Organizer: Mikael S. Adolphson, University of Oklahoma
Chair and Discussant: James Foard, Arizona State University
Although our understanding of religion and politics in premodern Japan has progressed in the last few decades, their interdependence has yet to be sufficiently explained. In particular, little is known about the manner in which religious institutions, priests and monks exercised their influence, or how leading courtiers and warriors employed religion to exert their power. This panel attempts to redeem this weakness by exploring the construction and usage of rituals at different levels in the premodern era.
The papers will demonstrate that while rituals provided a bond between the secular and religious elites, they were also an important means to secure the support of the lower classes. Thus, appointments of certain monks as ceremonial leaders and the choice of destinations for pilgrimages could confirm or change the hierarchy of spiritual leaders and religious institutions. In addition, sponsoring courtiers reinforced their status by displaying their wealth, and sustained a political hierarchy by ranking the secular participants. The importance of rituals is further evidenced by their usage to rally support for a cause among commoners, as we can see in temple protests performed by shrine servants and strategies of recruiting warriors within the Ikko sect in the sixteenth century.
Rituals were thus both tools for the elites to exert their power and part of a larger mental framework of religious beliefs. As this panel attempts to describe and analyze rituals in different ages, we hope to provide new approaches for understanding the complex social and ideological structures of premodern Japan.
Immigrant Kinship Groups and the Construction of Japanese Kingship
Michael Como, Stanford University
This paper will contribute to recent discussions concerning the role of trans-cultural ideologies and rituals in the construction of cultural nationalisms. The emphasis is on seventh and eight century Japan, at a time when Chinese and Korean forms of religious ritual, architecture and textual productions offered the Japanese new sources of political and cultural authority. It was at this time that a strong, centralized state first emerged in Japan in conjunction with a dramatic shift in the culture of the elite segments of the population.
Although the role of immigrant kinship groups has long been acknowledged as central to the process by which Buddhist institutions and conceptions of authority came to be adopted by the ancient imperial state, little attention has been paid to the role played by such groups in the transformation and appropriation of the legends and cultic practices that became increasingly important at prominent Shinto shrines in the late seventh and eighth centuries. This paper will in particular examine the role of the Hata, one of the most powerful immigrant kinship groups in early Japan, in this process. Specifically, I will explore the role of the Hata in the construction of rituals, shrine institutions and legends at such prominent sites as the Fushimi Inari Jinja, Matsuo Taisha, Hakusan Jinja and the Kamo shrines. I will illustrate how immigrant groups and their religious institutions created new cultural symbols and practices through which the exercise of power was made possible and in terms of which it was understood.
Local Paradises and the Theater of State: Imperial Pilgrimage in Early Medieval
David Moerman, Stanford University
This paper examines the ideological strategies involved in the pilgrimages of retired emperors to sacred mountains in twelfth-century Japan. Abdicated sovereigns were central players in the political and military conflicts of the age as well as in the production of the literary, artistic, and especially religious culture of medieval Japan. They engaged in power politics of all sorts, from succession disputes to palace coups, and oversaw the development of the estate system that insured their administrative and economic control over much of the national landscape. The four retired emperors active in this century also undertook nearly one hundred pilgrimages to the Kumano shrines in the southern mountains of the Kii peninsula, accompanied on each of their journeys by an itinerant court of advisors, warriors, poets, and priests.
The Kumano mountains represented mnemonic sites in the foundational narratives of the imperial house and, as the earthly locales of Buddhist paradises, the pure lands of heavenly rebirth. Local deities and their domains were seen as traces of a utopian Buddhist vision superscribed upon the native terrain. This paper analyzes these journeys as religious ritual and political theater. Pilgrimages to these overdetermined sites by abdicated emperors to take priestly vows are seen as both individual quests for heaven on earth and ideological claims of sovereignty over the land.
Appealing in the Name of the Buddhas and the Gods: Ritual Protests in the Late
Heian and Kamakura Eras
Mikael Adolphson, University of Oklahoma
From the late eleventh to the sixteenth centuries, major temples and shrines staged some 400 forceful protests (goso) in Kyoto, putting pressure on the imperial court in matters that concerned them. Scholars have traditionally interpreted this secular power as a negative influence on legitimate governance, claiming that most monks were villains who failed to perform their religious duties because of their worldly greed and ambitions.
This paper opposes such characterizations, arguing, instead, that temples and shrines were never entirely separated from the state, and that the religious protests can only be understood in conjunction with the political structures and the ideological framework. In fact, the most powerful temples were instrumental in maintaining the centrality of the state in spite of increasing militarization and privatization of government. They served the court not only as a provider of religious ceremonies and spiritual protection, but also by representing the state in the provinces through its many branches.
Religious protests were not attempts to overthrow the government, but rather ritualized means of communicating and negotiating with the secular elites. Their progression and conclusion furthermore reveal that the protests took place within accepted rules of behavior. Contrary to common assumptions, these demonstrations were not intended to be violent, since the protesters primarily relied on the spiritual powers of the native gods to impress the urgency of the matter. The goso were, in other words, an important expression of the symbiosis of religion and politics that characterizes the late Heian and Kamakura polities.
Carol Richmond Tsang, University of Illinois, Chicago
Among the many conflicts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Japan, the ikko ikki stand out because they were waged by members of one Buddhist sect, the Honganji branch of Jodo Shinshu, rather than by professional warrior organizations. Although they are most often described as popular uprisings, many of the ikko ikki disturbances were directed by leaders of the sect, the best-known ikki of this kind being the ten-year war against the first unifier, Oda Nobunaga, which lasted roughly from 1570 to 1580. During this conflict, the Honganji high priest virtually promised those who fought for the temple that they would be reborn in Amida's paradise, a promise that contradicted the sect's formal teachings that only faith in Amida would lead to rebirth in his paradise.
This paper examines the various means employed by the Honganji leadership during the sixteenth century to justify its warfare, and what this tells us about the motivations of those who participated in the fighting.