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Weaving and Binding

Immigrants Gods and Female Immortals in Ancient Japan

Michael Como

Publication Year: 2009

Among the most exciting developments in the study of Japanese religion over the past two decades has been the discovery of tens of thousands of ritual vessels, implements, and scapegoat dolls (hitogata) from the Nara (710-784) and early Heian (794-1185) periods. Because inscriptions on many of the items are clearly derived from Chinese rites of spirit pacification, it is now evident that previous scholarship has mischaracterized the role of Buddhism in early Japanese religion. Weaving and Binding makes a compelling argument that both the Japanese royal system and the Japanese Buddhist tradition owe much to continental rituals centered on the manipulation of yin and yang, animal sacrifice, and spirit quelling. Building on these recent archaeological discoveries, Michael Como charts an epochal transformation in the religious culture of the Japanese islands, tracing the transmission and development of fundamental paradigms of religious practice to immigrant lineages and deities from the Korean peninsula.

In addition to archaeological materials, Como makes extensive use of a wide range of textual sources from across Asia, including court chronicles, poetry collections, gazetteers, temple records, and divinatory texts. As he investigates the influence of myths, legends, and rites of the ancient Chinese festival calendar on religious practice across the Japanese islands, Como shows how the ability of immigrant lineages to propitiate hostile deities led to the creation of elaborate networks of temple-shrine complexes that shaped later sectarian Shinto as well as popular understandings of the relationship between the buddhas and the gods of Japan. For much of the book, this process is examined through rites and legends from the Chinese calendar that were related to weaving, sericulture, and medicine—technologies that to a large degree were controlled by lineages with roots in the Korean peninsula and that claimed female deities and weaving maidens as founding ancestors. Como’s examination of a series of ancient Japanese legends of female immortals, weaving maidens, and shamanesses reveals that female deities played a key role in the moving of technologies and ritual practices from peripheral regions in Kyushu and elsewhere into central Japan and the heart of the imperial cult. As a result, some of the most important building blocks of the purportedly native Shinto tradition were to a remarkable degree shaped by the ancestral cults of immigrant lineages and popular Korean and Chinese religious practices.

This is a provocative and innovative work that upsets the standard interpretation of early historical religion in Japan, revealing a complex picture of continental cultic practice both at court and in the countryside.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Front Cover

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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-x

THROUGH EVERY STAGE of this project I have benefited enormously from the work of numerous friends and scholars whose generous assistance has made this a far better book than it otherwise would have been. During the formative stages of this project I was fortunate to receive the support and encouragement of such scholars as Jackie Stone of Princeton, Paul Groner ...

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pp. xi-xxi

AMONG THE MOST exciting developments in the study of Japanese religion over the past two decades has been the discovery of tens of thousands of ritual vessels, implements, and scapegoat dolls (hitogata) from the Nara (710–784) and early Heian (794–1185) periods. Because inscriptions on many of these items are clearly derived from Chinese rites of spirit ...

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Chapter 1 Immigrant Gods on the Road to Jindò

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pp. 1-24

ALTHOUGH FEW SCHOLARS of Japanese religion today would accept Meiji-period claims about the centrality of the royal cult for the spiritual life of the Japanese people, one of the most enduring legacies of prewar Japanese ideology has been the association of the Japanese royal house with Japanese nationalism. In this ideological configuration ...

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Chapter 2 Karakami and Animal Sacrifice

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pp. 25-54

BY THE EARLY Heian period several of the shrines and deities associated with the Hata and other immigrant kinship groups had already been adopted as primary figures of worship by the court—so many, in fact, that immigrant deities (karakami) constituted a major element within the court’s cultic agenda. As a result, the cultic centers of immigrant lineages such as ...

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Chapter 3 Female Rulers and Female Immortals

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pp. 55-83

BY THE START of the Nara period continental-style rites and deities were an established part of the cultic life of the Japanese islands. One by-product of the establishment of the tennò-centered polity that emerged following Tenmu’s victory in the Jinshin war of 672 was substantial ferment in the worship of kami. As cults and deities from as far as distant Kyûshû entered ...

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Chapter 4 The Queen Mother of the West and the Ghosts of the Buddhist Tradition

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pp. 84-108

ONE AFTERNOON EARLY in the seventh month of 587, so the story goes, the political and cultic landscape of the Japanese islands was profoundly transformed as an army of pro-Buddhist princes and lineages led by the Soga kinship group overcame the forces of their powerful Mononobe opponents and established a new, pro-Buddhist regime within the Japanese islands. ...

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Chapter 5 Shamanesses, Lavatories, and the Magic of Silk

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pp. 109-135

IN THE STORY of Rumpelstiltskin, every western child knows that the mysterious forest dweller’s ability to spin straw into gold helped a young maiden become queen of a kingdom. The basic elements of this legend would probably have been intelligible to people across Asia by the sixth century C.E. Indeed, triangles of kings, weavers, and spirits have been ubiquitous ...

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Chapter 6 Silkworms and Consorts

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pp. 136-154

IN 608 A delegation from the court of the Chinese ruler Sui Yang-ti arrived on the shores of the Japanese islands with the goal of establishing amicable relations with Yamato in advance of a planned invasion of the Sui’s nemesis, the Korean kingdom of Koguryô. Although geopolitical concerns almost certainly were foremost in the minds of the Sui envoys, the cultural and cultic ...

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Chapter 7 Silkworm Cults in the Heavenly Grotto: Amaterasu and the Children of Ama no Hoakari

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pp. 155-192

IN THE DECADES following the Suiko court’s decision to actively promulgate continentally inspired court ritual and the Chinese festival calendar, successive rulers worked at expanding an extensive program of bureaucratic and ritual innovations that were in large part rooted in continental conceptions of divination, spirit pacification, and sage kingship. By the reign of Tenmu tennò, ...

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pp. 193-196

IN THIS BOOK we have examined several key moments in the formation of the Japanese Buddhist tradition, the Japanese royal cult, and popular worship of kami in the Japanese islands. We have seen that from at least the time of the Yamato ruler Wakateru down to the Heian period, both the royal cult and popular cultic life were characterized by tremendous ferment, as changes in ...

Glossary of Names and Terms

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pp. 197-222

Appendix: Notes on Sources

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pp. 223-235

Notes and Abbreviations

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pp. 237-277

Works Cited

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pp. 279-294


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pp. 295-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837525
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829575

Publication Year: 2009