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Shintō, the disenchanter

François Macé
Translated by Karen Grimwade

Abstracts

In 1920 Emperor Meiji (1867-1912) was venerated as a god at a Shintō shrine in central Tokyo: was this an archaic cult for the hero of modernity? While nothing suggests that religion cannot play a role in the modernisation process, the evolution of Shintō in the modern era took the form of a destruction of syncretic traditions, and thus a kind of secularisation, all under the pretext of a return to Japan’s ancient origins. Denying the recent past reinforced a linear conception of time and allowed the solar calendar to be rapidly adopted. Furthermore, reactivating the mythical past enabled the deification of the country – the Japanese version of Western nationalism and its attachment to the land of the ancestors. The sacred royalty invoked in order to restore imperial rule paved the way for a deification of the sovereign, which was the Shintō version of the providential man of twentieth-century dictatorships. The official Meiji Shintō, far from being a minor phenomenon, can thus be considered a major part of Japanese modernity.

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Dedication

In memoriam: M. M.

Full text

Shintō is quite simply reason.神道ハ即理也。Hayashi Razan 林羅山, Shintō denju 神道伝授Original release: François Macé, « Le shintô, désenchanteur », Cipango, Hors-série « Mutations de la conscience dans le Japon moderne », printemps 2002, 7-70.

An archaic cult for the hero of modernity

  • 1 This paper is a revised and expanded version of a presentation given on 8 June 1998 at the French (...)
  • 2 When Empress Dowager Shōken Kōtaigō 昭憲皇太后 died on 11 April 1914, it was decided that she should re (...)

1Meiji jingū (明治神宮), the shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji, was consecrated on 1 November, year 9 of the Taishō period (2580 by the imperial-year system, 1920 by the Gregorian calendar).1 This date was most likely chosen to coincide as closely as possible with the anniversary of the emperor’s birth, on 3 November 1852. In 1913, just one year after Emperor Meiji’s death on 30 July 1912 (Meiji 45), the Diet decided to dedicate a shrine to him and definitively selected a site on 1 May 1915.2

2Japan was far from alone in celebrating its heroes and public figures in the twentieth century. What is remarkable, however, is that this veneration clearly belonged to the realm of religion. The case of Emperor Meiji thus appears to be fundamentally different to the secular personality cults devoted to certain leaders in atheist societies, for example Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Kim Il-Sung. In the modern Japan of the Taishō era, a man – albeit a remarkable one – was awarded divine status in an apparently “traditional” religion.

  • 3 Note that Meiji jingū is not a mausoleum; Emperor Meiji’s tomb is located in Fushimi, Kyoto.
  • 4 Naitō Masatoshi, Mato edo no toshikeikaku (Tokyo: Yōsensha, 1996), 207.
  • 5 Translator’s note: According to Meiji jingū itself, 3 million people visited the shrine during the (...)

3The decision to venerate Emperor Meiji at a shrine was evidently political,3 yet we cannot overlook the fact that one hundred thousand young people helped build the shrine, or that one hundred thousand trees of 365 different species were gifted by the entire nation to be planted in the shrine’s garden (shin’en 神苑). This surge of popular devotion that accompanied the building of the shrine is undeniable, but it needs to be qualified: the power of propaganda is sufficiently well known to not take this mass movement as irrefutable proof of a deep and long-lasting attachment to Emperor Meiji, much less to the form chosen to keep his memory alive. We need only recall the death and posthumous fate of other leading figures of the twentieth century to see that this is true. Nevertheless, this was a genuine popular movement that met government expectations, despite the apparent lack of interest from the intellectual elite. It was decided that Emperor Meiji would be honoured in a Shintō ceremony and he continues to be celebrated this way today. Five hundred thousand people are said to have attended the enshrinement ceremony (chinza-sai 鎮座祭); there were even reports of one death and eight serious injuries.4 This attachment to Emperor Meiji has proved to be unfailing. The shrine was rebuilt in 1958 following its destruction during the bombing of Tokyo on 14 April 1945. It would have been unthinkable to leave in ruins one of the most powerful symbols of modern Japan. Thanks to its location in central Tokyo, Meiji jingū remains one of the most visited places in Japan during the New Year celebrations. Yet the 2.1 million people who visited the shrine in 19985 for hatsumōde 初詣 (first visit of the year to a shrine or temple) cannot be solely attributed to the site’s ease of access.

  • 6 The Meiji Constitution (Dai Nihon teikoku kenpō 大日本帝国憲法), promulgated on 11 February 1889. Railway (...)
  • 7 Leaflet available at the shrine. See also Anzu Motohiko and Umeda Yoshihiko (eds), Shintō jiten (O (...)
  • 8 Similar wording can be found in poem 1050, book 6, of the Man’yōshū 万葉集: O-Yashima / the dominion (...)

4Even during his own lifetime, Emperor Meiji was seen as responsible for modernising Japan. He is celebrated as one of the founders of the nation after Jimmu 神武, the first human emperor, Kammu 桓武 (737–806), the founder of Kyoto, and Go Daigo 後醍醐 (1288–1339), the man behind the first restoration. Even by early twentieth-century Western standards, Japan was a modern nation: it had conquered both China and Russia; it had colonised Korea; its leaders wore top hats and tails; it had a constitution, railways and electricity.6 Meiji jingū stresses the modernity of the emperor in its documentation, and it is no doubt because he drove modernity that Emperor Meiji is venerated as a god.7 When he died, it was quickly decided that his memory should be celebrated for centuries to come in a Shintō ceremony. This posthumous worshipping of the emperor mirrored the divine character attributed to him during his lifetime, as evidenced by the resurrection of archaic expressions like ara-mikami 現御神 (living god/divine man)8 by supporters of the restoration. Yet Shintō claimed to be the primitive religion of Japan, dating back to the dawn of time, as old as Japan and Japanese nature themselves. How could such an archaic religion have helped modernise Japan? And why would a country striving to modernise itself to compete with the Western powers use religion in one of its reputedly most ancient forms? It would be like the Turks using religious rites from pre-Muslim days to pay tribute to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938).

  • 9 For an overview of the Shintō schools of the era, see Kiyohara Sadao, Shintō shi

5Part of the problem hinges on the definition of the word shintō 神道. Although it claimed to be the original religion of Japan, this “Shintō” that deified Emperor Meiji was in reality just one part of a vast and poorly delineated system of beliefs and practices collectively referred to as the “Way of the Gods”.9

  • 10 Figures taken from Shūkyō nenkan Heisei gonen-hen 宗教年鑑平成5年編 [Directory of Religions, 1993], produc (...)
  • 11 Sect Shintō currently consists of 80 religious groups established during the 19th century and the (...)

6Nowadays, “Shrine Shintō” (jinja shintō 神社神道) presents itself as heir to the official pre-war Shintō. Administered by the powerful Association of Shintō Shrines (Jinja honchō 神社本庁), it holds the most prominent position in the religious and political landscape of Japan (accounting for 79,629 shrines – 79,160 of which are overseen by the Association – out of the 81,508 listed in 1993).10 Nevertheless, it is far from being the only school or sect within the Shintō movement: Firstly, autonomous organisations have sprung up around major shrines, for example “The Teachings of Izumo” (Izumo-kyō 出雲教), affiliated to Izumo Grand Shrine (Izumo taisha 出雲大社) in Shimane Prefecture. And secondly, official statistics continue to distinguish Shrine Shintō from Sect Shintō (kyōha shintō 教派神道), and from so-called “new religion” Shintō (shinkyōha 新教派), whose groups are “Shintō-derived ”.11

7This diversity is not new. Meiji officials were unable to completely unify the world of Shintō and instead had to accept that alongside the official Shintō (also known as State Shintō, on which more later) practised by the vast majority of shrines, a variety of Shintō-derived religious associations existed, each with their own doctrine and rituals. It is these that would later be categorised as Sect Shintō. The line dividing official Shintō and religious associations was clear: the simple fact of residing in a specific place automatically established a link with the local shrine, whereas joining a religious association was a deliberate act.

  • 12 Yoshida Shintō, which appeared during the Muromachi period, became the quasi-official Shintō, serv (...)
  • 13 Although it was less actively involved with the authorities, this school benefited from the restor (...)

8During the Edo period the vast majority of shrines were controlled by Yoshida Shintō (Yoshida shintō 吉田神道)12, which enjoyed the support of the bakufu and operated under the authority of the Magistrate of Temples and Shrines (jisha bugyō 寺社奉行). However, many schools ignored its authority. As is the case today, major shrines retained their independence. One such example is Ise Grand Shrine (Ise daijingū 伊勢大神宮), from which Ise Shintō (Ise shintō 伊勢神道) developed.13

  • 14 Interpretation of native Japanese divinities by Tendai Buddhism. It began with monks worshipping t (...)
  • 15 Tenkai engaged in a bitter dispute with Bonshun 梵舜 (1552–1623), of the Yoshida house, in order to (...)

9More importantly, the various syncretic schools affiliated to Buddhist sects were thriving. “Mountain King Shintō” (Sannō shintō 山王神道)14, for example, developed by the Tendai 天台sect of Buddhism, benefited from its association with the bakufu founder, Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (1542–1616). This came about after the monk Tenkai 天海 (1536–1643)15 secured the right to organise the enshrinement and deification of Ieyasu as Tōshō Daigongen 東照大権現 (Great Gongen, Light of the East). Another example is Dual Shintō (ryōbu shintō 両部神道), a blending of Shintō with Shingon 真言Buddhist teachings and an esoteric interpretation of Japanese divinities using two mandalas: the matrix world mandala and the diamond world mandala.

  • 16 The Chiyo motokusa 千代もとくさ, also known as the Kana shōri 仮名性理, is attributed to Fujiwara Seika 藤原惺窩 (...)
  • 17 The name suika shintō 垂加神道 was later given to the Shintō school founded by the Confucian scholar Y (...)

10Elsewhere, Confucian Shintō (juka shintō 儒家神道),16 which opposed Shintō-Buddhist syncretism, spread widely among the intellectual elite thanks to the work of scholars like Hayashi Razan 林羅山 (1583–1657) and Yamazaki Ansai 山崎闇斎 (1618–1682),17 or later scholars from the Mito school (Mitogaku 水戸学).

  • 18 These shrines have no appointed head priest. The rites celebrated there are not overseen by any hi (...)

11Finally, and no doubt most importantly, the countless village and neighbourhood shrines and chapels18 were – and still are – places of worship for a practice known today as Folk Shintō (minzoku shintō 民俗神道).

12Attempting to find the “real” Shintō is a risky endeavour that should only be attempted by believers and ideologists. Outside observers must simply accept the profusion of schools and practices claiming to be part of the Shintō faith. All religions raise questions as to their true nature and Shintō is no exception. Every school or sect is convinced it represents the “true” Shintō, and none more so than Yoshida Shintō, which defined itself as the “one and only Shintō” (yuiitsu shintō 唯一神道). It is beyond the scope of this paper to engage in this game of separating true from false.

  • 19 In the same way that Jean-Pierre Vernant speaks of “the religion of the Greeks”.
  • 20 The word does appear in the Nihon shoki 日本書紀 (720) but always in relation to Buddhism. It was neve (...)
  • 21 Kuroda Toshio, “Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion”, Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 7, (...)
  • 22 Sugawara Shinkai, Sannō shintō no kenkyū 山王神道の研究 (Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1992).

13Searching for the origins of Shintō is almost as futile, since virtually nothing is known about Japan’s religious system prior to the arrival of Buddhism. It is highly likely that it had no name and we must content ourselves with talking about “the religion of the ancient Japanese”, just as we talk about the religion of the ancient Greeks or Romans.19 Although references to kami worship appear in the earliest texts, use of the term shintō to mean a religious movement came much later,20 at the beginning of the Kamakura period, thanks to the growth in rites performed at Ise Grand Shrine.21 This medieval Shintō defined itself in opposition to Buddhism and to Shintō-Buddhist syncretic sects involving Shingon esoteric Buddhism and the Tendai school.22 Each school adopting the name Shintō did so with the clear desire of affirming the specificity of Japan’s native religion and distinguishing it from those introduced from continental Asia, whether Buddhism or Confucianism. Yet at the same time, they saw no problem with borrowing numerous elements from those religions. Contrary to the arguments of National Learning scholars and ethno-folklorists from the Yanagita Kunio 柳田国男 (1875–1962) school of thought, authentic Shintō can be found neither in ancient times (jōko 上古) nor among the “common people” (jōmin 常民). This notion of authenticity belongs solely to the realm of faith.

  • 23 This commonly used term is useful when referring to the official form of Shintō from the Meiji per (...)

14Consequently, stating that it was not the “authentic” Shintō that accompanied Japan’s modernisation but a blander, artificial variant of it – retrospectively called kokka shintō 国家神道 (State Shintō)23 – does not radically alter the problem, which is that the modernisation of Japan during its most rapid phase – the Meiji period – drew on a religious movement that claimed its origins in the country’s most ancient past. In this sense, Shintō remains undeniably linked to the modernisation of Japan and the question of its role remains unanswered.

The role of religion in a non-Western modernisation process

  • 24 Pierre-Étienne Will, Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France de la chaire d’histoire de la Chine mod (...)
  • 25 Haga Tōru (ed.), Bunmei toshite no Tokugawa Nihon (Tokyo: Chūō kōron-sha, 1993).
  • 26 Ōishi Shinzaburō and Nakane Chie (eds), Edo jidai no kindai-ka (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 1991). Engli (...)

15The debate on the definition of modernity will not be put to rest here, to my great regret. However, ever since the studies written in the 1990s on Qing China24 and Tokugawa Japan25, there seems to be a consensus among enlightened researchers that outside the West – and independently of it – other civilisations evolved towards what could be classed a modern state. This modernity involves the accumulation of market capital, improving financial resources, perfecting public administration and governance techniques, as well as developing new ways of thinking: scientific thought and experimentation of course, but also new ways of perceiving man and his relationship to the world, and thus new conceptions of time.26 The most visible phrase of this process – the technological revolution that in turn revolutionises production means – only comes later.

  • 27 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (London: Rout (...)
  • 28 Ibid. “Authors Introduction”, XXVIII–XXXII. Cited by Will, “Chine moderne et sinologie”, 12.
  • 29 Loup Verlet, La malle de Newton (Paris: Gallimard, 1993); Jean-Paul Auffray, Newton ou le triomphe (...)
  • 30 Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 38.

16Often overlooked in this series of innovations are certain religious transformations, since religion, particularly in France, has only rarely been associated with modernity. Admittedly Max Weber, in his almost too famous book, postulated a link between Protestantism and capitalism,27 but he saw this comparison as meaningful only for the Protestant faith and only in the West.28 Leaving aside the question of the validity of Weber’s argument, I prefer to present the issue differently: religion played an essential role in pre-modern societies, and in many cases modernisation did not come about in direct opposition to it. A good example is Isaac Newton and his trunk of unpublished manuscripts, many of which were concerned with theology.29 One of the West’s greatest thinkers in the history of modern science was ultimately more concerned with questions of alchemy and esoterism – both of which he considered vital – than with mathematics. It is not Newton’s rationality that is in question but the fields in which it was applied.30 The rational view of the world did not come about in complete opposition to religion; it was also driven and shaped by it.

17The lofty aim of this paper is thus to study the role of religion – specifically Shintō – in the modernisation process, the assumption being that it was neither an obstacle nor a deterrent, but rather that it supported and actively brought about a modernity that was far from dependent on the West, although some of those driving the process believed that to be the case. In other words, the Shintō schools involved in the Meiji Restoration, and the official Shintō that followed it, should not be seen as secondary phenomena or movements that more closely resemble propaganda than the expression of a deeper reality. To my mind, they should be studied as elements that were indispensable to the modernisation of Japan, despite their exclusive focus on antiquity.

  • 31 See for example Bunmei ron no gairyaku 文明論の概略 by Fukuzawa Yukichi 福沢諭吉 (1834–1901), published in 1 (...)
  • 32 See for example Sonoda Minoru 薗田稔, Shintō no sekai 神道の世界 [The World of Shintō] (Tokyo: Kōbun-dō, 1 (...)

18Modernity is seen by many as having positive connotations. It is associated with all that is new, emergent and promising, with openness and enlightenment, in contrast to tradition – synonymous with the past, fossilisation, obscurantism and insularity. How could Shintō, traditional almost by definition, help bring about this modernity that was full of promise for the future? Opening up to the outside world is often seen as synonymous with modernity, which itself was long considered the other face of civilisation. This was particularly true during the Meiji period, when the expression bunmei kaika 文明開化 (“civilisation and enlightenment”, meaning Japan’s opening up to the West) was popular.31 The tendency at the time was to retain only those elements seen as reflecting progress, with anything else relegated to the sidelines. Yet it is well known – but insufficiently stressed – that the modernisation process is also the process of dismantling the old order almost entirely. Furthermore, almost everywhere in the world, modernity has gone hand in hand with the birth of nationalism and imperialism, and with an increased exploitation of others and the natural world. The deaths caused by colonial conflict and environmental disasters can also be laid at the feet of modernity. Japanese nationalism and all its misdeeds are sadly no exception. How did Shintō, with its emphasis on harmony (wa 和),32 find itself bound up with this modernity?

  • 33 Mieko Macé, “Le chinois classique comme moyen d’accès à la modernité – la réception des concepts m (...)
  • 34 Motoori Norinaga stressed the importance of the “ancient way” (kodō 古道), meaning the primeval way, (...)

19In addition to harbouring a somewhat suspect political agenda, I may be accused of simply searching for a paradox. My point is that ever since the early nineteenth century, any reasonably enlightened Japanese understood that when the enemy has cannons, it is pointless to us bows and arrows.33 Shintō, in the context of modernisation, should have seemed like an archaic weapon in the face of scientific logic, triumphant rationalism and even Christianity: it evoked the distant past, the Age of the Gods, and advocated a return to the ancient past. And yet of all the Shintō schools, it was precisely Restoration Shintō (fukko shintō 復古神道)34, which called for a return to the origins of Japan, that ultimately triumphed. How then can we talk of Shintō as having actively helped modernise Japan?

20To answer this, I would like to pose another question: how can we explain Shintō’s role in the Meiji Restoration and the modernisation of Japan? The simplest explanation would be to suspect those behind the Meiji Restoration of Machiavellianism, of having used Shintō for political gain by cloaking in tradition a message that would otherwise have been unpalatable to the majority of the population. While this cannot be entirely denied, I do not believe it adequately explains the remarkable role played by Shintō, and in particular Restoration Shintō, in the modernisation of Japan during the late sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even if we accept the idea of a vast manipulation, it had to be convincing in order to be effective. Shintō would never have been chosen as the ideological bedrock of the Meiji Restoration-revolution had it not resonated with the elite and the general public. It would have required a master manipulator to create from scratch a smokescreen-religion in service to the state and modernity.

The modernity of Meiji Shintō: a secular religion?

  • 35 The vast majority of emperors receiving rites at a shrine were only given this mark of respect aft (...)
  • 36 François Macé, “Les rites d’avènement au Japon : la création d’une tradition”, Cipango - Cahiers d (...)

21The deification of Emperor Meiji and the creation of regular rites at a shrine dedicated to him may seem like a foreseeable and natural event, given Shintō’s claims to be the traditional religion of Japan. And yet this was the first – and to-date the last – time a Japanese emperor was deified so soon after his death.35 Since there was no custom of deifying deceased emperors prior to Meiji, the branch of Shintō that accompanied the Restoration was not continuing a tradition as it claimed.36

  • 37 The personnel from the domains that helped bring about the restoration, in particular Tsuwano.
  • 38 Although the principle of political and religious unity claimed to have ancient roots, the express (...)

22The partisans of this school of Shintō,37 who rose to power during the Meiji Restoration, had an extraordinarily radical goal: namely, a return to the “[supposedly original] unity of religion and government” (saisei itchi 祭政一致).38

  • 39 Gaston Renondeau, “Le shintō d’État”, in Histoire des religions III, Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, e (...)
  • 40 Higashi Yoriko, Norinaga shingaku no kōzō - kakōsareta shindai 宣長神学の構造-仮構された神代 (Tokyo: Perikan-sha (...)

23This scenario was nothing new. It can be found in many societies in which a certain number of great social changes occur in the name of a “return to tradition”, a tradition that has been lost or declined and must be revived. The history of what happened in Japan is sufficiently well known for me to not dwell on it here.39 It quickly became obvious that ancient Shintō was little known and, as far as could be ascertained, poorly suited to the role Meiji leaders wished to confer on it. How could a valid social morality be established for a rapidly changing society using myths that could no longer be explained since the analyses drawn from Buddhism and Confucianism had been abandoned? Only Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801) 本居宣長fully understood the consequences of such a return to antiquity when he suspended judgement on the Age of the Gods: according to him, the ultimate truth, as expressed in ancient myths, could not be attained by reason but only through faith.40 No one followed his example. Despite proclaiming an attachment to “Ancient Shintō” (ko-shintō 古神道) – the original Shintō from the Age of the Gods – those who continued Motoori’s work developed a theology that ultimately drew little on the ancient beliefs underpinning Shintō mythology.

  • 41 For Eric Voegelin, modern states were established in opposition to true religion yet created new, (...)

24Perhaps, however, this is not the most important issue. In their desire to rediscover the original truth, those calling for a “return to antiquity” (fukko 復古) attacked anything that might separate them from this truth. This particular branch of Shintō, which in everyday life ceased to resemble a religion due to its official dimension – at the risk of alienating the general population – may seem lacklustre, but that was the price of driving modernity. The official, government-co-opted Shintō of the Meiji period cannot be considered solely in terms of its spiritual richness. It no more gave rise to saints and mystics than earlier forms of Shintō did. On the other hand, it is an excellent example of the kind of secularised religion41that characterises certain forms of modernity.

  • 42 On the history of the Jingi-kan, see Francine Hérail, Fonctions et fonctionnaires japonais au débu (...)
  • 43 Joseph Kyburz, “Telle une bouffée de vent divin. Le culte d’Ise au début de l’ère Meiji”, Cipango (...)
  • 44 Having previously been one division of a kan (ministry), each shō now functioned as a ministry in (...)

25This secularisation of religion can be traced in the rapid transformations affecting the “management of the gods” at the beginning of the Restoration. The Department of Divinities (Jingi-kan 神祇官) was reinstated on the twenty-first day of the fourth intercalary month of Keiō 4 (1868).42 It was part of a system known as “Dajō-kan sichi-kan” 太政官七官. By the following year, however, on the seventh month of Meiji 2, only the Department of Divinities and the Great Council of State (Dajō-kan 太政官) remained. The restoration was now complete, since all that remained, as in Japan’s eighth-century codes, were these two ministries (kan 官). Furthermore, the Jingi-kan was given more responsibilities than it had held in the eighth century, since it not only superintended shrines and shrine personnel – as per its original brief – but also oversaw Shintō ritual and the imperial tombs. On the eighth month of 1871 it was renamed the Ministry of Kami Affairs (Jingi-shō 神祇省) and subsequently became the Ministry of Religious Affairs (Kyōbu-shō 教部省) in the third month of 1872. The Kyōbu-shō was created under pressure from Buddhists, who objected to the policy of rejecting Buddhism (haibutsu kishaku 廃仏毀釈 / 排仏棄釈), as symbolised by the existence of a ministry concerned only with “kami affairs”. The Kyōbu-shō was thus charged with overseeing not only shrines but also Buddhist temples and monks. Its principal role nonetheless continued to be disseminating the “Great Teaching”43 (Tai-kyō 大教), meaning the teachings of the sun goddess Amaterasu for the people’s edification. At the same time, the Hall of Eight Deities (Hasshin-den 八神殿) was transferred to the imperial palace and responsibility for overseeing rites was entrusted to the Bureau of Ceremonies (Shikibu-ryō 式部寮). In other words, the ministry lost the last of its purely religious roles. The Kyōbu-shō itself was abolished in January 1877 and its functions transferred to the Home Ministry (Naimu-shō 内務省).44

  • 45 Shrine Shintō, the official form of the religion, must thus be distinguished from Folk Shintō and (...)
  • 46 See Hérail, Fonctions et fonctionnaires, 24–25.
  • 47 Morioka Kiyomi, Kindai no shūrakujinja to kokka tōsei 近代の集落神社と国家統制 (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 198 (...)

26As we have seen, the dream of uniting religious and state affairs was short-lived and could simply be considered a failure – that of backward-looking visionaries unable to fully grasp the reality of Japanese society. But is that really true? After all, Shrine Shintō (jinja shintō), the current and most visible branch of Shintō, would later grow out of the Meiji reforms.45 The Jingi-kan, during its short life, brought about the most complete break with tradition ever experienced by the Shintō faith. The merging of religion and government was clearly in the latter’s favour, with religion, as embodied by Restoration Shintō (fukko shintō), undergoing a radical transformation. The driving force behind this was rationality. The state claimed a monopoly on religion: whereas in pre-modern Japan, on which the reform was modelled, the Jingi-kan had overseen only a small percentage of the shrines and divinities under its responsibility,46 its modern – and much more efficient – reincarnation controlled all shrines. In short, the new Jingi-kan completed the work begun by the Yoshida house during the Muromachi period and the system of administrative supervision exercised by the Magistrate of Temples and Shrines (jisha bugyō). A merging and consolidating of shrines subsequently took place with the sole aim of managing and controlling them more effectively.47

  • 48 The final step in separating State Shintō from other religions came about in 1900, when two new ad (...)
  • 49 For more information on the influence of Christian communities on Meiji religious policy, see Yama (...)
  • 50 Raymond Aron, Democracy and Totalitarianism (Worthing: Littlehampton Book Services, 1968), on the (...)

27The idea that the abandoning of Shintō as state religion48 was due in part to pressure from Western nations, who championed religious freedom in the name of a certain modernity (but also in order to allow their missionaries to work in Japan49), or that presenting Shintō as above religion was merely a ruse to circumvent the religious freedom enshrined in the Meiji Constitution, are both equally unconvincing arguments. In reality, what took shape was truly a secular religion, a political religion, cleared of what were considered to be vulgar superstitions and practices. Not only is this type of secular religion perfectly compatible with modernity, some see it as an integral part. Raymond Aron, for example, used the term to define certain aspects of Communist regimes.50

  • 51 Shintō weddings, or shinzen kekkon 神前結婚 (marriage before the gods), developed rapidly during the l (...)

28State Shintō denied it was a religion yet strove to adopt all the usual attributes of the “advanced” religions. The most vivid example of this is the wedding ceremony. Weddings in Japan had long had no religious significance. It was only under the influence of Christianity that the new tradition of marrying before the kami51 was introduced. This desire to establish Shintō as a bona fide religion did not appear during the Meiji period; it was one of the fundamental characteristics of Yoshida Shintō, which attempted to reclaim certain domains occupied for centuries by Buddhism. This conscious desire to expand the sphere of influence of one branch of religious thought went hand in hand with a certain rationalisation of social life.

29Meiji Shintō, which defined itself as the natural expression of Japaneseness, strove to accompany all the important moments in people’s lives. Its rituals, performed by state-employed priests, were not intended to reflect intentionally held beliefs but were as self-evident to the Japanese as bowing or viewing cherry blossoms. The official Meiji-era Shintō presented itself as a set of beliefs and rituals devoid of religious coloration and in service to the Japanese nation. This was not a return to a time before Buddhism when the kami supposedly watched over every aspect of life; it was an attempt by the state to control every part of people’s lives via a secularised religion.

30The famous Kyōiku ni kan-suru chokugo 教育に関する勅語 (Imperial Rescript on Education) of 1890 – which featured at the beginning of all school textbooks until 1945 – opened with the following declaration, which could be described as religious:

  • 52 Translation taken from William Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann, Sources of (...)

Our Imperial Ancestors (waga kōso kōsō) have founded our empire on a basis broad and everlasting and have deeply and firmly implanted virtue;52

31It then continues in a different tone:

Our subjects, ever united in loyalty (chū) and filial piety () have, from generation to generation, illustrated the beauty thereof. This is the glory of the fundamental character of Our Nation (kokutai no seika), and herein also lies the source of Our education (kyōiku no engen). Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters…. bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all; pursue learning and cultivate the arts and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore, advance public good and promote common interests.

32The values advocated here, although somewhat modified, are Confucian. This moralistic, Chinese-influenced discourse was not the result of a power struggle between Confucian scholars and defenders of the gods. It was adopted by all official bodies and incorporated into Shintō doctrine. It would be impossible to understand this aspect of modern Shintō if we contented ourselves with thinking that it derived solely from Restoration Shintō. Or to rephrase, it would be naïve to think that Restoration Shintō had been able to restore Ancient Shintō in all its original purity. Meiji Shintō inherited elements from many other forms of Shintō, all of which took part in the modernisation process.

  • 53 Yoshida Kanemi’s Shintō dai’i 神道大意 reaffirmed Confucian criticisms of Buddhism while challenging c (...)
  • 54 Myths were almost completely eradicated.

33Alongside and even within Yoshida Shintō53, seen as the official branch of Shintō during the Edo period, Confucian interpretations of Shintō tended to position it as a moral doctrine in service to the government by eradicating its irrational elements54, in other words, anything that might appear religious. This was clearly the intention behind the religious policies of the Mito domain towards the end of the bakufu.

  • 55 J. Victor Koschmann, The Mito Ideology: Discourse, Reform, and Insurrection in Late Tokugawa Japan (...)
  • 56 See note 52 and the accompanying text.

34The Mito school, which had opposed some of the views espoused by Motoori Norinaga55 during the Tenpō years (1830–1843), developed a syncretic position that combined Confucian Shintō sects with Ancient Shintō (ko-shintō). Significantly, the Mito domain, which was one of the first to attack Buddhism in the name of Shintō, also launched a vast arms modernisation programme using Western technology. This links back to the final part of the quote from the Imperial Rescript on Education56. It was about exerting an influence on the world.

  • 57 Tsuda Sōkichi, “Bungaku ni arawaretaru waga kokumin shisō no kenkyū” 文学に現はれたる我が国民思想の研究, in Tsuda S(...)
  • 58 Naitō, Mato edo no toshikeikaku, 203–04.

35This was true not only for Confucian Shintō. For all its focus on the ancient past, the National Learning movement was not opposed to modernity when it came to technology. As Tsuda Sōkichi has noted with a touch of irony57, those championing National Learning used Western scientific discoveries to attack Chinese scholarship. It was not seen as contradictory then to build the foundations of Meiji Shrine – which incidentally followed an ancient design – using the latest techniques in civil engineering.58

Restoration Shintō (fukko shintō) and the destruction of tradition

  • 59 As an illustration, one of the two universities responsible for training shrine priests was called (...)
  • 60 Although Keichū worked under the authority of his master and friend Shimokōbe Chōryū 下河辺長流 (who di (...)
  • 61 François Macé, “Les Etudes nationales entre raison, religion et idéologie”, in Tradition et modern (...)

36As we have seen, there was no need for Meiji leaders to invent an ideology suited to their purposes, for a school of thought already existed in Edo-period Japan that partly corresponded to their aspirations, namely: restoring imperial rule, strengthening national identity and breaking with tradition. The school in question was the National Learning movement (kokugaku 国学), also known as Imperial Studies (kōgaku 皇学) or Japanese Studies (wagaku 和学). The links between the official Meiji-era Shintō and National Learning are well known.59 What is not sufficiently stressed, however, is that this movement advocating a return to the ancient origins of Japan could not trace its own origins beyond the seventeenth century and the work of Keichū 契冲 (who died in 1701)60 and Kada no Azumamaro 荷田春満 (1669–1736). Furthermore, for a long time National Learning was nothing more than a minor movement within the vast set of beliefs claimed as Shintō, which included fairly abstract theories as well as folk traditions. History generally encourages us to see an illusion of shared origins. The search for the causes of any event or phenomenon tends to focus on elements which, to later observers, seem to foreshadow developments that are already known. Restoration Shintō, from which Meiji Shintō grew and which is therefore the most familiar to us,61 masks the diversity that existed before it and, above all, highlights the elements that prepared the ground for it.

37Although Restoration Shintō, along with the Shintō school championed by the Mito domain, was one of the most active forms of Shintō at the end of the Edo period, particularly in the domains responsible for restoring imperial rule, it was far from being the only one. It also did not resemble an organised school. How could this diverse array of cults, apparently so heavily marked by tradition, be associated with modernity?

  • 62 See, for example, Hayashi Razan and his table of relations between five Shintō deities, the five e (...)

38Firstly, Shintō, like all Edo-period schools of thought, was influenced by the many transformations affecting Japanese society. The traditional and highly convenient division of doctrines into Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintō and even Dutch Learning masks a range of similarities and interconnections. Being mutually exclusive was not everyone’s goal. Many scholars and thinkers drew on the so-called “Three Teachings” (sankyō 三教) of Shintō, Buddhism and Confucianism. These included Hayashi Razan,62 Yamaga Sokō 山鹿素行 (1622–1685), Ishida Baigan 石田梅岩 (1685–1744) and even Motoori Norinaga in his youth. Furthermore, each doctrine had its purists and its syncretics. Shintō schools of thought, like their Confucian counterparts, were extremely sensitive to social change and as such had already modernised to a certain degree, for example by rationalising and centralising shrine management – a self-serving move initiated by the Yoshida house.

39Nevertheless, it was perhaps the destructive force of Restoration Shintō that was most decisive. In their desire to return to an original truth, those championing this school of thought wanted to eradicate all foreign elements and influences, meaning Chinese, and in particular Buddhist. The only “true Shintō” in their eyes was the one that had existed in Japan’s earliest history, before any contact with China. They rejected not only the Medieval interpretations of Shintō but also all forms of compromise between Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintō.

40When Yoshida Shintō emerged in the mid-fifteenth century, during the second half of the Muromachi period, Shintō ritual had already long been unable to rival the complexity and refinement of esoteric Buddhist rites. It was these that served as the ritual model for Yoshida Shintō, which dominated throughout the Edo period. Although research is lacking on this specific issue, there is reason to believe that these new Shintō rites were well received, with the exception of funeral rites (on which more later). Fukko Shintō’s desire to restore the “original purity” of Shintō represented a departure from the ritual sensibility of the Japanese. It accentuated the formal and civic character of something wavering between ideology and religion.

  • 63 Parallels have thus been drawn between Itō Jinsai, Ogyū Sorai, Motoori Norinaga and even Yanagita (...)

41This extraordinarily dynamic movement had a long history and extended well beyond the bounds of Shintō. It had links with the kogaku 古学 (Ancient Learning)63 school, said to have originated with Itō Jinsai 伊藤仁斎 (1627–1705) and Ogyū Sorai 荻生徂徠 (1666–1728) and which influences almost every school of thought. Despite this movement’s focus on the past, those invested in it showed little interest in history – it was the origins of Shintō that drew their full attention. By returning to Japan’s primordial past they hoped to uncover an ancient truth which, once rediscovered and restored, would allow the errors of the present to be judged.

  • 64 The first decree, on the 17th day of the 3rd month of Meiji 1, was supplemented on the 28th of tha (...)
  • 65 Anne-Marie Bouchy (Annu-Mari Busshī), Shashin gyōja Jitsuri no shugendō 捨身行者 実利の修験道 (Tokyo: Kadoka (...)

42Bolstered by its purportedly pure origins, Fukko Shintō had an extraordinary power to destroy, in a literal sense, for the short period of iconoclastic zeal known as shinbutsu bunri 神仏分離 (separation of Shintō from Buddhism)64 saw a great number of Buddhist buildings and objects destroyed. However, the destruction wrought was above all ideological, for it was this idea of original purity that brought about the downfall of the syncretic schools. In the realm of Shintō, few recovered. Restoring Shintō’s original purity proved to be an excellent means of dismantling the existing frameworks. So violent was the shinbutsu bunri policy that it eventually encountered serious resistance from both Buddhist circles and the general public.65

  • 66 For an example of syncretism, see François Macé, “Pensée cloisonnée et pensée syncrétique, temps h (...)
  • 67 This book is attributed in its foreword to Soga no Umako 蘇我馬子 and Shōtoku Taishi 聖徳太子. Its authent (...)

43Two motives drove this process of purification: rationalism and nationalism. Whereas syncretism66 was guided by a spirit of fusion (or confusion), supporters of Fukko Shintō advocated distinction, separation and analysis. They used increasingly sophisticated philological analysis to reject any texts deemed apocryphal. The venerable Sendai kuji hongi 先代旧事本紀 (Record of Old Matters from Previous Generations), for example, long cited in Shintō circles, lost all credibility.67 The same fate befell Ise Shintō and Yoshida Shintō texts, in particular the imperial decrees attributed to emperors Takakura 高倉 (1175) and Go Horikawa 後堀河 (1227), which had justified the title Jingi Kanryō Chōjō 神祇管領長上 (Head of Shrine and Kami Affairs) and thus the pre-eminence of the Yoshida house.

44In the eyes of Fukko Shintō scholars, only the oldest texts, free of Buddhist contamination, were acceptable. It was a sound method, if we adopt a strictly philological perspective in studying ancient Japan, but it meant denying the entire religious history of Japan from the early eighth – if not the sixth – century onwards. The narrow rationalism of Fukko Shintō could only envision the essence of Japan, at least in theory, as something pure and free of all syncretism. If truth was indeed to be found in the ancient texts, it became entirely logical to consider all subsequent events as null and void.

A break in continuity: denying the recent past

  • 68 The Watarai 度会 family of the Gekū 外宮 (Outer Shrine) and the Arakida 荒木田 family of the Naikū 内宮 (In (...)

45The drive for religious purification signalled the greatest revolution ever seen in kami worship since the arrival of Buddhism. In the majority of shrines, this revolution to restore the original purity of Shintō led to a break in ritual continuity. Shrine complexes came under state control and priestly lineages lost their autonomy or were even expelled. Rites were standardised and shrine priests became state employees. Such a rupture had not been seen even during the turmoil of Japan’s civil wars. Given that the Ise Shrines, with their direct ties to the imperial family, did not escape the movement to purge and centralise,68 one can easily imagine the fate of the Yoshida house, which symbolised the syncretism so despised by the state.

  • 69 This was the early 17th-century realisation of a project which Kanetomo had been unable to see thr (...)
  • 70 When one of the branches of the Urabe family took over Yoshida Shrine, to the east of the capital, (...)
  • 71 Okada Shōji, Urabe shintō (ge), Shintō taikei: Ronsetsuhen 9 (Tokyo: Shintō Taikei Hensan Kai, 199 (...)
  • 72 Allan Grapard, “The Shintō of Yoshida Kanetomo”, Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 47, no. 1 (spring 1992) (...)

46The vast complex owned by the Yoshida between the Kamo river and Kagura-oka was rapidly dismantled. The Yoshida seem to have put up no resistance and their archives were largely dispersed. The family’s funerary temples (bodaiji 菩提寺) were destroyed, as were the buildings deemed compromising vis-à-vis the new government, such as the Jingi kandai 神祇官代.69 Yoshida Shintō rites, previously celebrated at the majority of Japanese shrines, all but disappeared. The volume of Shintō taikei 神道大系 (Grand Collection of Shintō-related Texts) devoted to Urabe Shintō (Urabe shintō 卜部神道)70 mentions only one shrine that retained the Yoshida ritual system.71 It goes without saying that these highly elaborate rituals, strongly inspired by esoteric Buddhism, were banned at state-owned shrines. The same fate befell the doctrinal texts,72 which were simply unacceptable to those who swore only by antiquity. In this way, the new Shintō was able to present itself as free from any links to the recent past and immerse itself in the most ancient sources. For Fukko Shintō supporters, Yoshida Shintō was nothing more than an aberration to be forgotten. It betrayed the “ancient way” (kodō 古道 / inishie no michi 古の道) and was not the “true” Shintō. Here we can see the emergence of an orthodoxy.

47The groundwork for this effacing of pre-Meiji Shintō schools had of course been laid by National Learning scholars and the highly negative image they had given Yoshida Shintō. It was not difficult to prove that Yoshida Shintō was syncretic and that it borrowed concepts and rites from esoteric Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, in other words, from the Chinese thought (kara-gokoro 漢意) so despised by Motoori Norinaga. What is more, its founder, Yoshida Kanetomo 吉田兼倶 (1435–1511), was criticised for the means by which he had established such a dominant position. How could this much disparaged school, which at the end of the Edo period seemed to have abandoned even the ideological battle, be equated in any way to the Shintō tradition that triumphed after the Meiji Restoration? It was tarred with the same brush as all the other theoretically unacceptable schools: Mountain King Shintō, Dual Shintō, and to a lesser extent, Ise Shintō. To their detractors, these schools were Shintō in name only, so contaminated were they by continental Asian thought, in particular Buddhism. The early-Meiji obsession with purifying Shintō dealt these schools a deadly blow. None survived the purge that followed the separation of Shintō and Buddhism. Neither Mountain King Shintō, which had enjoyed the protection of the bakufu, nor Yoshida Shintō was able to resist.

Linear time versus cyclical time

  • 73 Such as Allan Grapard and James Edward Ketelaar.
  • 74 François Macé (Furansowa Mase), “Kindai nihon ni okeru kigen no shisō” 近代日本における「起源」の思想, Bungaku 文学 (...)

48Whereas the separation of Shintō and Buddhism has often been examined only by scholars of religion73, and is never seen as a symbol of modernity, Japan’s adoption of a new calendar is naturally considered a sign of progress. This reform came about as part of the sweeping changes advocated by the government and was as radical in nature as the attempt by French revolutionaries to implement a republican calendar. Not only did the Japanese reformers change the way years were designated by radically modifying the era-name system (nengō 年号) and abandoning references to the Chinese sexagenary cycle, they also decided to adopt the solar calendar (taiyō-reki 太陽歴)74, in other words, the Gregorian calendar used in the West.

  • 75 The characters used literally mean “illuminated government”. The name is derived from two characte (...)
  • 76 Imperial rescript of the 8th day of the 9th month of Meiji 1 (Kaigen no mikotonori 改元の詔), which ap (...)

49The reform began with a change to the way era names were attributed. When the new emperor was enthroned in 1868, a new era – Meiji 明治75 – began, as dictated by custom. On the eighth day of the ninth month of Meiji 1, however, it was stipulated that henceforth this era would last as long as the new sovereign’s reign.76 In doing so, Japan was following the example of China, which had adopted this new era-name system with the first Ming emperor – Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 (1328–1398) – whose reign corresponds to the Hongwu 洪武 era. The imperial system taking shape in Japan thus took the emperor as its measurement of time. This system continues to be used in official documents, despite the upheaval brought about by Japan’s defeat in 1945 and the promulgation of a new constitution. In everyday life, however, the Western system largely dominates, as evidenced by Japan’s enthusiastic celebration of the year 2000.

  • 77 Takahashi Yoshitoki, “Rarande rekisho kanken” ラランデ暦書管見 (1803), commentary by Nakayama Shigeru, “Ta (...)
  • 78 Dajō-kan decree no. 337, published on the 9th day of the 11th month of Meiji 5 (1872). It was deci (...)

50The early days of Meiji were marked by a clear desire to restore the ancient order. Yet no trace remained of Japan’s indigenous calendar. It was – and is still – unknown how time was organised prior to the adoption of the Chinese calendar system. Returning to a previous state was thus impossible. Furthermore, for most of its history Japan had shown little interest in the art of organising time. The Senmyō calendar (Senmyō reki宣明暦, Xuanming-li in Chinese), devised in China in 822, was adopted by Japan in 862 and remained in use until 1685, despite its well-known shortcomings. Even eclipses could no longer be predicted accurately. It was only in the Edo era, after a long period of indifference, that scholars began to take a serious interest in Japan’s calendar system. A new calendar, known as Jōkyō (Jōkyō-reki 貞享暦), was introduced in 1685 on the initiative of Shibukawa Shunkai (Haruumi) 渋川春海 (1639–1715). Following two other reforms, Shibukawa Kagesuke 渋川景佑 (1787–1856) devised a new and more reliable calendar in 1843, known as Tenpō (Tenpō-reki 天保暦). It is this calendar, introduced in 1844, which appears in almanacs today as the “old calendar” (kyūreki 旧暦). Its introduction was made possible using Western mathematics and astronomy, in particular the work of Jérôme Lalande (1732–1807), translated by Takahashi Yoshitoki 高橋至時 (Tōkō 東岡, 1764–1804).77 Given this reliance on Western sciences, the reform could not mention the previous calendar’s lack of accuracy; other arguments had to be found. The decree introducing the new solar calendar78 spoke of it being more in sync with the seasons. In short, the solar calendar was simpler and more natural.

51Although simplicity was undeniably a decisive factor in the debate, this argument is only valid for those who take a rational view in all matters, which is far from universal. The measurement system still used in the United States shows how a country can be at the forefront of technological progress and yet still continue to use feet and miles, despite the metric system seeming much more rational.

  • 79 Teeth blackening (o-haguro お歯黒) was initially a mark of puberty but came to distinguish married wo (...)

52Although there is no mention of it in official documents, the decision to adopt the solar calendar was clearly highly influenced by increasingly frequent contact with the West ever since Commodore Perry’s “black ships” had arrived in 1853. It is impossible to ignore the coincidence between the calendar reform of 1872 and certain measures taken that same year, measures that helped Westernise everyday life and the organisation of the state. These included: women ceasing to blacken their teeth79 (beginning with the empress); the first railway line opening between Tokyo and Yokohama; conscription being introduced; human trafficking being banned; the ban on Christianity being lifted; and the emperor adopting a Western hairstyle.

53Nevertheless, this cannot be taken as a decisive argument, for the Muslim world managed to retain its calendar. A more compelling reason was needed to impose such a sudden and traumatic change on the population. The need to appear “civilised” would not have been sufficient had the old calendar been bound up in a religion or a major institution like the emperor system. Although in Japan, promulgating a calendar system has always been the prerogative of the government, and thus ultimately of the emperor, the content and form of the Chinese calendar was not in any way linked to imperial rule, much less to the religious world imagined by Restoration Shintō. On the contrary, the calendar then in use presented a view of time that ran counter to the agenda of all the reformers, whether progressive or archaist.

54The old calendar was rich in meaning. Its use of multiple cycles meant that time was laden with messages. But these cycles that gave time its substance were based on interpretation systems that were not only Chinese in origin, worse still, they were combinatory, hybrid: in a word, syncretic. For the progressives, the official calendar needed to be purged of superstition to become neutral and unvarying in both appearance and substance. Had only progressives been in favour of reform, it would likely not have been ushered in so quickly. Luckily, they could count on the benevolent passivity of those championing a return to antiquity, since these fundamentalists hated the syncretic traditions so prevalent in Edo Japan even more than they hated Buddhism. In their eyes, the current calendar system crystallised all that they opposed, and Japan’s lack of an indigenous calendar meant that they did not stand in the way of the “solar calendar’s” being adopted. The choice of name for this calendar (taiyō-reki 太陽歴), although technically exact, might not be entirely fortuitous given the imperial ideology’s focus on a direct line of ascendance from the emperors to Amaterasu Ōmikami 天照大神 (“the great august deity who shines in heaven”), in other words, to the sun. However, this is pure speculation on my part.

  • 80 The “three revolutions” (sankaku 三革) are: kakumei 革命, a younger brother (yin) of metal-rooster yea (...)

55Henceforth, the official calendars no longer mentioned the year in the Chinese sexagenary cycle. The government could no longer be counted on to officialise the so-called revolutionary years.80 Such ideas originated in a Chinese system of divination that was popular at the end of the Han dynasty, the chenwei 讖緯 (in Japanese Shin’i), rediscovered in Japan during the Heian period by Miyoshi Kiyoyuki 三善清行 (847–918). Until the end of the Edo period a revolutionary year meant a change in era name.

56The Meiji calendar reforms also included the names of days. Even more important than the day of the month, the Japanese would note the name of the day according to the sexagenary system (for example, elder brother of metal/monkey: kanoe saru [or kōshin] 庚申). These names underpinned popular beliefs and determined the dates of religious events. The New-Tasting Festival (Nihiname matsuri 新嘗祭), for example, had to be held on “the last day of the rabbit of the eleventh month” (jūichigatsu gebōjitsu 十一月下卯日); whereas another festival might be held on “the first day of the horse” (hatsu uma 初午).

  • 81 As of 1868 these were the only official ceremonies.

57It is no coincidence that a few days after the new calendar was introduced, a separate decree abolished the five annual ceremonies held by the imperial court (gosekku 五節句), deemed too closely connected to the yin/yang divination system (onmyō 陰陽). Instead there were to be “three great observances” (san daisetsu 三大節): the Worshipping to the Four Directions (Shihō-hai 四方拝), a ritual conducted by the emperor on the morning of the first day of the year (the only one of the five original gosekku that was retained); the Emperor’s Birthday (Tenchō-setsu 天長節); and Empire Day (Kigen-setsu 紀元節), now known as National Foundation Day (Kenkoku kinen-bi 建国記念日), celebrated on 11 February.81 The five original ceremonies had been based on the structure of the calendar and on yin/yang associations.

58The emperor’s birthday was a semi-new celebration. Similar rites had existed in ancient Japan but had long since disappeared. The restoring of this ceremony was naturally linked to the new era-name system, which henceforth hinged on the sovereign’s reign.

  • 82 The most striking example of this is no doubt “Yume no shiro” 夢の代 by Yamagata Bantō 山片蟠桃 (1748–182 (...)

59Empire Day stood apart from the other celebrations. It was introduced to commemorate the building of the first palace by Jimmu, the first human emperor. This event was recorded and dated in one of Japan’s oldest texts, the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki 日本書紀, 720). According to this book, the nation was founded on the first day of the first month of a younger brother of metal-rooster year, corresponding to 11 February 660 bce. Although the antiquity and historical authenticity of this emperor had already been contested by a number of scholars in the late Edo period, the fervour of the imperial cult could tolerate no doubt.82

  • 83 François Macé, “De l’inscription de l’histoire nationale dans le sol : à la recherche des tombes i (...)
  • 84 Project launched by the head of the Mito domain, Tokugawa Mitsukuni 徳川光圀 (1628–1700).
  • 85 Ōkuni Takamasa used this chronology on page 415 of Hongaku kyoyō 本学挙要 [The Essentials of True Lear (...)

60When the groundwork for restoring imperial rule was being laid in the mid-nineteenth century, the question arose of which emperor should be taken as model. Emperor Go Daigo 後醍醐 (1288–1339) was suggested, but his attempt to restore imperial rule had ended in failure. Another possibility was Emperor Kammu 桓武天皇 (737–806), the founder of Heian-kyō 平安京, but the new government was to be established in Edo, the future Tokyo. Ultimately it was Jimmu, the first human emperor and the founder of Japan’s first capital, who was eventually chosen, despite the fact that he had never received a cult, as Edo-period scholars pointed out in consternation. The whereabouts of his tomb, allocated no doubt in the late seventh century, had long been forgotten and urgently needed to be established.83 As strange as it must have appeared to Confucians, with their focus on worshipping ancestors, and in particular the first of a family line, prior to the mid-nineteenth century the imperial family had never considered honouring their earliest ancestor, despite the fact that their legitimacy hinged on their divine ancestry – and thus on Jimmu, who provided the essential link between the Age of the Gods and the Age of Men. The movement to venerate Jimmu originated with Mitogaku scholars, who in 1657 launched a project to compile the Dai Nihon-shi, 大日本史 (Great History of Japan), starting with Jimmu’s reign.84 Shortly before the Restoration, allusions to the founding of Japan became increasingly frequent and dates calculated from “the founding of the country” (kigen 紀元) – in other words the beginning of the Age of Men – began to appear.85

61The Meiji calendar reforms thus signalled a new way of conceiving time and its measurement. They featured a precise starting point that contrasted as much with “the mists of time” and “the Age of the Gods” (kamiyo 神代) – by definition unmeasurable – as with the eminently relative time of the eras and 60-year cycles. Nineteenth-century Japanese, at least the scholars, were familiar with the Western calendar and its system of calculating years from a fixed starting point. It is possible they considered developing a parallel system with a much earlier starting point. What is certain is that the compilation of the Dai Nihon-shi, which had become a state matter, disseminated a new view of Japanese history. By stressing the continuity of the imperial family – one single lineage reigning since the dawn of time – this new view of Japanese history established a starting point (i.e. Japan’s foundation in a younger brother of metal-rooster year, or 660 bce) for a history destined to continue eternally. Although this founding year was relatively recent in comparison to China, it at least had the advantage of being clear. On the first day of the first month in that year of the rooster, an event occurred that marked the founding of Japan and the beginning of its history. The actual historicity of the event was secondary.

  • 86 Decree 342 from the Dajō-kan, issued on the 15th day of the 11th month of 1872.
  • 87 As a reminder, the Heisei 平成 era began in 1989 (Translator’s note: this era ended on 30 April 2019 (...)
  • 88 The imperial year continues to be noted in almanacs.

62Nevertheless, among all the calendar reforms introduced at the beginning of Meiji, the Japanese imperial year (kōki 皇紀) was only a limited success, proving more useful to historians than to everyday life. It was introduced by decree on the fifteenth day of the eleventh month of the fifth year of Meiji (1872), in other words, eight days after the decree announcing the imminent abandon of the lunisolar calendar in favour of the solar calendar.86 In the minds of Japan’s leaders, these two decrees were clearly linked. Since the calendar reform could not be presented as something intended to bring Japan in line with the West, linking it to the introduction of the imperial year gave the reform a venerable (albeit false) antiquity. Despite this, the imperial-year system definitively met its demise after the defeat of 1945. It had never truly been able to rival the eras now linked to each emperor’s reign: Meiji (1868–1912), Taishō 大正 (1912–1926) and Shōwa 昭和 (1926–1989).87 One of the most memorable events in the imperial-year system was the commemoration in 1940 of the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of Japan.88

  • 89 Translator’s note: the second of December was the date of a number of key events in French history (...)

63The new perception of time went hand in hand with the historical heresy that consisted of choosing as the calendar’s starting point a mythical event – the founding of the first palace – which took place at least 660 years bce, or more precisely, 2452 years earlier. Even more astonishingly, this date was known since Miyoshi Kiyokuki to correspond to a revolutionary year in the Chinese calendar. The new official calendar was thus based on the very system it sought to eradicate. The decision was nonetheless cemented by the construction of Kashiwara jingū 橿原神宮 at the reputed site of the first-ever palace. The consecration ceremony was performed in 1890 for the 2,550th anniversary of the founding of Japan. The shrine’s main ritual was celebrated, unsurprisingly, on 11 February, in other words, on Empire Day (Kigen-sai 紀元祭 or Kigen-setsu 紀元節). Since the Meiji Restoration this date had been chosen for certain major events – such as the promulgation of the Meiji Constitution in 1889 – and represented a kind of 2 December89 for the Japanese imperial household.

  • 90 Restoration of Toyokuni jinja 豊国神社 for the anniversary of the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. See Fra (...)
  • 91 It is not easy to find a list of shrines built during the Meiji period, if such a list even exists (...)

64The building of Kashiwara jingū is not an isolated example. The Meiji period saw a succession of anniversary celebrations and commemorative buildings, thereby enabling Japan to invent itself a long history. In 1898 it celebrated the three hundredth anniversary of the death and deification of Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 (1536–1598) at Toyokuni jinja 豊国神社, rebuilt by the new government in 1880.90 That same year, Kenkun jinja 建勲神社 was dedicated to the memory of Oda Nobunaga 織田信長 (1534–1582)91 on Mt Funaoka 船岡in Kyoto, on the site where Toyotomi Hideyoshi had planned to build a temple for the eternal rest of his former liege lord.

  • 92 In 1938 another emperor was enshrined here, the last emperor to have reigned from Kyoto: Emperor K (...)
  • 93 Jidai matsuri is one of Kyoto’s “Three Great Festivals” (San dai-matsuri 三大祭) alongside Aoi matsur (...)
  • 94 It was held for the first time on 25 November 1895.
  • 95 Unlike the highly symbolic date of the founding of Japan’s first capital, which was converted into (...)
  • 96 Although the Ashikaga shogunate, the second of Japan’s three military governments, left a deep mar (...)

65A shrine was built in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto: Heian jingū 平安神宮. It is here that Emperor Kammu, the founder of the capital, was deified.92 This event provided the occasion to add a new celebration to Kyoto’s calendar, the Shinkō-sai 神幸祭 (Divine Procession), commonly known as the Jidai matsuri 時代祭 (Festival of the Ages).93 It is held every year on 22 October94, date of the anniversary of Kyoto’s founding on the twenty-second day of the tenth month of the thirteenth year of Enryaku (794).95 As its name indicates, the Festival of the Ages does not merely celebrate the founding of Kyoto; it commemorates the entire history of the city via a procession of groups representing major events in the capital’s history. It begins with the emperor’s loyal supporters at the time of the Meiji Restoration (Ishin kinnō-tai 維新勤王隊) and works backwards in reverse chronological order, thereby displaying the full breadth of Kyoto’s rich history. When preparing the very first parade, specialists were consulted on the customs and practices (yūsoku kojitsu 有職故実) of the ancient capital. This desire to recreate Japan’s ancient customs in a historically accurate manner concealed a deeper purpose. It provided an opportunity to showcase the vast knowledge of National Learning scholars and, more fundamentally, revealed a new attitude towards history. Despite exploiting history for ideological purposes – the Ashikaga 足利, for example, are absent from the parade96 – henceforth it was seen as important to respect the chronology of events.

  • 97 The old system did not include a regular day of rest. Samurai working for the domains and bakufu w (...)
  • 98 Some traditions die hard, however, like the Obon festival, which in many regions of Japan is celeb (...)

66This new division of time, underpinned by the new conception of history, was slow to take hold. Opposition to the reforms was such that the government was forced to tolerate the old system’s being used until 1910. The public’s reticence stemmed from its being asked to accept not only a year of unvarying length but also a new division of the day into 24 equal hours throughout the year, the seven-day week, and, for government employees, a weekly day of rest beginning in 1896.97 All the former points of reference provided by national celebrations and the agricultural calendar were rendered obsolete. Nevertheless, the reforms were eventually assimilated by the population, as evidenced by the fact that New Year celebrations in Japan now take place on the first of January, unlike in China and Vietnam, where they are out of sync with the calendar year.98

A divine nation

  • 99 Marcel Detienne, “Quand on façonne la conscience nationale”, Le monde des débats (November 2000): (...)
  • 100 Marcel Detienne, “History and Nation”, Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, third seri (...)

67We have seen how the new long view of time, based on a partly fabricated history, led the latter to ultimately take root. In this, Japan was following a parallel path to Europe. Marcel Detienne’s reflections on the role of history in the birth of a nation, the concept of autochthony and the cult of the dead are eerily reminiscent of modern Japan,99 in particular his quote of Maurice Barrès: “To make a Nation, there have to be graveyards and a history lesson.”100

  • 101 Mori Kōichi, Nihon no kofun: Nishi nihon hen (Tokyo: Yūhikaku, 1981), 9–16.
  • 102 Another example of Japan’s historicizing and anchoring of tradition was the creation of the Commis (...)

68In addition to Jimmu’s tomb, the location of which had been established with much difficulty, the resting places of his divine ancestors were honoured in turn: Amatsu hitaka hiko nagisatake ugaya fukiahezu no mikoto 天津日高日子波限建鵜葺草葺不合命, Jimmu’s father, Hiko hohodemi no mikoto 日子穂穂出見命, his grandfather, and above all, Amatsu hitaka hiko ho no ninigi no mikoto 天津日高日子番能邇邇芸命, his great-grandfather, the Celestial Grandson (Tenson 天孫). The Saitobaru 西都原group of kofun near the city of Miyazaki includes two large burial mounds known as Osaho-zuka 男狭穂塚 and Mesaho-zuka 女狭穂塚, which appear locally to have been long considered the tombs of Ninigi and his wife, Ko no hana sakuya hime 木花開耶姫. The Meiji government adopted this tradition in 1896 by naming these burial mounds a Reference Zone for Imperial Tombs and Mausoleums (Go-ryōbo sankō-chi 御陵墓参考地).101 To this day, they are managed by the Imperial Household Agency and thus cannot be visited or of course excavated. This half-measure illustrates the difficulty of fully historizing tradition at a time when archaeology is taught at Japanese universities. The message is nonetheless clear: the land of Japan retains the trace of a divine presence.102

  • 103 There were around 150 shōkon-sha, including the future Yasukuni jinja 靖国神社 in Tokyo.

69The fighting that accompanied the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and the early days of Meiji created a new kind of deity: the men who died for the imperial cause, whose numbers were significantly swelled by the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars. Shrines dedicated to the war dead were initially called shōkon-sha 招魂社 (shrines for calling the spirit of the dead),103 before being more evocatively renamed gokoku jinja 護国神社 (nation-protecting shrines) in 1939. Efforts were made to ensure there was at least one per prefecture, thereby bringing every part of Japan under the protection of those who died for the nation.

  • 104 One example is the declaration on 17 May 2000 by Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō 森喜朗, before the Shint (...)
  • 105 Since it was in Japan that Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Great Divinity Illuminating Heaven, was born. Se (...)
  • 106 For example, in his 1855 work Hongaku kyoyō. Ōkuni Takamasa, “Hongaku kyoyō”, in Hirata Atsutane, (...)
  • 107 Slogan coined by the Mitogaku scholar Aizawa Seishisai 会沢正志齋 (1782–1863) in his work Shinron 新論 (1 (...)

70Japan’s recent past and certain current events seem to indicate a natural equation between Shintō and nationalism.104 Those drawing such a conclusion often quote the famous opening line of the Jinnō shōtō-ki 神皇正統記 (Chronicles of the Authentic Lineages of the Divine Emperors), written between 1339 and 1343 – “Ōyamato wa shinkoku nari 大日本は神国也” (Great Japan is the land of the gods) – as evidence of this ideology’s long history and deeply established roots. I will not dwell on the anachronism, but suffice it to say that given that the Jinnō shōtō-ki was written at a time of civil war between Japan’s Northern and Southern Courts, this is clearly not an example of nationalism in the usual sense of the word. Similarly, in my opinion neither Motoori Norinaga’s diatribes against the so-called Chinese spirit nor his assertion that Japan was superior to all other countries105 can be taken as an expression of nationalism in the modern sense. The “Chinese spirit” criticised by Motoori was essentially the logical, rational spirit applied by his Confucian-trained contemporaries and compatriots to the Age of the Gods. Ueda Akinari himself was accused of the same crime. At the end of the eighteenth century, Japan enjoyed peaceful relations with its closest neighbours, Qing China and Joseon Korea. Although Westerners were beginning to be present in Japan and were at times feared, they were not yet considered a serious threat in cultural terms, certainly not by Motoori. And yet those who took up Motoori’s mantle after his death, who we can now accurately describe as nationalists, harnessed his work in order to position themselves faced with the threat posed by foreign nations. Such scholars, like Ōkuni Takamasa 大国隆正 (1792–1871),106 often had links to both the National Learning movement and the Mito school. They took advantage of the new international context created by the First Opium War (1839) to launch a movement known as sonnō jōi 尊王攘夷 (revere the emperor; expel the barbarians).107 While there is no room here to review the history of Japanese nationalism, I would simply like to stress that Fukko Shintō, which was born largely of internal changes within Japanese culture, laid the groundwork for the development of modern nationalism in a context of international tensions.

  • 108 On the subject of kokutai, see among others Rai Kiichi, Jugaku kokugaku yōgaku [Confucianism, Nati (...)
  • 109 The first three chapters of Aizawa Seishisai’s Shinron 新論 [New Theses] are titled “Kokutai”. The t (...)
  • 110 Three hundred thousand copies of the first edition were published. By March 1943, 1,900,000 copies (...)

71One of the central tenets of this nationalism, the concept (slogan?) of kokutai 国体 (national essence), perhaps merits particular attention.108 The 1940s saw numerous books devoted to the subject, including Kokutai-gaku 国体学 (Study of National Polity), published by Asakura shoten 朝倉書店 as part of the Gendai tetsugaku sōsho 現代哲学叢書 (Library of Contemporary Philosophy) series, which included Shinwa testugaku 神話哲学 (Philosophy of Myths), Kōdō tetsugaku 皇道哲学 (Philosophy of the Imperial Way) and Nachisu sekai-kan ナチス世界観 (The Nazi Worldview). I do not believe that the oblivion into which these publications have sunk was caused solely by post-war ideological censorship. At the risk of oversimplifying, I doubt that the concept of kokutai – yet another product of Mitogaku scholars109 – is particularly complex. Its abundant use as of 1937 does little to mask its lack of depth as a philosophical concept. This is not to say that its role was insignificant. The extraordinary print-runs of the famous Kokutai no hongi 国体の本義 (Cardinal Principles of National Polity), published that same year by the Ministry of Education, illustrate just how widely it was circulated.110 Its contents also highlight the influence of modern Shintō in building the nationalist ideology. By claiming to be the essence of Japaneseness, Meiji Shintō became the main driver of modern nationalism. The opening chapter of Kokutai no hongi begins by proclaiming the eternal nature of the “national polity” before describing the founding of the country (chōkoku 肇国) using terms borrowed from the Imperial Rescript on Education and mythical tales. Kokutai, bound up with the concepts of nation, national essence and sacred land, was one of the main components of modern Japanese nationalism. Yet in most cases its translation as “nation” gives the phrases in which it appears a strange air of familiarity.

Deified man

72As the opening line of Kokutai no hongi makes clear, kokutai, or national essence, is inseparable from the belief in the single lineage and divine ancestry of the imperial family:

  • 111 Nozomu Kawamura, Sociology and Society of Japan (New York: Routledge, 2011), 155.

The unbroken line of emperors, receiving the Oracle of the Founder of the Nation, reigns eternally over the Japanese empire.111

Dai Nihon teikoku wa bansei ikkei no tennō kōso no shinchoku o hōjite eien ni kore o tōchishi tamau.

大日本帝国は、万世一系の天皇皇祖の神勅を奉じて永遠にこれを統治し給ふ。

  • 112 Eric Seizelet, “Les portraits impériaux – Contribution à l’étude du culte impérial”, in Mélanges o (...)
  • 113 Haihan chiken 廃藩置県, seventh month of 1871.
  • 114 Jinshin koseki 壬申戸籍, first day of the second month of 1872.
  • 115 For more information on one aspect of this deification, see Yoshimi Shun’ya, “Les rituels politiqu (...)

73Adopting a new era-name system established the emperor as the marker of time. Strictly speaking, this method of calculating time was not new. A similar system appears to have existed in Japan before era names were definitively adopted at the beginning of the eighth century. This could be seen as yet another instance of Meiji Japan reviving a long-standing tradition, but in my opinion, this was not the case. The system introduced during the Meiji period grew out of the emperor worship that originated not only in National Learning but also in Confucianism (particularly the Mitogaku version of it). This revering of the emperor (sonnō 尊王)112 can be understood in multiple ways. As we have seen, the return to Japan’s ancient past and the restoration of imperial rule (ōsei fukko 王政復古) created a new situation by placing power directly in the hands of the emperor. Below him, all the inhabitants of Japan became subjects under his rule. In this way, the movement to revere the emperor foreshadowed the abolition of the pyramid-like hierarchy that characterised the Tokugawa shogunate, long before the Japanese had any knowledge of Western political models. All subjects could be considered equal before the emperor. The abolition of feudal domains in favour of prefectures113 and the disappearance of personal statuses when the household registration system114 was introduced naturally indicate a more modern system of governance. However, beyond this improvement, or rationalisation, the imperial cult highlighted another aspect of modernity: the deification of the emperor – the supreme man – and through him, his subjects.115

  • 116 Cremation ban introduced on 18 July 1873 and rescinded on 23 May 1875. Uchikawa Yoshimi and Matsus (...)
  • 117 François Macé, “Yoshida Kanemi (1535–1610) et la modernité du shintō. Le Yoshida shintō”, in Japon (...)

74This deification of man is to my mind inseparable from the evolution in mortuary rites. In its determination to break with Buddhism, the new Meiji government decided to ban cremation (before reintroducing it later, no doubt for public health reasons).116 The aim was to encourage Shintō funerals in order to put an end to the Buddhist monopoly established at the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate, thereby realising a long-standing dream of the Yoshida school. In order to distinguish Shintō from Buddhism, the Yoshida house had composed a set of procedures that provided Shintō with funeral rituals to rival Buddhist rites, though without breaking completely with Buddhism (ancestral temples and Buddhist anniversary commemorative services were retained, for example).117 When Yoshida Kanemi described his father’s funeral, he took pains to stress that no monks had been present.

  • 118 For a discussion of the links between Shintō and funerals, see François Macé, “Le shintō en mal de (...)

75Despite all this, Shintō funerals were not widely adopted. This was partly because many, even within the world of Shintō, were extremely reluctant to see the gods defiled by the pollution associated with death, and partly because the obligation for all residents to register with a temple gave Buddhism a de facto monopoly on both funerals and civil registration. The fact remains, however, that Meiji Shintō funerals can be traced directly to Yoshida Kanemi’s fight.118 Shintō funerals involved deifying the deceased and giving them a posthumous Shintō deity name (shingō 神号), clearly mirroring the practice of conferring a posthumous Buddhist name (kaimyō 戒名). Although it had long been customary to refer to the deceased as a hotoke 仏 (buddha), considering them a kami was a novelty in the sixteenth century. In other words, one of the vestiges of the official Meiji-era Shintō that continues to be problematic even today – namely Yasukuni Shrine and the worshipping of the war dead as deities (including members of the Japan Self-Defence Forces killed during manoeuvres) – stems from the innovations promoted by the Yoshida house. The deification of Emperor Meiji after his death in 1912 could not claim roots in an ancient tradition, since there is no trace of any shrines dedicated to an emperor prior to Meiji (aside from the highly complex example of Hachiman 八幡).

  • 119 On the funeral rites and deification of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, see François Macé, “Le cortège fantôme (...)

76Everything appears to have begun with the deification of one recently deceased man, a man who wanted to be a god. You might think this is the story of a pharaoh or an ancient Japanese emperor who ordered the building of a huge funerary mound (misasagi 御陵) for himself; in reality, it is the story of the man who introduced the sweeping reforms that propelled Japan into modernity at the end of the sixteenth century, reforms that included the monopoly on precious metal mines, the introduction of land surveys, the first efficient monetary system, the controlling of ports and religious organisations; in short, the foundations of the modern state. The man in question, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537–1598), does not appear to have been particularly devoted to the kami. He had burned a few temples, and even some monks, but was nonetheless celebrated as a god119 under the posthumous name Toyokuni daimyōjin 豊国大明神 (even by the man who would later usurp him, Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 [1542–1616], who himself was deified as Tōshō daigongen 東照大権現, a sannō shintō title).

77This deification at the dawn of the early-modern era (kinsei 近世) raises a number of questions. This was not, as one might think, the skilful appropriation of a long-standing custom and conception of man and the gods. The deification of great leaders so soon after their deaths – of which Emperor Meiji was the supreme example – only began with Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1599. This begs the question of why these deifications, which began during the early-modern era, accompanied Japan’s modernisation until at least 1938, when Emperor Kōmei was deified.

  • 120 Katō Genchi, Honpō seishi no kenkyū - Seishi noshijitsu to sono shinribunseki - 本邦生祠の研究-生祠の史実と其心理分 (...)

78The deification of great men can be interpreted as another way of putting man at the centre of the world. The Confucian interpretation of Japanese tradition theorised this position. These deified men were initially not saints but rather figures who fully embraced their human condition and were masters of their own fates. This idea was nothing new. Yoshida Shintō borrowed heavily from various schools of Chinese thought. Its greatest merit is to have given these scholarly ideas a familiar form and adapted them to the reality of Japan. During the Edo period, this new conception of man led to the building of shrines dedicated to a living person (seishi 生祠).120 This practice, well attested in ancient China and Korea, only developed in Japan during the early-modern era. While the inspiration most often came from Confucianism, aided no doubt by the familiarity of the Japanese with the Buddhist concept of sokushin jōbutsu 即身成仏 (becoming a buddha in one’s existing body), it was within Shintō, and most often Suika Shintō, that the practice took shape.

  • 121 See for example Hayashi Razan, Shintō denju, 14: “Men are the masters of the gods. ‘Men’ refers to (...)

79Prior to the developments introduced by the Yoshida school, and above all the blending of Shintō and Confucian thought such as by Hayashi Razan 林羅山 (1583–1657) in his Shintō denju 神道伝授 (The Transmission of Shintō), there is no trace of a philosophy that explicitly set out man’s place in nature and the universe. It is clear that these different Shintō traditions borrowed almost all of their concepts from Chinese thought.121 Nevertheless, the idea of gods and men sharing an identical nature – one possible explanation for the deification of men – was established during the early-modern era by various Shintō schools, in particular the syncretic forms drawing on Confucian beliefs. All of these movements were rejected by the schools that grew out of National Learning; however, the concepts they promoted were absorbed without difficulty by the official Shintō of the Meiji period.

Shintō, the disenchanter

80Mononoke hime もののけ姫 (Princess Mononoke, 1997), the animated film by Miyazaki Hayao 宮崎駿, is set during the Sengoku period (Sengoku jidai 戦国時代, “the age of warring states”), on the cusp of the early-modern era. It tells the story of the death of the gods of the forest, killed by human greed and technological progress. The valiant boars are no match for guns. The film is a meditation on the disenchantment of the world and man’s domination of nature. In Miyazaki’s view of history, religion appears only in the form of a miko, in the village of the last Emishi 蝦夷, and is in harmony with the forces of nature. The attacks on the gods are led by men (and one woman) who appear to have no fear of the supernatural, yet do not completely deny its existence.

  • 122 Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 61 and 178 (note 19). Marcel Gauchet attributes the expression Entzau (...)

81If we adopt Miyazaki’s viewpoint, we might believe that man’s growing dominance of nature and consumption of its resources – which is one form of modernity – entails the death of the gods at the hands of men devoid of religion. In this paper I have tried to provide a different perspective, namely that the disenchantment of the world, to borrow the Max Weber term later expanded on by Marcel Gauchet,122 began within religion itself, within Shintō, and not the Folk Shintō of road and village deities, but the school that strove to rigorously restore Shintō’s original purity.

82Yoshida Shintō used the cult of dead heroes as a means of repositioning native Japanese deities vis-à-vis Buddhism. This was undoubtedly not a simple political calculation, an offer of deification in exchange for the control of shrines. Rather, it should be seen as Yoshida Shintō’s adherence to a new view of man’s role in the world, in which man was henceforth master of his own destiny, just like Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Yet the men deified in his wake, even when they were emperors, were no longer on a similar-yet-different footing to the traditional gods. Their deification elevated the whole of mankind and led to a debasement of the divine. Henceforth, even a god could be rendered mortal. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, deified by the court in 1599, was stripped of his divine status by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1615 following the fall of Osaka Castle.

  • 123 Translator’s note: in 2019 the starting point would be 2679 years ago.

83The desire of National Learning scholars to return to the Age of the Gods precipitated a realisation of the historicity of their own time. The ultimate result was a kind of sacralisation of history via a single imperial line whose starting point, though mythical, was situated in the Age of Man, in a younger brother of metal-rooster year, 2661123 years ago. This conception of time which seemed to exist only to illustrate the eternal nature of the imperial dynasty must be cleared of all other connotations.

  • 124 François Macé (Furansowa Mase), Kojiki shinwa no kōzō 古事記神話の構造 (Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1989).

84The myths presented in the Kojiki 古事記 (Records of Ancient Matters, 712) and Nihon shoki describe how the eight great islands of Japan were born and how the earthly and heavenly gods lived on them. Yet they also tell of the gradual and inevitable separation of the gods from humankind.124 And therein lies the ambiguity, from a mythical point of view, of an expression like “Japan is the land of the gods”. The sacralisation of all Japan in a concept like kokutai definitively diminishes the ordinary sacredness of the miniature shrines (hokora 祠) devoted to the god Inari 稲荷. Once this occurs, religion on the national level is driven by different motivations to the passer-by who lays a mandarin before the statue of a white fox. Yet while the process of disenchantment is well underway in official circles, foxes have not deserted the carparks.

85The relative failure of Shintō as a national religion allowed it to morph into a nationalist ideology that was also one of the main aspects of the modernisation process, albeit not the most popular one. Shintō helped create a nation-state with its own identity, one that was constructed at the cost of diversity. The official form of Shintō attempted to eradicate the majority of variants and derivatives as well as the popular cults. The war on syncretism, during its most violent phase, facilitated this homogenisation. But that was not its only contribution.

86The links between Shintō and modernity can be found on two levels and at two moments in time. Initially, the syncretic school of thought generated new forms that allowed Shintō to return to prominence during the radical social changes seen at the end of the medieval period, in a culture almost entirely dominated by Buddhism. Later, the proponents of a return to Ancient Shintō, who rejected syncretism in the name of a return to the origins of Japan, helped bring about a new perception of time and history.

87What I wish to highlight in both cases is the role Shintō played in bringing about modernity. The Japanese relied on Shintō at key moments in their history when faced with seismic social change. That Shintō was exploited by Japan’s leaders is clear. But leaders only use what is useful to them, only speak a language that is understood. Fictional history is not yet a university discipline and it is somewhat futile to imagine the Meiji Restoration without emperor worship, the cult of the nation and Shintō. One might regret the changes brought about by the Restoration and prefer the old Shintō and the dynamism of its syncretic schools; the fact remains that Japan was the first polytheist developed nation in a world long dominated by monotheism.

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Notes

1 This paper is a revised and expanded version of a presentation given on 8 June 1998 at the French Senate (Palais du Luxembourg) as part of the symposium “La naissance de la modernité au Japon” [The Birth of Modernity in Japan], organised by the Centre for Japanese Studies at Inalco. I would like to thank Mieko Macé, Ninomiya Masayuki, Pascal Griolet and Emmanuel Lozerand for their careful reading of this text.

2 When Empress Dowager Shōken Kōtaigō 昭憲皇太后 died on 11 April 1914, it was decided that she should receive the same rites as her husband. This joint honouring of an empress and her imperial husband can only be explained as mirroring the tradition of the Western royal courts. To my knowledge, it was unprecedented in Japan.

3 Note that Meiji jingū is not a mausoleum; Emperor Meiji’s tomb is located in Fushimi, Kyoto.

4 Naitō Masatoshi, Mato edo no toshikeikaku (Tokyo: Yōsensha, 1996), 207.

5 Translator’s note: According to Meiji jingū itself, 3 million people visited the shrine during the first 3 days of 2017. http://www.meijijingu.or.jp/english/highlights/1.html

6 The Meiji Constitution (Dai Nihon teikoku kenpō 大日本帝国憲法), promulgated on 11 February 1889. Railways: the first line from Tokyo to Yokohama opened in 1872; the Tōkai-dō line linking Tokyo to Kobe was completed in 1889. Electricity: the Tokyo Electric Company (Tokyo Dentō Gaisha 東京電燈会社) was founded in 1883 and an electric lighting system was installed in Tokyo in 1888.

7 Leaflet available at the shrine. See also Anzu Motohiko and Umeda Yoshihiko (eds), Shintō jiten (Osaka: Hori Shoten, 1968).

8 Similar wording can be found in poem 1050, book 6, of the Man’yōshū 万葉集: O-Yashima / the dominion under heaven / Of our Sovereign / a god in living flesh […]. 明津神吾皇之天下八嶋之中尓 (後略). Aki-tsu-kami waga oho-kimi-no ame no shita yashima no uchi ni. English translation taken from The Manyoshu: The Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation of One Thousand Poems, trans. William Theodore De Bary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969). For more information on the origins of the modern use of this expression, see Yamamoto Shichihei, Arahitogami no sōsakushatachi (Tokyo: Bungei shunjū, 1983).

9 For an overview of the Shintō schools of the era, see Kiyohara Sadao, Shintō shi

(Tokyo: Kōseikaku,1942), 266–92. For a more detailed study see Nishida Nagao, Nihon shintō shi kenkyū (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1981).

10 Figures taken from Shūkyō nenkan Heisei gonen-hen 宗教年鑑平成5年編 [Directory of Religions, 1993], produced by the Agency for Cultural Affairs [Bunka-chō] (Tokyo: Gyōsei, 1994).

11 Sect Shintō currently consists of 80 religious groups established during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. New Religion Shintō accounts for 48 groups established more recently. Based on Shūkyō nenkan Heisei gonen-hen, 62–75.

12 Yoshida Shintō, which appeared during the Muromachi period, became the quasi-official Shintō, serving as representative for the Magistrate of Temples and Shrines (jisha bugyō 寺社奉行), a kind of minister for religions within the bakufu. Since the 1665 Shosha negi kannushi hatto 諸社禰宜神主法度 (Regulations Governing Shintō Shrines, Senior Priests and Other Shrine Functionaries), all Japanese shrine priests had to request a permit (shintō saikyo-jō 神道裁許状) from the Yoshida house, the head member of which carried the title Jingi Kanryō Chōjō 神祇管領長上 (Head of Shrine and Kami Affairs).

13 Although it was less actively involved with the authorities, this school benefited from the restored prestige of the imperial house and the mass popular pilgrimages to the Ise shrines.

14 Interpretation of native Japanese divinities by Tendai Buddhism. It began with monks worshipping the deities of Mount Hiei (Hiei-zan 比叡山), where Saichō 最澄 (767-822), the founder of the Tendai sect, had lived since the establishment of the capital at Heian-kyō. The shrine dedicated to him, Hie Taisha 日吉大社, celebrated Sannō Gongen 山王権現 (the Mountain King Avatar) until the Meiji Restoration.

15 Tenkai engaged in a bitter dispute with Bonshun 梵舜 (1552–1623), of the Yoshida house, in order to secure this right. Bonshun was the brother of Yoshida Kanemi 吉田兼見 (1535–1610), the man who successfully organised the deification of Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 (1536–1598).

16 The Chiyo motokusa 千代もとくさ, also known as the Kana shōri 仮名性理, is attributed to Fujiwara Seika 藤原惺窩 (1561–1619), one of the first Confucian scholars in modern Japan. He wrote: “What in China is called the Way of the Sages and in Japan the Way of the Gods differ in name but not in spirit”. もろこしにしては儒道といひ、日本にては神道といふ名はかはり、こころは一つなり。Quoted in Kishimoto Yoshio 岸本芳雄, Shintō nyūmon – Shintō to sono ayumi 神道入門-神道とそのあゆみ (Tokyo: Kenpaku-sha, 1982), 49–50.

17 The name suika shintō 垂加神道 was later given to the Shintō school founded by the Confucian scholar Yamazaki Ansai 山崎闇斎 (1618–1682) after he received the teachings of the “Yoshida tradition” (Yoshida shintō-den 吉田神道伝) in 1671. See Yamazaki Ansai, Suikashago 垂加社語, in Kinsei shintō ron – Zenki kokugaku 近世神道論-前期国学, ed. Taira Shigemichi and Abe Akio (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten 岩波書店, 1972), 119–28.

18 These shrines have no appointed head priest. The rites celebrated there are not overseen by any higher authority (as long as public order is respected) and instead reflect local customs.

19 In the same way that Jean-Pierre Vernant speaks of “the religion of the Greeks”.

20 The word does appear in the Nihon shoki 日本書紀 (720) but always in relation to Buddhism. It was never used during the Nara and Heian periods when the rites offered to the heavenly and earthly gods (jingi 神祇) were codified.

21 Kuroda Toshio, “Shinto in the History of Japanese Religion”, Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 7, no. 1 (1981): 1–21.

22 Sugawara Shinkai, Sannō shintō no kenkyū 山王神道の研究 (Tokyo: Shunjūsha, 1992).

23 This commonly used term is useful when referring to the official form of Shintō from the Meiji period until 1945; however, it appears to date back only to the Japanese translation of the Shintō Directive (Shintō shirei 神道指令), issued on 15 December 1945 by the Allied occupation forces. This directive ordered that all ties between the state and Shintō be immediately severed. See Murakami Shigeyoshi, Kokka shintō to minshū shūkyō 国家神道と民衆宗教, (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 1982), 70–72. Yamaguchi Teruomi, for his part, considers Katō Genchi to have coined the notion of State Shintō when he distinguished kokka-teki shintō 国家的神道 (state Shintō) from shūkyō-teki shintō 宗教的神道 (religious Shintō) in 1935. Yamaguchi Teruomi, Meiji kokka to shūkyō 明治国家と宗教 (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku shuppan kai, 1999), 2.

24 Pierre-Étienne Will, Leçon inaugurale au Collège de France de la chaire d’histoire de la Chine moderne, Collège de France, no. 115 (1992); republished as “Chine moderne et sinologie”, Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales, no. 1 (Jan-Feb 1994): 7–26.

25 Haga Tōru (ed.), Bunmei toshite no Tokugawa Nihon (Tokyo: Chūō kōron-sha, 1993).

26 Ōishi Shinzaburō and Nakane Chie (eds), Edo jidai no kindai-ka (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 1991). English translation: Tokugawa Japan. The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan, trans. Conrad Totman (Tokyo: Tokyo University Press, 1990).

27 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (London: Routledge, 1992). Available online at: https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/podzim2013/SOC571E/um/_Routledge_Classics___Max_Weber-The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_Spirit_of_Capitalism__Routledge_Classics_-Routledge__2001_.pdf

28 Ibid. “Authors Introduction”, XXVIII–XXXII. Cited by Will, “Chine moderne et sinologie”, 12.

29 Loup Verlet, La malle de Newton (Paris: Gallimard, 1993); Jean-Paul Auffray, Newton ou le triomphe de l’alchimie (Paris: Le Pommier, 2000). Auffray stresses the fundamental unity of Newton’s work.

30 Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 38.

31 See for example Bunmei ron no gairyaku 文明論の概略 by Fukuzawa Yukichi 福沢諭吉 (1834–1901), published in 1875; English translation by David A. Dilworth and G. Cameron Hurst III, An Outline of a Theory of Civilization (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009). For more on the term kaika, see Maruyama Masao, Kōza Gendai rinri 11 講座現代倫理11, (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 1959), reprinted in Maruyama Masao shū 8 丸山真男集8 (Toyko: Iwanami shoten, 1996), 70.

32 See for example Sonoda Minoru 薗田稔, Shintō no sekai 神道の世界 [The World of Shintō] (Tokyo: Kōbun-dō, 1998). Chapter 6 is titled “Shizen to toshi wo chōwa-suru o-yashiro” 自然と都市を調和するお社 [The Shrine that Restores Harmony Between Nature and the City].

33 Mieko Macé, “Le chinois classique comme moyen d’accès à la modernité – la réception des concepts médicaux occidentaux dans le Japon des XVIIIe et XIXe siècle”, Daruma - Revue d’études japonaises, no. 4 (autumn 1998): 102, footnote 2, quotation of an 1892 speech given by Ishiguro Tadanori (1845–1941), founder of the Japanese Army’s medical corps. Japanese intellectuals such as Takano Chōei and Watanabe Kazan may have used the same expression 50 years earlier, in the first half of the nineteenth century.

34 Motoori Norinaga stressed the importance of the “ancient way” (kodō 古道), meaning the primeval way, as expressed (according to certain National Learning scholars) in Ancient Shintō (ko-shintō 古神道).

35 The vast majority of emperors receiving rites at a shrine were only given this mark of respect after Meiji; for those venerated prior to the Restoration, the process was extremely long.

36 François Macé, “Les rites d’avènement au Japon : la création d’une tradition”, Cipango - Cahiers d’études japonaises, no. 1 (January 1992): 13-34, and “Yoshida Kanemi (1535–1610) et la modernité du shintō. Le Yoshida shintō”, in Japon pluriel II - Actes du deuxième colloque de la société française des études japonaises, ed. Jean-Pierre Berthon and Josef Kyburz (Arles: Philippe Picquier, 1998), 213–20. As discussed earlier in this paper, the post-modern deification of the emperor obviously poses the problem of his status as sovereign.

37 The personnel from the domains that helped bring about the restoration, in particular Tsuwano.

38 Although the principle of political and religious unity claimed to have ancient roots, the expression only gathered strength during the Nanboku-chō – or Northern and Southern Courts – period, in particular with Edo-period thinkers such as the Confucianist Yamaga Sokō山鹿素行 (1622–1685) or with philosophers combining Confucian and Shintō concepts, like Yamazaki Ansai 山崎闇齋 (1618–1682). The idea was later championed by scholars from the Mito school and of course by those hoping to revive Ancient Shintō (ko-shintō).

39 Gaston Renondeau, “Le shintō d’État”, in Histoire des religions III, Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, ed. Henri-Charles Puech (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), 511–19.

40 Higashi Yoriko, Norinaga shingaku no kōzō - kakōsareta shindai 宣長神学の構造-仮構された神代 (Tokyo: Perikan-sha, 1999), 26 et seq.

41 For Eric Voegelin, modern states were established in opposition to true religion yet created new, more efficient and dangerous forms of religion which he calls “political religions”. See Eric Voegelin, Modernity Without Restraint: The Political Religions, the New Science of Politics, and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999).

42 On the history of the Jingi-kan, see Francine Hérail, Fonctions et fonctionnaires japonais au début du XIe siècle (Paris: POF, 1977), 24–34 and Kumagai Yasutaka 熊谷保孝, Ritsuryō kokka to jingi 律令国家と神祇 (Tokyo: Dai’ichi shobō, 1982). The seven ministries overseen by the Dajō-kan were created in 1868 (Keiō 4). In 1869, all of these “kan”, except the Dajō-kan and the Jingi-kan, became “shō”.

43 Joseph Kyburz, “Telle une bouffée de vent divin. Le culte d’Ise au début de l’ère Meiji”, Cipango - Cahiers d’études japonaises, no. 7 (autumn 1998): 181–214.

44 Having previously been one division of a kan (ministry), each shō now functioned as a ministry in its own right.

45 Shrine Shintō, the official form of the religion, must thus be distinguished from Folk Shintō and Sect Shintō. Despite strict supervision and certain forms of persecution prior to 1945, for example against Tenri-kyō 天理教and Ōmoto-kyō 大本教, the government was unable to control all forms of Shintō. For more information on Ōmoto-kyō, see Jean-Pierre Berthon, Omoto - Espérance millénariste d’une nouvelle religion japonaise, Cahiers d’études et de documents sur les religions du Japon vol. 6 (Paris: Atelier Alpha bleue, 1985); on Tenri-kyō, see Kyōri kara genkyō made Tenri-kyō, ed. Dōyū-sha (Tenri: Tenri-kyō dōyū-sha, 1982); on the vitality and modernity of folk beliefs, see Anne Bouchy, Les oracles de Shirakata (Arles: Philippe Picquier, 1992), and Laurence Caillet, La maison Yamazaki (Paris: Plon, 1991).

46 See Hérail, Fonctions et fonctionnaires, 24–25.

47 Morioka Kiyomi, Kindai no shūrakujinja to kokka tōsei 近代の集落神社と国家統制 (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 1987). This movement began in 1898.

48 The final step in separating State Shintō from other religions came about in 1900, when two new administrative offices were created within the Home Ministry: the Jinja-kyoku 神社局, or Bureau of Shrines, and the Shūkyō-kyoku 宗教局, or Bureau of Religions, which oversaw Sect Shintō, Buddhism, Christianity and all other religious movements.

49 For more information on the influence of Christian communities on Meiji religious policy, see Yamaguchi Teruomi, Meiji kokka to shūkyō, note 12.

50 Raymond Aron, Democracy and Totalitarianism (Worthing: Littlehampton Book Services, 1968), on the subject of “the sacred history of Soviet doctrine”.

51 Shintō weddings, or shinzen kekkon 神前結婚 (marriage before the gods), developed rapidly during the late Meiji period in imitation of the rites performed by the imperial family. The first ceremony of this type to be held was the wedding (go-kongi 御婚儀) of Crown Prince Yoshihito, the future Emperor Taishō and son of Emperor Meiji, in May 1900. His wedding was celebrated before the Kashiko-dokoro 賢所, which houses the sacred mirror of the goddess Amaterasu at the imperial palace, as set out in the Imperial Household Law of 1889 (Kōshitsu tenpan 皇室典範).

52 Translation taken from William Theodore de Bary, Carol Gluck, and Arthur E. Tiedemann, Sources of Japanese Tradition. 1600 to 2000. Part Two: 1868 to 2000 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 108–09. For more information on the thought behind the Kyōiku chokugo, see Matsumoto Sannosuke, Meiji shisō shi Kindai kokka no sōsetsu kara ko no kakusei made 明治思想史 近代国家の創設から個の覚醒まで (Tokyo: Shinyōsha, 1996), 106 et seq. The theme of “the glory of … Our Nation”, waga kokutai no seika 我が国体の精華, will be discussed in greater detail at the end of this paper.

53 Yoshida Kanemi’s Shintō dai’i 神道大意 reaffirmed Confucian criticisms of Buddhism while challenging celibacy and the abstention from eating meat. See François Macé, “Yoshida Kanemi (1535–1610) et la modernité du shintō. Le Yoshida shintō”, in Japon pluriel II - Actes du deuxième colloque de la société française des études japonaises, ed. Jean-Pierre Berthon and Josef Kyburz (Arles: Philippe Picquier, 1998), 218.

54 Myths were almost completely eradicated.

55 J. Victor Koschmann, The Mito Ideology: Discourse, Reform, and Insurrection in Late Tokugawa Japan, 1790–1864 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 53. See also the critical reading of Motoori Norinaga’s Naobi no mitama by Aizawa Seishisai, “Toku naobimitama” 読直毘霊 (1858), in Nihon jurin sōsho 日本儒林叢書, ed. Seki Giichirō, vol. 4 (Tokyo: Ōtori shuppan, 1971).

56 See note 52 and the accompanying text.

57 Tsuda Sōkichi, “Bungaku ni arawaretaru waga kokumin shisō no kenkyū” 文学に現はれたる我が国民思想の研究, in Tsuda Sōkichi zenshū bekkan 5 (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1966), 438.

58 Naitō, Mato edo no toshikeikaku, 203–04.

59 As an illustration, one of the two universities responsible for training shrine priests was called Kokugaku-in daigaku 国学院大学 (National Learning University).

60 Although Keichū worked under the authority of his master and friend Shimokōbe Chōryū 下河辺長流 (who died in 1686), poetic tradition did not systematically advocate a return to Japan’s most ancient history. See Emmanuel Lozerand, Naissance de l’histoire de la littérature japonaise (draft version), 60.

61 François Macé, “Les Etudes nationales entre raison, religion et idéologie”, in Tradition et modernité quelques aspects du Japon d’Edo (1603-1867) et de Meiji (1868-1912), ed. Sakae Murakami-Giroux and Christiane Séguy (Strasbourg: Université Marc Bloch, 1999), 74.

62 See, for example, Hayashi Razan and his table of relations between five Shintō deities, the five elements (godai 五大) and the five Buddhas. Hayashi Razan, Shintō denju, 39.

63 Parallels have thus been drawn between Itō Jinsai, Ogyū Sorai, Motoori Norinaga and even Yanagita Kunio. See, among others, Kogaku no shisō, ed. Takeuchi Seiichi 竹内整一 et al (Tokyo: Perikan-sha, 1994).

64 The first decree, on the 17th day of the 3rd month of Meiji 1, was supplemented on the 28th of that month, then on the 24th of the next month, to form the 12-article long Shinbutsu hanzen no rei 神仏判然の令 [Shintō and Buddhism Separation Order].

65 Anne-Marie Bouchy (Annu-Mari Busshī), Shashin gyōja Jitsuri no shugendō 捨身行者 実利の修験道 (Tokyo: Kadokawa shoten, 1977). A good example of the destruction wrought by the shinbutsu bunri policy is presented in Allan Grapard, “Japan’s Ignored Cultural Revolution: the Separation of Shinto and Buddhist Divinities in Meiji (shinbutsu bunri) and a Case Study: Tōnomine”, in History of Religion, vol. 23, no. 3 (Feb. 1984): 241–65.

66 For an example of syncretism, see François Macé, “Pensée cloisonnée et pensée syncrétique, temps humain et temps divin, le problème du Gengenshū de Kitabatake Chikafusa”, in Bouddhisme et cultures locales - Quelques cas de réciproques adaptations. Actes du colloque franco-japonais de septembre 1991, ed. Fukui Fumimasa and Gérard Fussman (Paris: EFEO, 1994), 225–32.

67 This book is attributed in its foreword to Soga no Umako 蘇我馬子 and Shōtoku Taishi 聖徳太子. Its authenticity was contested in the early Edo period by scholars like Tada Yoshitoshi多田義俊 and Nanrei南嶺 (1698–1750), who wrote Kuji-ki gisho meishō-kō旧事紀偽書明証考 [Proof of the Kujiki’s Inauthenticity].

68 The Watarai 度会 family of the Gekū 外宮 (Outer Shrine) and the Arakida 荒木田 family of the Naikū 内宮 (Inner Shrine) were forced to abandon their functions in 1872, despite having a family tradition that dated back as far as that of the shrines.

69 This was the early 17th-century realisation of a project which Kanetomo had been unable to see through in his time. It consisted of the building on Mt Yoshida of the headquarters of the Department of Divinities, which had not been able to be reconstructed following numerous fires at the imperial palace.

70 When one of the branches of the Urabe family took over Yoshida Shrine, to the east of the capital, it adopted the name Yoshida; however, its clan-name continued to be Urabe, hence the concurrent use of the terms Yoshida Shintō and Urabe Shintō.

71 Okada Shōji, Urabe shintō (ge), Shintō taikei: Ronsetsuhen 9 (Tokyo: Shintō Taikei Hensan Kai, 1991), 43.

72 Allan Grapard, “The Shintō of Yoshida Kanetomo”, Monumenta Nipponica, vol. 47, no. 1 (spring 1992): 27–58.

73 Such as Allan Grapard and James Edward Ketelaar.

74 François Macé (Furansowa Mase), “Kindai nihon ni okeru kigen no shisō” 近代日本における「起源」の思想, Bungaku 文学 (spring 1997): 56–61. The decree imposing the new calendar referred only to the “solar calendar”, without any mention of its use in the West. It is clear, however, that with this reform Japan was aligning itself with the West and opening itself up to foreign trade.

75 The characters used literally mean “illuminated government”. The name is derived from two characters that appear in a passage from the I Ching 易経: 聖人南面而聴天下嚮 (The sages faced south when they listened to the world, they turned towards the brightness and ruled).

76 Imperial rescript of the 8th day of the 9th month of Meiji 1 (Kaigen no mikotonori 改元の詔), which appeared in the Kōshitsu tenpan (Imperial Household Law), chapter 2, article 12 (cited in Ihara Yoriaki, Kōshitsu jiten 皇室事典 [Tokyo: Fūzanbō, 1979], 419).

77 Takahashi Yoshitoki, “Rarande rekisho kanken” ラランデ暦書管見 (1803), commentary by Nakayama Shigeru, “Takahashi Yoshitoki to rarande rekisho kanken” 高橋至時とラランデ暦書管見, in Yōgaku, ed. Hirose Hideo, Nakayama Shigeru and Ogawa Teizō (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1985), 167–206 and 473–78. Takahashi Yoshitoki himself devised the Kansei calendar system (Kansei-reki 寛政暦) in 1797.

78 Dajō-kan decree no. 337, published on the 9th day of the 11th month of Meiji 5 (1872). It was decided that the 3rd day of the 12th month that year would be the first of January, year 6 (1873). Note that the Japanese language continued to count in “days” (nichi 日) and “months” – formerly moons – (gatsu 月).

79 Teeth blackening (o-haguro お歯黒) was initially a mark of puberty but came to distinguish married women from all social classes during the Edo period.

80 The “three revolutions” (sankaku 三革) are: kakumei 革命, a younger brother (yin) of metal-rooster year (shin’yū 辛酉), for example the year in which Jimmu founded the first capital; kakurei 革令, an older brother (yang) of wood-rat year (kasshi 甲子), the first year of the sexagenary cycle; kaku’un 革運, an older brother (yang) of earth-dragon year (boshin 戊辰), which had little impact on era changes in Japan.

81 As of 1868 these were the only official ceremonies.

82 The most striking example of this is no doubt “Yume no shiro” 夢の代 by Yamagata Bantō 山片蟠桃 (1748–1821), in Yamagata Bantō – Tominaga Nakamoto, Nihon shisō taikei 43, ed. Mizuta Norihisa and Arisaka Takamichi (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1973), 141–642.

83 François Macé, “De l’inscription de l’histoire nationale dans le sol : à la recherche des tombes impériales à partir de la seconde moitié d’Edo”, in Japon pluriel III - Actes du troisième colloque de la société française des études japonaises, ed. Jean-Pierre Berthon and Anne Gossot (Arles: Philippe Picquier, 1999), 173–79.

84 Project launched by the head of the Mito domain, Tokugawa Mitsukuni 徳川光圀 (1628–1700).

85 Ōkuni Takamasa used this chronology on page 415 of Hongaku kyoyō 本学挙要 [The Essentials of True Learning, 1855], as well as in Gyojū mondō 馭戎問答 [Questions and Answers on the Taming of Barbarians], cited in a footnote in Hongaku kyoyō (page 550).

86 Decree 342 from the Dajō-kan, issued on the 15th day of the 11th month of 1872.

87 As a reminder, the Heisei 平成 era began in 1989 (Translator’s note: this era ended on 30 April 2019; the current era is known as Reiwa 令和).

88 The imperial year continues to be noted in almanacs.

89 Translator’s note: the second of December was the date of a number of key events in French history: the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804; the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805; and the 1851 coup d'état staged by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who chose the date specifically because it was the anniversary of the two previously mentioned events.

90 Restoration of Toyokuni jinja 豊国神社 for the anniversary of the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. See François Macé, “Le cortège fantôme - Les funérailles et la déification de Toyotomi Hideyoshi”, Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie, Mémorial Anna Seidel Religions traditionnelles d’Asie Orientales II, no. 9 (1996–1997): 441–62.

91 It is not easy to find a list of shrines built during the Meiji period, if such a list even exists. However, other examples I can mention include the shrine dedicated to Emperor Go Daigo, Yoshino jingū 吉野神宮, built in 1892 (it only became a jingū in 1918), and Minatogawa jinja 湊川神社, dedicated in 1872 to Kusunoki Masashige 楠木正成 (1294–1336), a loyal supporter of Go Daigo.

92 In 1938 another emperor was enshrined here, the last emperor to have reigned from Kyoto: Emperor Kōmei 孝明 (1831–1866), father of Emperor Meiji.

93 Jidai matsuri is one of Kyoto’s “Three Great Festivals” (San dai-matsuri 三大祭) alongside Aoi matsuri 葵祭 and Gion matsuri 祇園祭.

94 It was held for the first time on 25 November 1895.

95 Unlike the highly symbolic date of the founding of Japan’s first capital, which was converted into the Western calendar – as the first day of the first month of the reign of Jimmu, corresponding to 11 February 660 bce – in this instance the Japanese simply transposed the 10th month of the old calendar into the 10th month of the new.

96 Although the Ashikaga shogunate, the second of Japan’s three military governments, left a deep mark on Japanese civilisation, and on Kyoto in particular (for example Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 and Gingaku-ji 銀閣寺), during the Edo period it was seen as a disgrace for having accepted the title “Ō” 王, meaning a king who was vassal to the Chinese emperor (Translator’s note: since 2007 the Ashikaga have been included in the parade).

97 The old system did not include a regular day of rest. Samurai working for the domains and bakufu worked turns of duty lasting five or six days a month.

98 Some traditions die hard, however, like the Obon festival, which in many regions of Japan is celebrated one month earlier than usual, in July.

99 Marcel Detienne, “Quand on façonne la conscience nationale”, Le monde des débats (November 2000): 13–14.

100 Marcel Detienne, “History and Nation”, Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, third series, vol. 8, no. 3 (winter, 2001): 83–88 (citation appears on page 83).

101 Mori Kōichi, Nihon no kofun: Nishi nihon hen (Tokyo: Yūhikaku, 1981), 9–16.

102 Another example of Japan’s historicizing and anchoring of tradition was the creation of the Commission of Inquiry into Historical Sites Related to Emperor Jimmu for the 2,600th anniversary celebrations. This commission was created in 1940 by the Ministry of Education and included several historians from Tokyo University, such as Tsuji Zennosuke. See John S. Brownlee, Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600–1945. The Age of Gods and Emperor Jinmu (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), 180–85.

103 There were around 150 shōkon-sha, including the future Yasukuni jinja 靖国神社 in Tokyo.

104 One example is the declaration on 17 May 2000 by Prime Minister Mori Yoshirō 森喜朗, before the Shinto Political Alliance Diet Members' Association (Shintō seiji renmei kokkai-giin kondankai 神道政治連盟国会議員懇談会), that “Japan is a country of the gods with the emperor at its centre” / Nihon wa tennō wo chūshin to suru kami no kuni da zo. / 日本は天皇を中心とする神の国だぞ, Asahi Shinbun 朝日新聞, 18 May 2000, page 1. The Shinto Political Alliance was created in 1970. It supported a bill (which was rejected in 1974) to place Yasukuni jinja under state control and also worked to ensure that the era-name system introduced during the Meiji period was once again enshrined in law (gengō hōsei-ka 元号法制化). The Shinto Political Alliance was founded by the Jinja honchō 神社本庁, a religious association that has inherited the tradition of State Shintō. See Zōho kaitei kindai jinja shintō shi 増補改訂近代神社神道史 [Revised and Corrected Edition of the History of Modern Shintō Shrines], ed. Jinja shinpō-sha (Tokyo: Jinja shinpō-sha, 1991), 266–70.

105 Since it was in Japan that Amaterasu Ōmikami, the Great Divinity Illuminating Heaven, was born. See Kakaika 呵刈葭, completed in around 1790, republished in Motoori Norinaga zenshū, vol. 8 (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 1972), 411. One of the bones of contention in the dispute between Motoori and Ueda Akinari was the nature of the sun.

106 For example, in his 1855 work Hongaku kyoyō. Ōkuni Takamasa, “Hongaku kyoyō”, in Hirata Atsutane, Ban Nobutomo, Ōkuni Takamasa, ed. Tahara Tsuguo et al, Nihonshisō taikei 50 (Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1975), 403–58.

107 Slogan coined by the Mitogaku scholar Aizawa Seishisai 会沢正志齋 (1782–1863) in his work Shinron 新論 (1825). The subject of sonnō will be explored further on in this paper.

108 On the subject of kokutai, see among others Rai Kiichi, Jugaku kokugaku yōgaku [Confucianism, National Learning, Western Learning], Nihon no kinsei 13 (Tokyo: Chūō kōron, 1993), 353–57.

109 The first three chapters of Aizawa Seishisai’s Shinron 新論 [New Theses] are titled “Kokutai”. The term, which had been known since ancient times thanks to Chinese chronicles, continued to mean “country” or “form of a country” until the 18th century.

110 Three hundred thousand copies of the first edition were published. By March 1943, 1,900,000 copies had been sold (latest known figures), without counting private editions. Kokutai no hongi – Cardinal Principles of The National Entity of Japan, ed. Robert King Hall, trans. John Owen Gauntlett (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1949), 10.

111 Nozomu Kawamura, Sociology and Society of Japan (New York: Routledge, 2011), 155.

112 Eric Seizelet, “Les portraits impériaux – Contribution à l’étude du culte impérial”, in Mélanges offerts à René Sieffert à l’occasion de son soixante-dixième anniversaire, special edition of Cipango - Cahier d’études japonaises, (June 1994): 437–50.

113 Haihan chiken 廃藩置県, seventh month of 1871.

114 Jinshin koseki 壬申戸籍, first day of the second month of 1872.

115 For more information on one aspect of this deification, see Yoshimi Shun’ya, “Les rituels politiques du Japon moderne. Tournées impériales et stratégies du regard dans le Japon de Meiji”, translated into French by Emmanuel Lozerand, Annales - Histoire, Sciences Sociales, vol. 50, no. 2 (March-April 1995): 341–71.

116 Cremation ban introduced on 18 July 1873 and rescinded on 23 May 1875. Uchikawa Yoshimi and Matsushima Eiichi, Meiji nyūsu jiten 明治ニュース事典 [Meiji News Dictionary], vol. 1 (Keiō 4 – Meiji 10), (Tokyo: Mainichi komyunikēshonzu, 1989), 153.

117 François Macé, “Yoshida Kanemi (1535–1610) et la modernité du shintō. Le Yoshida shintō”, in Japon pluriel II – Actes du deuxième colloque de la société française des études japonaises, ed. Jean-Pierre Berthon and Josef Kyburz (Arles: Philippe Picquier, 1998), 213–20.

118 For a discussion of the links between Shintō and funerals, see François Macé, “Le shintō en mal de funérailles”, in Japon pluriel - Actes du premier colloque de la Société française des études japonaises, ed. Patrick Beillevaire and Anne Gossot (Arles: Philippe Picquier, 1995), 45–51. Kondō Keigo has stressed how heavily indebted Shintō funerals are to Confucianism, in particular the funerary rites set out in the Jiali 家禮, written by Zhu Xi 朱子. Kondō Keigo, Jusō to shinsō 儒葬と神葬 (Tokyo: Kokusho kankōkai, 1990).

119 On the funeral rites and deification of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, see François Macé, “Le cortège fantôme - Les funérailles et la déification de Toyotomi Hideyoshi”, Cahiers d’Extrême-Asie, Mémorial Anna Seidel, Religions traditionnelles d’Asie Orientales II, no. 9 (1996–1997): 441–62.

120 Katō Genchi, Honpō seishi no kenkyū - Seishi noshijitsu to sono shinribunseki - 本邦生祠の研究-生祠の史実と其心理分析 (Tokyo: Meiji Seitoku Kinen Gakkai Hakkō, 1932).

121 See for example Hayashi Razan, Shintō denju, 14: “Men are the masters of the gods. ‘Men’ refers to the human character. It is because there is man that the gods are revered; if man did not exist, who would worship the gods?” (Tami wa kami no shu nari. Tami to wa ningen no koto nari. Hito arite koso kami wa agamure, moshi hito nakereba, dare ga kami wo agamuru? / 民ハ神ノ主也。民トハ人間ノ事也。人有リテコソ神ヲアガムレ、モシ人ナケレバ、誰カ神ヲアガムル). The same idea was expressed by Kumazawa Banzan 熊沢蕃山 (1619–1691) in Daigaku wakumon 大学或問 (Kumazawa Banzan, “Daigaku wakumon” (1657), in Kumazawa Banzan, Nihonshisō taikei 30 [Tokyo: Iwanami shoten, 1971], 448): “The man who knows the universe [who rules the world] is master of the gods” (天下を知る人は神の主なり). Bracketed section added by the present author.

122 Weber, The Protestant Ethic, 61 and 178 (note 19). Marcel Gauchet attributes the expression Entzauberung (disenchantment) to Friedrich Schiller. Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion, trans. Oscar Burge (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

123 Translator’s note: in 2019 the starting point would be 2679 years ago.

124 François Macé (Furansowa Mase), Kojiki shinwa no kōzō 古事記神話の構造 (Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1989).

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François Macé, “Shintō, the disenchanter”Cipango - French Journal of Japanese Studies [Online], 6 | 2021, Online since 14 January 2022, connection on 19 August 2022. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/cjs/1630; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/cjs.1630

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