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  • Shinra Myōjin and Buddhist Networks of the East Asian "Mediterranean" by Sujung Kim
  • Andrew Macomber
Shinra Myōjin and Buddhist Networks of the East Asian "Mediterranean." By Sujung Kim. University of Hawai'i Press, 2020. 194 pages. Hardcover, $68.00; softcover, $28.00.

Many in medieval Japan divided up the world into three: India, China, and Japan. This "three countries" (sangoku) model was less an accurate cartographic account than a reflection of efforts to situate Japan within a patently Buddhist world. It is surprising, therefore, that the model should have excluded the Korean peninsula, the home of monastics, merchants, rulers, and immigrants who facilitated the transmission of Buddhism from the continent to the Japanese archipelago over many centuries during the ancient period. Even more surprising is that few scholars to date have moved beyond this model to address how images of "Korea" figured in medieval Japanese religion. In her provocative study, Sujung Kim seeks to recover a medieval Japanese mythic imagination surrounding Korea by examining the curious figure of Shinra Myōjin, a deity whose name points squarely to the ancient Korean kingdom of Silla (Jp. Shinra, Shiragi; 57 BCE–935 CE). Adopting as her framework the East Asian "Mediterranean"—a concept originating with Angela Schottenhammer, borrowing from Annales historian Fernard Braudel—Kim investigates the sociohistorical and symbolic networks that gave rise to and sustained the cult of Shinra Myōjin at Onjōji Temple (known more commonly today as Miidera), the headquarters of the Jimon branch of the Tendai school located in Ōmi Province (Shiga Prefecture). In so doing, she challenges our habitually landlocked view of Japan as an isolated entity and forces us to grapple with the ways that maritime interactions with and images of the continent shaped premodern Japanese Buddhism.

In part 1, Kim concentrates on the sociohistorical emergence of the cult of Shinra Myōjin. She begins, in chapter 1, by offering a brief history of Onjōji, where that cult first took form, including a useful introduction to key textual sources of the Jimon lineage. Despite the religious and political significance of Onjōji, research on the [End Page 341] Jimon community has long been forestalled by a regrettable lack of extant sources, which number far fewer than those preserved by other major monasteries such as Enryakuji or Daigoji. Kim proves that creative approaches brought to surviving sources can yield significant and unexpected insights into the history of Onjōji and Japanese Buddhism. A case in point is the Onjōji ryūge-e, an early origin story (engi) in which Shinra Myōjin appears to Enchin (814–891) during the priest's return voyage to Japan from Tang China. Highlighting Shinra Myōjin's dual character as a sea-faring deity who vows to protect the eminent monk and a landowning deity (jinushigami) who leads him to the future site of Onjōji, Kim demonstrates how such narrative sources functioned to rewrite the history of the monastery in times of sectarian strife and political unrest.

In chapter 2, Kim zooms out from Onjōji to consider the broader historical and geographical context in which the cult of Shinra Myōjin materialized. She focuses first on the immediate Ōmi area in which Onjōji is located, highlighting the great number of immigrants from the Korean peninsula, including many from Silla, who settled in this region and built shrines along the coast of Lake Biwa amid larger waves of immigration from the late fourth to late seventh centuries. Although Kim acknowledges that no extant sources allow us to definitively connect these Sillan deities and their shrines with the shrine of Shinra Myōjin later built on the grounds of Onjōji, there can be little doubt that the presence of these gods and the immigrant communities that worshiped them impacted religious developments in the area. Moreover, Kim shows that even Korean communities that settled quite far from the archipelago influenced developments in Japan in surprising ways. During his well-known pilgrimage to China, Ennin (794–864) benefited from the assistance of Sillan monastics and merchants, spurring Enryakuji's later promotion of Sekizan Myōjin, the god of Mt. Chi in Shandong Province, which...


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