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  • "State Shinto" in Recent Japanese Scholarship
  • Okuyama Michiaki (bio)

Murakami Shigeyoshi's 村上重良 Kokka Shintō 国家神道, published in 1970 by Iwanami Shoten, has had a tremendous impact on subsequent understandings of its subject: the current widely held view that a discrete ideology called Kokka Shinto (State Shinto) actually existed in Japan until the conclusion of World War II was quite likely shaped by Murakami's work, an inexpensive, popular paperback (shinsho) that has been continuously reprinted over the years.

As most readers are aware, the term "State Shinto" was drawn mainly from the language of the so-called Shinto Directive, 1 but we must recognize at the outset that it signifies not so much a firmly established historical entity as a cluster of phenomena perceived from the perspectives of various scholars and defined according to their particular purposes. In order to provide a framework for this discussion and deepen the debate on State Shinto, our task is, at a minimum, to specify the historical phenomena to which the term refers and clearly articulate Shinto's relationship to the state. [End Page 123]

In 2010, forty years after the publication of Murakami's book, several retrospective studies were published that critically evaluate his work, signaling that it is time to reassess the literature on this controversial topic. This article focuses on the studies that have appeared in Japanese over the past few years. Following a brief review of representative definitions and general descriptions of State Shinto in standard reference works, I turn to an examination of recent retrospective studies on Murakami's theory of State Shinto and of several other key works. Some of the research of several scholars considered below—Isomae Jun'ichi 磯前順一, Hayashi Makoto 林淳, and Shimazono Susumu 島薗進—has already been published in English. I will omit discussion of these works here since they are already accessible to a wider audience. 2 I will concentrate instead on reviewing recent publications in Japanese and, hopefully, offer readers a clearer picture of where this field of research stands today. 3

Basic Definitions and Historical Perspectives

Any discussion of State Shinto needs to bear in mind the distinction between "narrow" and "broad" definitions of the term. Nitta Hitoshi 新田均 is known for clarifying this distinction. 4 The "broad" understanding—which, in addition to Shrine Shinto, includes such dimensions as imperial household rituals and propagation through schools and media—can be traced back to the prewar period. In his genealogical analysis of the origins of these very different perspectives on State Shinto, Nitta explains that this approach "began in the prewar period with the work of Katō Genchi 加藤玄智 and D. C. Holtom. It entered the mainstream through the Shinto Directive, and it was further expanded by Fujitani Toshio 藤谷俊雄 to apply to a greater number of time periods and range of phenomena. Murakami Shigeyoshi consolidated Fujitani's wide-ranging views into a theory that became the basis for the way State Shinto came to be generally perceived. Murakami's theory, however, subsequently became the focus of much criticism, which made it difficult to sustain as it was originally framed. In this context, Miyachi Masato 宮地正人 advanced some revisions, Nakajima Michio 中島 三千男 offered his own reframing, and Yasumaru Yoshio 安丸良夫 attempted to take apart and reconstruct the broad perspective on State Shinto" (p. 6).

The "narrow" view, which limits the notion of State Shinto to the situation when Shrine Shinto was under the state's control and administration, can be seen in the prewar government's position and in the work of Shinto scholars such as Ashizu Uzuhiko 葦津珍彦, Nishida Hiroyoshi 西田 廣義, and Sakamoto Koremaru 阪本是丸. Those who adopt this perspective maintain that State Shinto does not refer to the larger religious system of modern Japan or to phenomena beyond the state administration of Shrine Shinto. "Given that the proponents [of the narrow view] are often [End Page 124] viewed as only having offered partial criticisms of the broad definition," Nitta writes, "their position has been unable to achieve dominance in this field" (p. 6). 5

An examination of Nitta's interpretations of each of these scholars is beyond the scope of this review. Most notable among his contributions to contemporary discussions of State Shinto are his observation that both the "narrow" and "broad" definitions...


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