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Enduring Identities

The Guise of Shinto in Contemporary Japan

John K. Nelson

Publication Year: 2000

Enduring Identities is an attempt to understand the continuing relevance of Shinto to the cultural identity of contemporary Japanese. The enduring significance of this ancient yet innovative religion is evidenced each year by the millions of Japanese who visit its shrines. They might come merely seeking a park-like setting or to make a request of the shrine's deities, asking for a marriage partner, a baby, or success at school or work; or they might come to give thanks for benefits received through the intercession of deities or to legitimate and sacralize civic and political activities. Through an investigation of one of Japan's most important and venerated Shinto shrines, Kamo Wake Ikazuchi Jinja (more commonly Kamigamo Jinja), the book addresses what appears through Western and some Asian eyes to be an exotic and incongruous blend of superstition and reason as well as a photogenic juxtaposition of present and past. Combining theoretical sophistication with extensive fieldwork and a deep knowledge of Japan, John Nelson documents and interprets the ancient Kyoto shrine's yearly cycle of rituals and festivals, its sanctified landscapes, and the people who make it viable. At local and regional levels, Kamigamo Shrine's ritual traditions (such as the famous Hollyhock Festival) and the strategies for their perpetuation and implementation provide points of departure for issues that anthropologists, historians, and scholars of religion will recognize as central to their disciplines. These include the formation of social memory, the role of individual agency within institutional politics, religious practice and performance, the shaping of sacred space and place, ethnic versus cultural identity, and the politics of historical representation and cultural nationalism. Nelson links these themes through a detailed ethnography about a significant place and institution, which until now has been largely closed to both Japanese and foreign scholars. In contrast to conventional notions of ideology and institutions, he shows how a religious tradition's lack of centralized dogma, charismatic leaders, and sacred texts promotes rather than hinders a broad-based public participation with a variety of institutional agendas, most of which have very little to do with belief. He concludes that it is this structural flexibility, coupled with ample economic, human, and cultural resources, that nurtures a reworking of multiple identities--all of which resonate with the past, fully engage the present, and, with care, will endure well into the future.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This work would not have been possible without the assistance of others. My heartfelt gratitude goes to Mr. Makoto Abe, the former head priest of Kamigamo Shrine, whose permission and tolerance permitted this study. I would also like to thank the current head priest, Mr. Mitsuyoshi Takeuchi, as well as senior priest Mr. Yasumasa Fujiki for their time and ...

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pp. ix

As is the custom in books employing Japanese terms and names, I will indicate Japanese terms by italicizing them except when they are used as proper nouns or have become common in English contexts. Japanese names appear with the family name followed by the given name. “Shinto” appears without the macron over the final “o” when used by itself in the ...

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Chapter One: Opening Orientations

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pp. 1-21

In 1970 scientists and administrators of Japan’s Space Development Agency were ready to launch the country’s first satellite. Under great pressure to succeed and thus further demonstrate to the world Japan’s continuing postwar recovery, they carried out their plans meticulously. Then they took one final precaution. Shortly before the launch, senior representatives ...

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Chapter Two: Freedom of Expression: The Very Modern Practice of Visiting a Shinto Shrine

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pp. 22-51

Why do people come to visit Kamigamo Shrine? Is it the allure of history and the chance to walk and worship where emperors and shoguns have passed? Is it the respite from urban pressures the shrine offers with its leafy canopies, winding paths, and murmuring brooks, framing buildings listed as “important cultural treasures”? Or are there powerfully personal ...

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Chapter Three: Toward an Ideology of Sacred Place

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pp. 53-86

In the sensuous rush of visual, audible, and tactile stimuli transmitted during a visit to a shrine or through one of its rituals, often overlooked is the medium that permits their expression: the nature of the place itself. The previous chapter described the various activities enabled through the medium of a shrine in contemporary Japan. This chapter takes a closer look ...

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Chapter Four: Kamo Memories and Histories

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pp. 87-122

Tradition—custom—history. These are fighting words to people in many parts of the world where battles rage over the legitimacy of institutions, social practices, and the control of territory or resources. In postwar Japan, the fight has thus far been waged largely with images, words, and symbols instead of bullets and invasions, yet the persistence ...

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Chapter Five: Warden Virtuoso Salaryman = Priest: The Roles of Religious Specialists in Institutional Perspective

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pp. 123-163

At age forty-seven, Ishida Haruo is at the point of no return.1 A Shinto priest for seventeen years, he knows at this stage there will be no career change, no drastic improvement in his lifestyle, and certainly no promotion to head or even associate head priest. And yet, when listening to him discuss his work and career, one does not hear complaints. “When I come ...

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Chapter Six: Performing Ritual

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pp. 164-184

Readers might find it odd that I have deferred until now discussion of a shrine and its priests’ ostensible raison d’être: those ritual events and performances said to embody the heritage, hierarchies, and myths of its primary kami. Since Japanese festivals are known the world over for their dynamism and pageantry (not to mention the expenditures lavished on ...

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Chapter Seven: Kamigamo's Yearly Ritual Cycle

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pp. 185-242

The following overview covers some of the thirty-eight rituals listed in the nenjūgyōji, the official listing published by Kamigamo Shrine. According to some interpretations, only those events celebrated “for centuries” should qualify as nenjūgyōji rituals. A criterion like this would problematize considerably the selection of rituals owing to the vast reoganization ...

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pp. 243-248

The last thing a conclusion should do is to presume to have the final word. While summarizing and restating may be important, I have often gained greater insight when challenged, provoked, and enticed into areas extending beyond the scope of the work at hand. Like a stone thrown into the bounded pool of water of a book’s contents, a conclusion should ripple ...

Appendix I: Symbols, Pavilions, and Signs at Kamigamo Shrine

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pp. 249-255

Appendix II: Kamo-Affiliated Shrines in Japan

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pp. 256


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pp. 257-288

Select Character Glossary

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pp. 289-294

Works Cited

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pp. 295-318


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pp. 319-324

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862381
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824821203

Publication Year: 2000