- A Social History of the Ise Shrines: Divine Capital by Mark Teeuwen and John Breen
Mark Teeuwen and John Breen's new coauthored book on the social history of the Ise shrines comes out at an interesting time, when the shrines are once again in the public eye following their latest rebuilding, the visits of Japan's Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, and the recent G7 Ise-Shima summit. With Ise re-entering the sphere of public and academic interest in Japan, the history of different aspects of kami worship has also been attracting more attention in the West. Thanks to the recently established Bloomsbury Shinto Studies series, in which Teeuwen and Breen's book is the fourth volume, and several other monographs on this subject which appeared elsewhere in 2016–17, the number of incisive and valuable contributions to the study of the history of Shintō in Western languages is generally increasing, prompting a hope that a deeper and more nuanced understanding of this form of Japan's religiosity will take hold within the wider academic community. This should be a welcome development in itself. Better still, Teeuwen and Breen's study focuses on a very special case that in multiple ways is central to the past and present of Japan, both on its own terms as a cultural entity, a polity, and a nation, and within broader East Asian and global contexts.
Ise is the site of enshrinement of two important deities, Amaterasu and Toyuke; of these, the former has been revered as the divine ancestor of Japan's imperial family, and the latter was understood at different times as either the goddess of sacred food presented daily to Amaterasu or as another, equally imposing, imperial deity. According to Japan's earliest written sources, Ise's history might hark back to the prehistoric age, but no detailed studies of it in English have yet revealed the full extent and complexity of how and why the Ise shrines have survived as an institution for so long, or what economic or political mechanisms, media, and agents were involved in the making of Ise's continued importance in Japanese history. Teeuwen and Breen's book (of which the first six chapters are authored by Teeuwen and the latter four by Breen) finally solves this problem and provides the long overdue answers to these questions.
To date, several studies have used an already tried and tested approach to studying the religious sites in situ, an approach first introduced to the scholarly analysis of Japanese religions by Alan Grapard in his study of the Kasuga shrine and Kōfukuji in the 1990s. Here, without compromising on discussion of the effects of the plentiful religious developments that took [End Page 414] place over time at Ise, Teeuwen and Breen's volume offers a sober look at the economic circumstances framing the "making or breaking" of religious movements, sites, and identities. In that sense, the subtitle of their book, Divine Capital, bears a double meaning: the book is simultaneously about the capital of a divine realm inhabited by the Japanese kami, a beating heart (although, admittedly, not the only one) of Japan's continuously reinvented religiosity, and about the historical stratagems for generating, accumulating, reconfiguring, and disbursing symbolic and material capital in the form of tangible and intangible assets: land estates, property, icons, secret teachings, professional skills, and power spots.
One of the book's most significant contributions is its abundance of new information about the historical motivations and activities of the diverse groups of actors holding stakes in Ise's continuous revival and reinvention, both religious and economic. These groups include not only the specific shrine priests and Buddhist temple lineages (whose ritual and economic goals at times vastly differed), but also female and male rulers, literary figures, scholars, nonelite practitioners, pilgrims and donors, journalists, and of course politicians. For example, in chapters 1 and 2, dealing with ancient and "classical" Ise, we learn of the role of women...