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Reviewed by:
  • Assembling Shinto: Buddhist Approaches to Kami Worship in Medieval Japan by Anna Andreeva
  • Mark Teeuwen
Assembling Shinto: Buddhist Approaches to Kami Worship in Medieval Japan. By Anna Andreeva. Harvard University Asia Center, 2017. 420 pages. Hardcover $49.95/ £36.95/ €45.00.

This book's title may suggest that it focuses on such abstractions as Shinto and Buddhism and their interaction in medieval Japan. To this reviewer's relief, that proves not to be the case. Assembling Shinto offers a detailed and sophisticated case study of the development of a single thread of what modern scholars have called medieval Shinto: the so-called Miwa lineage. Perhaps the author (or the publisher) worried that flagging "Miwa" as the book's focus in the title would put readers off as being too specific. In this review I cannot play along with that ruse, but I can impress on those who are easily scared that both Miwa and this book are worth the time and effort one might dedicate to them, if one is interested in the early phases of Shinto's "assembly." [End Page 293]

Medieval Shinto is best studied by focusing on a specific lineage. As Anna Andreeva puts it, medieval Shinto was not a coherent body of thought but rather a "multifaceted" and "dynamic" network shaped by "constant negotiation or 'power play' between different agents and institutions and different strands of religious thought and practice" (p. 15). Those strands were woven into transmission lineages, each with its own teachings, legends, and rituals, by practitioners who typically had their main base at a single site—but, as often as not, were also in frequent contact with other sites in the area. The result was a tangle of lineages feeding off each other, each applying mutually related ideas to the natural and social geography of its own location. The most promising, and perhaps the only, way to gain an understanding of the dynamics that energized this tangle is to select one site as a case study that, by extension, will point beyond that site to many others.

Miwa presents itself as the ideal focus for such a case study. In retrospect, its Miwaryū lineage was arguably the most successful of all lineages of medieval Shinto: it not only survived the transition into Edo but even experienced a new heyday as late as the early nineteenth century, when "Miwa Shinto" practices spread around the country and found a broad audience. There is a relative abundance of materials connected to Miwa, ranging from medieval engi legends and hagiographies to ritual manuals, collections of initiation documents, and sources about the site's institutional history. From these materials, it is possible to reconstruct the ups and downs of the site as a whole, to pin down some of the institutions and individuals that contributed to Miwaryū's success, and to speculate, at least, about the reasons for this lineage's longevity.

This is not to say that such an investigation is in any way a simple task. Miwa went through multiple cycles of destruction. Most of its early documents were lost in 1461, when a conflict between "meditation monks" and "scholar monks" at its main temple, Byōdōji, led the former to set fire to the hall where the latter kept their archive (pp. 274–75). Equally destructive were the early years of Meiji, when Miwa's temples were torn down to transform the site into a Shinto landscape cleansed of Buddhist blemishes. Early Miwa materials survived at sites in its wider network of ritual and doctrinal exchanges and also found their way into Edo-period collections compiled by a range of monks (Miwa insiders as well as outsiders) who sought to save or restore Miwa's legacy. Both these categories of sources are riddled with problems, however. Although medieval documents have survived in places such as Kanazawa Bunko and Ōsu Bunko, engi legends and hagiographies are not history, and lineage documents, too, served aims other than recording actual events in the past. It is seldom possible to determine the authors and dates of such documents, not least because surviving texts often have been "updated" and recalibrated by multiple authors with varying agendas...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 293-299
Launched on MUSE
2018-03-14
Open Access
No
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