

Literature Review

Littleton, Scott. Shinto: Origins, Rituals, Festivals, Spirits, Sacred Places. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002.

The source is very important in explaining the relationship between Shinto practices and the development of Japanese nationalism. The author stated that Buddhism and Shinto religions had coexisted for several years, yet Shinto was treated as a cultural practice. Kami was still respected as the Japanese most important god. The historian traced the origin of Shinto whereby he first noted that it was the way of the Gods6.

Some of the events and festivals in the Japanese culture were worshiped within Buddhism, yet they awere the elements of Shinto culture. He also concurred with the fact that Shinto practices gained momentum during the Meiji Restoration. Through this resource, the rituals and festivals of Shinto religion would be understood better.

Nelson, John A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

The third chapter of the book on the Kami and the fourth on rituals and customs are critical to the understanding of the Shinto religion as regards to nationalism. The author underscored the fact that the people of Japan valued kami so much since she contributed in the making of the nation7. Many people were of the view that Japan could not be in existence without the kami. Therefore, kami was the national unifying factor.

Even non-Shinto believers conducted the Shinto rituals and practices as a sign of patriotism meaning that people respected the culture of Japan. In the third chapter, the author observed that many visitors were comfortable following the Shinto culture because it was not regarded as religion. The book will therefore serve an important role as far as establishing the relationship between Shinto practices and nationalism is concerned.

Littleton, Scott. Littleton. Understanding Shinto: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Festivals, Spirits, and Sacred Places. London: Watkins Pub, 2011.

The book is critical as far as the understanding of Japan is concerned. In fact, the author cautioned that an individual could not understand the socio-political and economic aspects of Japan without conceptualizing the cultural practices of Shinto. In this regard, it is evident that a strong relationship between Shinto practices and Japanese patriotism exists.

In the view of the author, understanding Shinto culture entails the study of rituals, ceremonies and sacred architecture8. Once an individual comprehends the Shinto culture, he or she would be in a position to determine its effects on the life of ordinary Japanese.

Since the source claims that Japan cannot be separated from the Shinto religion, it will serve a special purpose of explaining the interconnectedness of Shinto and major Japanese cultural practices, which would further confirm that Shinto has an effect on the country’s nationalistic ideals.

Averbuch, Irit. The Gods Come Dancing A Study of the Japanese Ritual Dance of Yamabushi Kagura, Ithaca: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1995.

The above resource suggests that the Shinto culture has retained its rituals over several years to an extent of making these rituals national symbols. Kagura is one of the oldest rituals, which is related to dance. It has been retained for years in Japan9.

In particular, the above source insists on Izumo kagura, which is indeed the most popular type of the traditional Japanese dance. In many public functions, the dance is usually played as one of the ways of showing patriotism to the ideals of the country. This also confirms that Shinto is closely related the country’s nationalism.

Inoue Nobutaka, Shinto, a Short History. Washington: University of Washington Press 2003.

The source suggests that Shinto is no longer viewed as a modern religion, but instead a traditional religion of Japan that is related to culture. This means that people worship other forms of religions as their second option, but the first option is Shinto.

Moreover, the author is of the view that modern scholars relate the Shinot religion to kami, meaning a traditional god10. Since it is treated as a traditional religion, it influences the behaviour of many Japanese, which confirms the notion that it shapes nationalist ideals.

Sugimoto, Yoshio. An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

The source introduces a number of cultural practices in Japan. Through analysis, the author observed that a number of these cultural practices, which are valued as national ideals even in modern Japan, have their roots in the Shinto religion. This implies that Shinto is no longer a normal religious belief that an individual may choose to neglect.

In particular, the author discussed the issue of impurity whereby the Shinto religion teaches that certain types of deeds generate ritual impurity, which demands personal cleansing for an individual to have the peace of mind. The wrong actions are referred to as kegare while purity is referred to as kiyome11.

The author was of the view that a normal schedule in an individual’s life is referred to as ke while a season full of festivities is referred to as hare, meaning good. Many Japanese worldwide celebrate whenever they feel that they have achieved their objectives. They celebrate following the teachings of Shinto meaning that cultural practices in the country rely on the Shinto teachings.

Pilgrim, Richard, and Ellwood, Robert. Japanese Religion. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1985.

The two historians note that since the time of Nara and Heian, practitioners have been adopting a diversified set of beliefs through language and practice12. They note that the style of dressing and the performance of rituals show that Shinto religion contributed a lot in the development of Japanese culture.

Bowker, John. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

The author supports the writings of other historians by observing that religion contributes enormously to the development of any culture in the world13. In Japan, the development of culture is attributed to Shinto.

Yamakage, Motohisa. The Essence of Shinto, Japan’s Spiritual Heart. New York: Kodansha International, 2007.

The view of the author is that Shinto religion forms the backbone of the Japanese culture meaning that it influences the life of each individual14. Without Shinto culture, the author observes that there would be no religion in Japan.

Averbuch, Irit. “Shamanic Dance in Japan: The Choreography of Possession in Kagura Performance”. Asian Folklore Studies 57.2 (1998), 293–329.

The resource supports the previous works, which suggested that aspects of culture, such as dance, play a role in extending the influence of any culture15. In Japan, kagura dance has contributed a lot in developing and maintaining culture.

Shimazono Susumu, and Murphy, Reagan. “State Shinto in the Lives of the People: The Establishment of Emperor Worship, Modern Nationalism, and Shrine Shinto in Late Meiji.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 36.1 (2009), 93-124.

The article talks about the Japanese society after the abolishment of Shinto as a state religion. The authors discuss the way in which Shinto managed to penetrate society to an extent that it was considered a national ritual.

In particular, the authors focus on period ranging from 1890 to 1910 whereby the emperor was the most powerful figure in the country due to her position as a religious leader16. The source reviews three major features including the ritual system, educational structure, and the training system for the priests.

Susumu, Shimazono. “State Shinto and the Religious Structure of Modern Japan.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73.4 (2005), 1077-1098.

The author gives some of the reservations that many people of Japan have towards Shinto as a religion. The author is of the view that people are comfortable associating themselves with Shinto as a cultural belief, but not as a religion meaning it plays a critical part in determining the country’s nationalism17.

The western values on religion affected the views of many Japanese regarding Shinto, but many individuals are unwilling to abandon it since it is part of their culture.

Fukase-Indergaard, Fumiko, and Indergaard, Michael. “Religious Nationalism and the Making of the Modern Japanese State Religious Nationalism and the Making of the Modern Japanese State.” Theory and Society, 37.4, (2008), 343-374.

The source talks about the role that religion played in developing the Japanese nationalistic ideals. In the source, the author is observes that the Japanese were determined to strengthen their culture through implementation of the Shinto rituals and practices. Some scholars had earlier advised that western societies achieved their objectives mainly because of the strong religious ideals.

State Shinto was instituted as one way of ensuring compliance from the locals. The author concludes by noting that, even though Shinto was aimed at realizing modernity in Japan, its path was different from those of the west18.

In Japan, the state was never separated from religion since political leaders doubled up as religious leaders. In this regard, the country was able to achieve nationalistic objectives, as opposed to a number of countries in Europe and the United States.

Suga, Kōji. “A Concept of “Overseas Shinto Shrines”: A Pantheistic Attempt by Ogasawara Shōzō and Its Limitations.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37.1 (2010), 47-74.

The source notes that Shinto shrines (kaigai jinji) refer to the national heritage of Japan since they are not only present in the country, but also in other countries with Japanese emigrants.

Before Japan was defeated in the Second World War, many individuals believed that the Japanese race was the most powerful in the world. The shrines were constructed in various countries to show the presence of Japanese19. This meant that the Shinto shrines were symbols of national unity.

Teeuwen, Mark. “Comparative Perspectives on the Emergence of Jindō and Shinto.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 70.2 (2007), 373-402.

In Japan, the author is of the view that an individual may not actually differentiate between Buddhist believers and Shinto believers because they tend to have similar set of beliefs20. The article claims that Shinto originated from Buddhism, with believe of the kami.

Bibliography

Averbuch, Irit. “Shamanic Dance in Japan: The Choreography of Possession in Kagura Performance.” Asian Folklore Studies 57.2 (1998), 293–329.

Averbuch, Irit. The Gods Come Dancing A Study of the Japanese Ritual Dance of Yamabushi Kagura, Ithaca: Cornell University, 1995.

Bowker, John. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Inoue, Nobutaka, Shinto, a Short History. Washington: University of Washington Press, 2003.

Littleton, Scott. Littleton. Understanding Shinto: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Festivals, Spirits, and Sacred Places. London: Watkins Pub, 2011.

Littleton, Scott. Shinto: Origins, Rituals, Festivals, Spirits, Sacred Places. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Nelson, John. A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Pilgrim, Richard, and Ellwood, Robert. Japanese Religion. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1985.

Shimazono, Susumu, and Murphy, Reagan. “State Shinto in the Lives of the People: The Establishment of Emperor Worship, Modern Nationalism, and Shrine Shinto in Late Meiji.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 36.1 (2009), 93-124.

Suga, Kōji. “A Concept of “Overseas Shinto Shrines”: A Pantheistic Attempt by Ogasawara Shōzō and Its Limitations.”Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37.1 (2010), 47-74.

Sugimoto, Yoshio. An Introduction to Japanese Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Susumu, Shimazono. “State Shinto and the Religious Structure of Modern Japan.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73.4 (2005), 1077-1098.

Susumu, Shimazono. “State Shinto and the Religious Structure of Modern Japan.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73.4 (2005), 1077-1098.

Teeuwen, Mark. “Comparative Perspectives on the Emergence of Jindō and Shinto.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 70.2 (2007), 373-402.

Yamakage, Motohisa. The Essence of Shinto, Japan’s Spiritual Heart. New York: Kodansha International, 2007.

Footnotes

1Irit Averbuch,The Gods Come Dancing A Study of the Japanese Ritual Dance of Yamabushi Kagura, (Ithaca: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1995), 45.

2Irit Averbuch, “Shamanic Dance in Japan: The Choreography of Possession in Kagura Performance”, Asian Folklore Studies 57.2 (1998), 296.

3John Bowker, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 90.

4Nobutaka Inoue, Shinto, a Short History (Washington: University of Washington Press 2003), 13.

5Motohisa Yamakage, The Essence of Shinto, Japan’s Spiritual Heart (New York: Kodansha International, 2007), 45.

6Scott Littleton, Shinto: Origins, Rituals, Festivals, Spirits, Sacred Places (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002) 65.

7John Nelson, A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996), 115.

8Scott Littleton, Understanding Shinto: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Festivals, Spirits, and Sacred Places (London: Watkins Publishers, 2011), 112.

9Irit Averbuch, The Gods Come Dancing A Study of the Japanese Ritual Dance of Yamabushi Kagura, (Ithaca: East Asia Program, Cornell University, 1995), 18.

10Nobutaka Inoue,Shinto, a Short History (Washington: University of Washington Press 2003), 118.

11Yoshio Sugimoto, An Introduction to Japanese Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 37.

12Richard Pilgrim and Robert Ellwood, Japanese Religion (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1985), 94.

13John Bowker, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Religions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 59.

14Motohisa Yamakage, The Essence of Shinto, Japan’s Spiritual Heart (New York: Kodansha International, 2007), 75.

15Irit Averbuch, “Shamanic Dance in Japan: The Choreography of Possession in Kagura Performance,” Asian Folklore Studies 57.2 (1998), 325.

16 Susumu Shimazono and Reagan Murphy, “State Shinto in the Lives of the People: The Establishment of Emperor Worship, Modern Nationalism, and Shrine Shinto in Late Meiji,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 36.1 (2009), 114.

17Shimazono, Susumu, “State Shinto and the Religious Structure of Modern Japan,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73.4 (2005), 1087.

18 Shimazono Susumu, “State Shinto and the Religious Structure of Modern Japan,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 73.4 (2005), 1077-1098.

19Kōji Suga, “A Concept of “Overseas Shinto Shrines: A Pantheistic Attempt by Ogasawara Shōzō and Its Limitations,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 37.1 (2010), 70.

20Mark Teeuwen, “Comparative Perspectives on the Emergence of Jindō and Shinto,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 70.2 (2007), 392.

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