- Shinto: A History by Helen Hardacre
Shinto: A History is by far the most comprehensive and detailed history of Shinto to date in any Western language. Starting in the Yayoi period (300 BCE–300 CE), this historical overview of almost seven hundred pages takes the reader up to the latest developments in Heisei (1989–2019) Shinto. Overall, Hardacre's account is admirably balanced and broad, covering ideas, practices, institutions, funding, and reflections of Shinto in contemporary popular culture. She offers a very useful overview of the state of the field, enriched by her own critical perspective. The amount of reading that has gone into this work is nothing short of baffling; the bibliography alone is worth the price of this impressive tome. In addition, Shinto: A History includes a number of case studies that offer new and original material. There is no doubt that this monumental work represents a landmark in the study of Shinto and its history.
The book is organized in sixteen chapters, four of which deal with the ancient and classical periods, three with the medieval period, four [End Page 335] with the Edo period (1603–1868), two with the years 1868–1945, and the final three with postwar Japan. The milestones of Shinto history are covered in impressive detail: the classical myths of Kojiki 古事記 (Records of ancient matters) and Nihon shoki 日本書紀 (The chronicles of Japan) and the rituals of the Jingikan 神祇官 (Department of divinities), the emergence of medieval Buddhist Shinto, the reinvention of Shinto by Yoshida Kanetomo 吉田兼倶 and the Edo-period institutionalization of Shinto, the rise of Kokugaku 国学 (Nativism), the Meiji nationalization of Shinto and its impact both on shrines and on groups now designated as sect Shinto, and the postwar settlement and the policies of the national Association of Shinto Shrines (Jinja Honchō 神社本庁). In addition, there are chapters on aspects that are not often discussed in such depth. There is a detailed discussion of female Inari 稲荷 mediums in the late Edo period, as well as a whole chapter about the postwar transformation of shrine festivals and their changing place in the public sphere. Hardacre offers both solid coverage of the basics and excursions into topics that are equally essential but have for some reason been mentioned only in passing, or completely ignored, in earlier works of this nature.
Another commendable feature of this history is Hardacre's insistenceon discussing abstract ideas and policies through the lens of concrete cases and examples. A good example of this approach is her treatment of the incorporation of shrines and Shinto in kokutai 国体 (national essence) propaganda in the Meiji (1868–1912) and prewar years. Hardacre not only analyzes the rhetoric about shrine as stages for "state rites" (kokka no sōshi 国家之宗祀), but she also puts the priorities of the state apparatus to the test by providing a detailed overview of shrine-related expenses in the national budgets between 1875 and 1939. Her comments on the ups and downs of allocations to shrines (pp. 551–52) offer a revealing perspective on the realities of state support for shrines during this period. Also in other places, Shinto: A History tests the impact of new conceptualizations on Shinto and shrines by concretizing their effect, either by means of quantifiable data or selected case studies.
This work, then, puts the field of Shinto studies on a new footing. But it also has its problems. As one must expect, mistakes creep in when one author covers such a wide timespan, either because of misunderstandings or because of dependence on unclear or outdated secondary [End Page 336] sources. It would be churlish indeed to list such errors, many of which are not particularly consequential. A more fundamental issue is the fact that writing a history of Shinto involves making choices that are conceptually problematic, whatever the perspective one chooses to apply.
In a review of a historical overview of Shinto that Hardacre frequently quotes approvingly (for example, on p. 44), Sarah Thal puts her finger on the sore spot.1 She writes, "Shintō . . . can, at most, only be said to...