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The first chapter began with the experience of Shinto spirituality in its most general, not even necessarily Japanese, form. Chapter 2 described contemporary Japanese cultural behavior laden with the underlying values and ideas associated with this experience and the Shinto heritage as it has come to be part of the daily lives of many Japanese today. The next three chapters focus on the historical development of Shinto from prehistoric times up to the present—giving special attention to Shinto institutional, doctrinal, and political structures. Surveying this extensive period, we will find throughout elements of both existential and essentialist Shinto. But we will also find a historical dynamic between them that developed in three major phases. This chapter considers the earliest phase of Shinto spirituality: from prehistory up to around the end of the eighth century. Here we will find the foundations for both existential and essentialist modalities. Chapter 4 continues the narrative from 794 up to 1801, the year in which Motoori Norinaga died. As we will see, elements of existential Shinto spirituality tended to flourish during that millennium. Chapter 5 covers the last two centuries of the story—1801 through 2002—describing the rise and ultimate dominance of essentialist over existential characteristics during the war years and then the awkward tension between the two continuing up to the present. To understand the relation between Shinto as folk religion and state religion, between Shinto as a form of personal spirituality and as a nationalist ideology, between Shinto as a religious organization and civil institution, it is crucial to grasp the impact and distinctiveness of each of these three historical phases. To begin our story, let us consider the account of Shinto most often found in reference books dealing with either Japan or comparative religion. C H A P T E R 3 Ancient Shinto (Prehistory–794) The Trailblazers The “Standard” Account of Shinto Relying on preconceived notions about religion, Western commentators have often molded their narratives of Shinto into a form convenient and digestible for their Western audience. Extrapolating from the religions in their own cultures, Westerners often look in other religions for a scriptural foundation and narratives about gods creating the world. Using this template, standard descriptions of Shinto often include a summary statement something like this: Shinto is an animistic Japanese religion going back to preliterate times. The myths of creation and how the state was established were preserved in oral traditions until written down in the early eighth century in two chronicles, Kojiki and Nihonshoki. These chronicles narrate the beginning of the gods and goddesses (kami) and the process by which the islands of Japan (or by extension the whole world) came into being through their actions. The most important deity is the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu. She is considered the direct ancestor of the Japanese imperial family and gives the throne a religious foundation. Such explanations appear in dozens of Western books and reference works dealing with Japan. Since, as we will see, they support an essentialist interpretation of Shinto, they commonly appear in nineteenthand twentieth-century Japanese accounts as well—the same era when modern Western scholarship first turned its attention to Japan. If we were to go back two or three centuries earlier, however, most Japanese of the time would fail to recognize in the description their own version of “Shinto” spirituality. So, despite its claims, the standard account is not so traditional at all. It is a distinctively nineteenth- and twentiethcentury reading of what is most fundamental to Shinto. How such a narrative became authoritative will be explained in chapter 5. Even at this point in our study, though, we can see in this standard account two emphases that do not match the descriptions in chapters 1 and 2. First, there is at least the indirect suggestion that Shinto is a textbased religion comparable to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, or even Confucianism in that it is a “religion of the book.” This leads people to think of Kojiki or Nihonshoki as scriptures or foundational sacred 72 S H I N T O texts of Shinto. If this were true, we might expect Japanese to commonly read the texts or at least have parts of them memorized. Phrases from the works would permeate the idioms of the culture (as one finds hundreds of phrases like “turn the other cheek” in cultures influenced by the Christian Bible, for example). Yet this is hardly the case. Furthermore , given the hierarchy of the kami mentioned in the texts...


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