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  • Sacred Space in the Modern City: The Fractured Pasts of Meiji Shrine, 1912–1958 by Yoshiko Imaizumi
  • Aike P. Rots
Sacred Space in the Modern City: The Fractured Pasts of Meiji Shrine, 1912–1958. By Yoshiko Imaizumi. Leiden: Brill, 2013. 334pages. Hardcover €128.00/$163.00.

In recent years, a number of groundbreaking historical studies of particular shrines and shrine-temple complexes have been published in English, including those on Kotohira, Kumano, Ōyama, and Izumo.1 These works trace the major changes these places and the institutions managing them have undergone over the centuries. They have contributed significantly to our understanding of Buddhist practices and kami worship in the medieval and early modern periods, as well as the various local implications of the state-imposed separation of Shinto and Buddhism and the establishment of Shinto as a national imperial cult in the Meiji period. Imaizumi’s meticulously researched book on Meiji shrine follows the example of these other works, but differs in historical scope: in contrast to the worship sites mentioned above, Meiji shrine was not constructed until the Taishō period. Yoshiko Imaizumi accordingly focuses on the time from 1912, the year of Emperor Meiji’s death, until 1958, when the shrine was reinaugurated following wartime destruction. As a study of a shrine established in modern times that played a central role in the integration of Shinto shrine worship and imperial kokutai ideology, her work constitutes a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarship on Shinto history. It also adds some relevant new [End Page 438] perspectives to the ongoing debate about the meaning and historical significance of “State Shinto,” showing how different actors negotiated and influenced the system.

As Imaizumi states in her introduction, this is the first integrated history of Meiji shrine; previous studies only focused on a single aspect of the site (e.g., architecture or forestry) and did not take the postwar years into consideration. Sacred Space in the Modern City is thus an important contribution to the field. It is not only of interest to historians of religion, however: the book also addresses topics such as the history of city planning, the role of art in the construction of national memory, and the significance of sports and physical exercise to modern nationalism. Drawing on primary and secondary sources in both Japanese and English, the work is surprisingly multifaceted in its approach, using Meiji shrine as a focal point for the study of placemaking, memory construction, and nation-building in early twentieth-century Japan. Imaizumi convincingly shows that the meanings attributed to the shrine and emperor (as well as to the related categories of “Shinto” and “religion”) were subject to continuous contestation and change; her research “begins with an understanding that the only unchanging element was the actual physical location of the shrine, its ‘place’ ” (p. 3). Hence her choice to adopt a place-based approach and offer in-depth examinations of the spatial practices that occurred in and around the shrine.

The book is divided into five substantial chapters, which can be read (and assigned to students) separately from each other. Chapter 1 describes the period from the death of Emperor Meiji (1912) to the inauguration of the shrine (1920). It examines the discussions taking place at the time, which centered on the question of the “religious” nature of Shinto and the new shrine, as well as on the development of a new “national morality” (kokumin dōtoku) by scholars such as Haga Yaichi and Inoue Tetsujirō. (Interestingly, as Imaizumi shows, many of the debates that focused on the “religious” nature of Shinto and the new shrine were informed by, and reacted against, Basil Hall Chamberlain’s 1912 work The Invention of a New Religion.) Importantly, Imaizumi argues, these shrine-related discourses “were not necessarily compatible, and Meiji shrine is best understood in terms of its capacity to encompass different interpretations” (p. 23). She then proceeds to discuss the actors involved in the physical construction of the shrine—not only the Home Ministry and other state agencies, but also various local organizations and youth associations (seinendan). These actors did not all agree on the shape the new shrine should take; as Imaizumi...


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pp. 438-442
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