In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Female Shrine Priests and Doctrinal Instructors in the Early Meiji Moral Edification Campaign
  • Odaira Mika (bio)
    Translated by Michael Burtscher

In 1877 the Imperial Household Ministry (Kunaishō 宮内省) issued a work intended to extol and promote moral edification. Titled Record of Filial Piety and Moral Fidelity in the Meiji Era (Meiji kōsetsu roku 明治孝節録), the work consisted of a set of accounts of exemplary deeds by men and women. The preface declared it to have been compiled at the order of Empress Shōken 昭憲 (1849–1914). Ten years later the empress commissioned a similar work, Mirror for Women (Fujo kagami 婦女鑑; 1887), featuring examples of exemplary behavior by women.

Highlighting Empress Shōken’s association with these efforts at moral edification, the two works figure in one of her official portraits. The portrait shows the empress standing. She wears the formal dress and tiara of the consort of a modern European-style monarch. To the left is a table with a set of ten volumes in a traditional East Asian book casing and a vase filled with flowers (see figure 1). Art historian Wakakuwa Midori 若桑みどり has pointed out that the ten volumes in the book casing must be those of Record of Filial Piety and Moral Fidelity in the Meiji Era and Mirror for Women. The imperial portrait thus symbolizes a coming together of the “modern style” expressed by the empress’s clothing with the “traditional female virtues” these works aimed to preserve. These two mutually opposing demands, Wakakuwa argues, constituted the ideal imposed on women at the time.1

The contradiction inherent in this ideal was in fact part of a more general tension characteristic of the overall project of “national moral edification” (kokumin kyōka 国民教化) [End Page 213] that was central to policy concerning shrines and deity worship in the early years of the Meiji period and was ultimately absorbed into the Meiji school system. On the one hand that project called for a “return to antiquity” (fukko 復古) that envisioned “restoration” of an idealized past rooted in Confucian norms. On the other it urged “civilizational progress” (kaika 開化). The pull of these crosscurrents shaped three developments of the 1870s that had a direct impact on women: a reform of customs related to deity rites, an abortive attempt to appoint female shrine priests, and an effort to enroll women as doctrinal instructors (kyōdōshoku 教導職) in the campaign to promote moral edification under the overarching label of the Great Doctrine (taikyō 大教).

Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Empress Shōken. From Ueda Keiji 上田景二, ed., Shōken kōtaigō shi 昭憲皇太后史 (Kōeki Tsūshinsha, 1914), frontispiece.

The parallel between the works of popular edification associated with Empress Shōken and these preceding three developments of the 1870s was not merely symbolic. [End Page 214] For one thing, the same people were involved in both. The key figure behind the compilation of Record of Filial Piety and Moral Fidelity in the Meiji Era was the National Learning (Kokugaku 国学) scholar Fukuba Bisei 福羽美静 (1831–1907). Fukuba, who served as tutor to the Meiji emperor, was also the architect of many policies concerning rites and shrines in the early Meiji years. As rector (setsuri 摂理) of Tokyo Women’s Normal School (Tōkyō Joshi Shihan Gakkō 東京女子師範学校), a post he assumed in 1880, he continued to focus on educational issues, including the instruction of women. Kabe Izuo 加部厳夫 (1849–1922), like Fukuba a National Learning scholar from the former Tsuwano 津和野 domain (and Fukuba’s biographer), coedited Mirror for Women.2 Apart from these links in personnel, a common thread of ideas about national moral edification connects the three developments identified above both to each other and to the intersecting calls for a return to antiquity and civilizational progress embodied in Empress Shōken’s portrait.

Reform of Customs and the Modernization of Deity Rites

A succession of offices that changed with dizzying rapidity formulated and implemented policies regarding deity rites, shrine affairs, and moral edification in the first decade and a half of the Meiji period. As a symbolic return to antiquity, one of the first acts of the new Meiji government was to restore the ancient Nara-period Department of Deities (Jingikan 神祇官) in the intercalary...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 213-244
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.