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  • Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm
  • Robert Borgen (bio)
Buddhas and Kami in Japan: Honji Suijaku as a Combinatory Paradigm. Edited by Mark Teeuwen and Fabio Rambelli. RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2003. ix, 371 pages. $90.00.

The second lecture in my annual course "Introduction to Everything about Japan (in 10 weeks)" devotes at least 15 minutes each to explaining both the Shintō and Buddhist religions, followed by a 30-second caveat acknowledging that through most of Japanese history the two were tightly intertwined. I suspect my approach may be fairly typical, and it certainly is convenient. Although Shintō is a bit elusive, we can somehow convey a sense [End Page 453] of what it is all about. Buddhism may be more complex, but its basic principles are not that difficult to grasp. Japanese Buddhism, moreover, offers a neat sequence of patriarchs and their sects that are easily parsed to help beginners keep track of them. At the introductory level, this approach seems to work reasonably well. Unfortunately, anyone who has attempted to examine closely what was actually going on in the syncretic world of traditional Japanese religion will soon discover a degree of complexity well beyond the clichés of the introductory survey. This realm may be familiar to specialists in Japanese religion, but it is less known to those of us who venture in from other disciplines. We need guidance beyond what appears in traditional studies of this sect or that patriarch, and this collection of essays offers an excellent place to start for those who already know the basics. It consists of a detailed and thoughtful introduction by the editors and eleven contributions by scholars from Europe, Japan, and America. The articles are of uniformly high quality and in some cases introduce the Anglophone world to work by distinguished scholars who have published more extensively in other languages. The essays are arranged in roughly chronological order. Let me begin by briefly introducing each.

The introduction is the longest piece in the collection and offers an overview of both English-language and Japanese scholarship on how diverse elements were combined in traditional Japanese religion. Whereas some scholars have been perplexed, the editors stress that, with a bit of effort, we can make sense of the seemingly paradoxical religious amalgams. Irene Lin starts with an episode from Nihon ryōiki, the collection of Buddhist tales from the early ninth century, and shows how its story of a "thunder child" illustrates the process by which local deities were incorporated into a Buddhist context and further relates this to political developments of the age. Allan Grapard's contribution treats a collection of oracles, compiled circa 1300, from Hachiman, a familiar being of ill-defined religious affiliation, a presumably Shintō deity commonly known as "The Great Bodhisattva Hachiman." Grapard uses this source as a springboard to pursue the murky provenance of oracular speech, a common feature in Japanese religion. Satō Hiroo turns to another religious genre, medieval "oaths" (kishōmon), and mines them for data on the relative status of Buddhist and Shintō deities. After starting out with a simple distinction—the former are distantly benevolent, the latter are directly responsible for rewards and, unfortunately, punishment too—he goes on to reveal a more complex reality based on Buddhist hierarchies of beings.

Although I recall hearing claims that the shrines at Ise were exceptions to the rule that Shintō and Buddhism were tightly intermingled, Mark Teeuwen's study of "Amaterasu as the Judge of the Dead" shows this to be false, a view other chapters support in passing. Teeuwen focuses on a text from the Kamakura period that clearly places Amaterasu, and by extension [End Page 454] Ise Shrine, in a Buddhist context, equating Japan's Sun Goddess with, among others, King Enma, a lord of the underworld originally from India. (I shall have to revise the part of my lecture in which I explain that, since Shintō eschews the pollution associated with death, Japanese funerals are always Buddhist.) Iyanaga Nobumi's contribution consists of two case studies. The first shows how seemingly random lists of Buddhist deities are not only related to Tenjin, normally classified as...


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