All about Oomoto

The following set of question-and-answers is taken from the official Oomoto website and provides an admirably clear overview of a sect that is known for its artistic leanings and has been particularly welcoming of foreign participation. For earlier Green Shinto posts on the sect, please see here or here for personal impressions. For a report about an Oomoto summer worship by Jann Williams, see here.


Frequently Asked Questions About Oomoto

Q-What is Oomoto?

A – Oomoto is a Sectarian Shinto sect and one of Japan’s “New Religions”.

Q-What are Japan’s New Religions?

A-Since the middle of the nineteenth century, hundreds of religious sects, many based on Shinto and some on Buddhism, were founded. Several dozen still exist, a few of them large and thriving. Although Oomoto is not the largest, it is often cited as one of the more influential New Religions for many reasons: it gave birth to several other sects, which spun off from it amicably in most cases; it was an early proponent of interfaith cooperation, which today is widely practiced by Japanese religions; and it had a highly public and sometimes tragic history in its first fifty years.

Q-How is Oomoto like Shinto?

A-The importance of harmony among nature, humans, and gods is a key belief of both. Oomoto’s rituals, architecture, and vestments are based on the ancient original practices that became known as Shinto.

Q-How is Oomoto different from Shinto?

A-Shinto is polytheistic, believing there are many gods – or kami. Oomoto teaches that many kami do exist, but they all come from the same Supreme God of the Universe, so in effect there is just one God. When Oomoto followers pray to a particular kami by name they understand this is just one manifestation of the single God. Even the name “Oomoto” emphasizes this point. It translates as “Great Source” or “Great Origin.”

Q-Is this different from Biblical monotheism?

A-Oomoto is monotheistic but not exactly like Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Religion scholars often describe the Biblical religions as “exclusive monotheism,” meaning the religions believe there is only one God and all others are false. Scholars describe other religions, like Oomoto, as “inclusive monotheism,” meaning the religions believe many gods may exist but all are essentially the same and come from one source; therefore it doesn’t matter under which name or ritual God is worshipped. Oomoto teaches that all gods, religions, prophets and messengers throughout time came from the same source – the Supreme God of the Universe. This teaching is one reason Oomoto is active in interfaith efforts and partly explains why it does not have a strong missionary goal to win converts.

Q-What is Oomoto’s basic doctrine?

A-God is the spirit which pervades the entire universe, and man is the focus of the workings of heaven and earth. When God and man become one, infinite power will become manifest.

Q-What is the essence of Oomoto beliefs?

A-God, with the help of humans, is working to purify and reconstruct the world. When this task is accomplished, God, humans, and all of nature will exist peacefully on earth and in the spiritual world.

Q-What are humans expected to do to help?

A-They should live according to four teachings and four principles. These are fundamental to the Divine Plan and applicable to the lives of all humans. Oomoto also teaches that God gives humans freedom of choice; they have freewill to decide whether to follow these teachings and principles.

Q-What are the teachings?

A- They are: 1) Harmonious alignment with all life and the universe. 2) Revelation of celestial truth and its lessons. 3) Innate patterns of behavior for man, society and the cosmos. 4) Instinctual creative drives.

Q-What are the principles?

A- They are: 1) Purity through purification of mind and body. 2) Optimism, specifically believing in the goodness of the Divine Will. 3) Progressivism as a way to social improvement. 4) Unification or reconciliation of all dichotomies (good and evil; rich and poor; humans and nature; humans and God, etc.) The four can be thought of as a code for right living. By practicing them, humans can live in harmony with the universe and lead a heavenly life in spirit and flesh.

Q-What are some of the things Oomoto followers do to live by this code?

A-They try their best to live a spiritual life on a daily basis. This means taking the broadest view in any situation and trying to understand its essence; turning the heart toward the Divine Light, or Wisdom; trying to understand the will of God; exerting their utmost in all things and all moments; ultimately trusting their lives to God. More concretely, Oomoto followers pray twice a day and conduct a monthly service in their home shrines; usually attend a monthly service at their local branches; read a bit of scripture each day; and try to participate as much as possible in Oomoto’s many activities—pilgrimages, arts, and special rituals.

Members of the Osaka branch at their monthly service; Oomoto followers in a small town hold a monthly service in a private home.

Q-Who founded Oomoto?

A-Nao Deguchi (1837-1918) of Ayabe founded the sect in 1892.

Q-Who was Nao Deguchi?

A-She was a poor, illiterate widower with many children who, despite a lack of formal education, was intuitively intelligent and spiritually wise. She lived a pure and pious life in accord with traditional Shinto. She began life as a weaver (in old Japanese Ayabe means “place of the weavers”), and was eking out a living for herself and two youngest daughters as a lowly rag picker when she had her first divine revelation.

Q-What was the divine revelation?

A-On the night of February 3, 1892, at her home in Ayabe, Nao became possessed by a god who identified himself as Ushitora no Konjin. He declared that 3,000 years earlier the other kami had convinced him they could run the world and demanded he let them do so. He secluded himself on an island for three millennia, but then saw what a mess the kami had made. In his first possession of Nao, he declared through her voice that he had returned to purify and reconstruct the world.

Meshima, the island where Ushitora no Konjin lived in seclusion for 3,000 years; Oomoto followers hold a special service on the island every five years.

Q-You said first divine revelation, were there more?

A-Yes, the possessions and divine revelations came almost daily, each time Ushitora no Konjin forcing his words through Nao in a boisterous voice. She finally convinced him that his outbursts were causing her trouble, and that he should find another way to communicate. Soon after, she began to transcribe his declarations, prophecies and instructions through automatic writing. Although illiterate, she would pick up a brush and her hand would automatically write things she could not read. Literate people were able to make some sense of the writings. In the last 26 years of her life, Nao recorded more than 200,000 pages of statements from Ushitora no Konjin.

Q-Besides transcribing God’s words, what else did Nao do?

A-Ushitora no Konjin told her to start Oomoto. In the early days she found it difficult to convince anyone that her spirit possession was genuine. Eventually, the automatic writing convinced many, and Nao also discovered she had healing powers, which helped her attract followers. She attracted a following from Ayabe, but Oomoto remained small until she met Kisaburo Ueda.

Q-Who was Ueda?

A-Kisaburo Ueda – who became Onisaburo Deguchi (1871-1948) — was the first born son of a farmer in a village near Kameoka, which today is part of Kameoka. After his father died he lived a dissolute life for a few years. One night when he was 26 years old he was beaten by a gang of thugs and left for dead in a rice paddy. Friends discovered him and took him to the nearest shrine to recover. There, a spirit guide appeared to Ueda and led him to a cave on nearby Mount Takakuma.

Q-What happened in the cave?

A-Ueda underwent spiritual training over the next seven days. Unlike Nao, Ueda had an out-of-body experience, led by a guide into the spiritual world, where he witnessed the past, the present, and the future. Many years later, he described these experiences in his 81-volume “Reikai Monogatari” (“Stories from the Spiritual World”). After his week of training, Ueda tried to attract a following with little success. Soon, however, the kami guiding Ueda and the god guiding Nao directed them to a meeting.

Each August, Oomoto holds a special service at the cave on Mount Takakuma.

Q-How did Nao react to Ueda?

A-Ushitora no Konjin had promised Nao that she would meet a man who would help her build Oomoto into the organization that would help the reconstruction. She initially was surprised that this person was a brash, young man. Eventually Nao and Ueda decided it was God’s will that they would work together. On New Year’s Day 1900, Ueda married Nao’s youngest daughter, Sumiko (1882-1952), took the name Onisaburo Deguchi, and became Co-Founder. From then on, the Foundress and the Co-Founder worked diligently together to spread the word of Ushitora no Konjin and to build a religious organization to achieve his goals.

Q-Why the need for a woman and man to work together?

A-Oomoto teaches that Nao had the purity necessary to serve as the vessel to directly receive God’s words, and that Onisaburo had the spiritual training and insight necessary to interpret the writings that Nao transcribed. Nao’s transcriptions are also filled with references to the necessity of opposites coming together. For example, the analogy of warp and weft in weaving appears often. Ushitora no Konjin is consistently clear that the joining of polar opposites is one key leading to the reconstruction of the world.

Q-Why does Oomoto have a female Spiritual Leader today?

A- In keeping with Ushitora no Konjin’s instructions, the Spiritual Leader of Oomoto is always a woman, a descendant of Nao on the matrilineal line. Sumiko became Second Spiritual Leader after Nao died; Naohi (1902-1990), eldest daughter of Sumiko and Onisaburo, was Third Spiritual Leader; Naohi’s daughter Kiyoko (1935-2001) was Fourth Spiritual Leader; and Mme. Kurenai Deguchi (born 1956), a great great granddaughter of Nao, is the Fifth (current) Spiritual Leader. In keeping with Ushitora no Konjin’s instructions, the administrative chief is always a man, but not always a Deguchi.

Q-What is the role of the Spiritual Leader?

A-Oomoto followers believe their Spiritual Leader has direct contact with the Divine Spirit. Based on this she interprets the teachings according to present circumstances – social, political, etc. –and guides the spiritual activities of Oomoto followers. The Spiritual Leader is an active participant in most major and many minor rituals throughout the year.

Q-What is the role of the chief administrator of Oomoto?

A-With the help of the small staff and many volunteers, the chief leads the sect’s efforts to actualize the interpretations of the Spiritual Leader through its programs and policies.

Q-How many members does Oomoto have?

A- Oomoto’s official membership count is 170,000 people.

Q-How is Oomoto organized today?

A-Because Oomoto had two founders it has two headquarters. Ayabe is the spiritual headquarters, and Kameoka is the educational/administrative headquarters. Oomoto has fewer than 200 paid staff, most based in Kameoka, several in Ayabe and a few in its Tokyo office. Oomoto has branches throughout Japan, about 60 of various sizes, some with as few as fifty families and some with several hundred. Each branch has a chief – man or woman – who serves as a volunteer. Each branch holds a monthly service – called Tsukinamisai—and has activities for the branch in general, and for youth groups, children’s groups, women, mid-lifers and seniors.

Oomoto has two headquarters, in Ayabe and in Kameoka

Q- How many priests for all these branches and headquarters?

A-Actually, Oomoto has no professional priests. Some of the paid workers spend much or most of their time engaged in priest duties at the two headquarters. But in Oomoto anyone can become a priest. Men, women, and children are all eligible to study the doctrine and ritual, and to become certified to practice. Many adult priests started out by learning the ritual in their home shrines, where each family has a monthly service. Most branches have several followers who serve voluntarily for priestly duties at monthly services, weddings, funerals, and other rites.

Anyone can be a priest. Women of the Choshu branch (Yamaguchi) serving at the monthly service; children practice the ritual at a summer festival.

Q-Are there scriptures like other religions?

A-Yes. Nao’s transcriptions became known as the “Ofudesaki,” which means “from the tip of the brush,” and are collectively one of Oomoto’s holy books. They are also known as “Oomoto Shinyu” (“Divine Revelations”). The other holy book is “Reikai Monogatari” by Onisaburo.

Q-Are these available in any languages other than Japanese?

A-Only a few excerpts have been translated into English and Esperanto.

Q-What is Esperanto?

A-A culturally neutral international language created by Dr. L.L. Zamenhof (1859-1917), a Polish Jew and ophthalmologist. When Onisaburo first heard about Esperanto, he declared it to be the language of heaven. Oomoto adopted Esperanto as its universal language in 1923. Many followers study it, and Oomoto promotes Esperanto through conferences, publications, and workshops.

Q-Why the emphasis on a universal language?

A- In the reconstructed world there will be no political or religious strife or competition, all will work for the same goals of peace, harmony and prosperity for the planet and all its inhabitants. A neutral universal language in addition to each person’s native tongue is essential to achieving this goal.

Q-You alluded to interfaith work. What is that?

A-Oomoto promoted interfaith activities long before most religions acknowledged the importance of interfaith dialogue and prayer. Onisaburo interpreted the Ofudesaki as instructing Oomoto to do this. He called this Bankyo Dokon – which loosely translates as “all religions spring from the same root.” In the past fifty years, many religions have adopted interfaith policies. Interfaith activity has always been a part of Oomoto’s doctrine and one of its missions from the beginning. Onisaburo organized what is believed to have been the first interfaith meeting of Asian religions — in Beijing in 1923. Today, Oomoto has interfaith relations with many religions in Japan and abroad.

A joint prayer service between Oomoto and Mongolian Buddhists; Oomoto helps organize the annual Mount Hiei interfaith prayer meeting.

Q-You mentioned a tragic history. What was that?

A-Twice in the first half of the twentieth century Oomoto was shut down by the Imperial Japanese government. These are known as the First and Second Incidents, but they were more like persecutions, especially the second one. The first began in 1921. Onisaburo and a handful of other Oomoto leaders were briefly imprisoned, some property was seized, and some shrines were destroyed. In 1925 the emperor died and a general amnesty was declared, bringing an end to the First Incident.

Q-What happened in the Second Incident?

A-The Second Incident began in 1935 and lasted until nearly the end of World War II. About 1,000 Oomoto leaders and followers were imprisoned, some briefly and others for years. Many were tortured in an attempt to get them to reject their beliefs. Onisaburo and Sumiko were not tortured, but they were put on trial, found guilty of lese majeste and imprisoned for more than six years in prison. Most Oomoto shrines and buildings were destroyed, and all property confiscated. After the war, everyone was exonerated, all property was returned, and the government offered to pay for damages. Onisaburo declined, saying Japan did not need the burden of paying Oomoto when it was trying to rebuild from the destruction of war. The Japanese constitution adopted after World War II protects freedom of religion, and there have been no further incidents.

Q-Why did the government shut down Oomoto?

A-By 1921, Oomoto had a huge following. And Onisaburo was outspoken about the Imperial Japanese government’s increasingly militaristic policies. He even bought a daily newspaper and used it as his podium. Onisaburo believed that the material problems of the world needed spiritual solutions. The government became deeply concerned that Oomoto and Onisaburo could foment an uprising. By the time of the Second Incident, Japan was ruled by a military dictatorship which was tough on all dissenters. Oomoto was one of several religions shut down. The government also squelched progressive political organizations, liberal thinkers, artists and intellectuals.

Q-You mentioned harmony with nature. How is that important?

A-As in traditional Shinto, Oomoto believes in the importance of harmony between humans and nature. At Oomoto, in Shinto, and throughout traditional Japanese culture, this manifests itself in the importance of beauty and the arts. There is a close link among nature, art, and religion. Creating beauty through art is one way to help with the purification and reconstruction of the world. Onisaburo said, “Art is the mother of all religions.”

Oomoto followers pray before planting rice paddies in the spring; at right, a special service at the Kameoka headquarters, one of many held outdoors.

Q-What did he mean?

A-He explained in an essay in 1923: “Everything under the sun, created by the great power of the Maker, is one and all artistic products of God. To touch this great artist, i.e., the Creator’s inner truth, be delighted with Him, live with Him and be active with Him should be the true religion. … Art is to guide mankind to the heavenly kingdom through the gateway of beauty while religion intends to lead them through that of good and truth.”

Q-What role do the arts play at Oomoto?

A-Since God is the greatest artist human beings honor God when they make art, Oomoto teaches. Oomoto followers believe that doing the arts is a religious practice. Onisaburo and the Spiritual Leaders, beginning with Sumiko, have set the example. They were all amateur artists, in some cases advanced amateurs in the traditional arts: calligraphy, tanka poetry, Noh drama, tea ceremony, weaving, ceramics, and others. The current Spiritual Leader weaves, makes tea bowls, and is a tea master. Near the end of his life, Onisaburo made and decorated nearly 3,000 tea bowls, which are regarded as spiritually inspired. Many Oomoto followers practice the arts for self improvement and to praise God. Some Oomoto branches offer programs to help members learn tanka poetry, calligraphy, martial arts, tea and Noh.

Oomoto followers practice the traditional arts, including Noh drama and tea ceremony.

Q-You mentioned martial arts. What is Oomoto’s connection to Aikido?

A-The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), became a disciple of Onisaburo Deguchi and an Oomoto follower after he first visited Ayabe in 1919, when he was 36 years old. He found the teachings of peace and harmony of Oomoto to be very much in keeping with his fledgling effort to create a new kind of martial art that respected all participates in the practice. Many Oomoto followers practice Aikido and other martial arts, and emphasizing the “art” in martial arts, as expressed above.

Q-Tell me about the ritual.

A-The basic ritual, practiced at each branch, at each headquarters and in each home once a month is called Tsukinamisai. In it, Oomoto followers express their gratitude to the spirit by a token return of the basic necessities, placed with reverence upon the altar. Food, clothing, and shelter, the requisites of daily life, are reverently offered during the ceremony.

In one part of the monthly service, priests carry fruits, vegetables to the altar, where they are blessed by the chief priest.

Q-Besides Tsukinamisai, what other celebrations does Oomoto have?

A-There are four Grand Festivals. Spring, Summer and Autumn are held in May, August and November, respectively. Setsbun Grand Festival is the most important, held each Feb. 3, the date of the sect’s founding. Setsubun is an all-night prayer and purification vigil, with at least one male and one female priest from each branch participating, in addition to the Spiritual Leader and other key priests. Thousands of followers attend each year. Spring, Autumn and Setsbun festivals are held in Ayabe, and the Summer festival is in Kameoka.

Setsubun, a purification prayer vigil in February, is Oomoto’s most important ritual of the year.

Q-Any other rituals?

A-Oomoto also holds regular observances at some of the mountains and islands that played an important part in its early history. And one of the more colorful rituals, conducted at least twice a year, is the ancient poem festival, called Utamatsuri, which Oomoto revived in 1935.


Q-Are there books about Oomoto in languages other than Japanese?

A-Yes, there are several. Available online:

Divine Signposts,” by Onisaburo Deguchi.  “The Creation of Meaning,” by Hidemaru Deguchi.

Bankyo Dokon“.  “Nao Deguchi — A Biography of the Foundress of Oomoto,” by Sakae Oishi.

Onsen purification

Tamatsukuri Onsen is a charming hot spring resort either side of a small stream and boasting ‘the biggest magatama in Japan’

This week Green Shinto is pleased to host an item by guest blogger, Sally Writes (photos by John Dougill)

Going with the flow: Onsen hot springs as part of Shinto
Wherever your destination in Japan, you are sure to encounter an onsen – or several. These natural hot spring bathing facilities are scattered across the country, taking advantage of the geothermically active landscape. Some are outdoors, some indoors, some attached to large hotels and others in secluded natural settings – but all are part of the ritual cleanliness which permeates all of Japan’s society. Shintoism is based around ideas of purification and cleanliness, as opposed to the dirtiness associated with ‘pollution’. Water and its cleansing properties is seen as central to their way of life.

Hot spring water basin, highly welcome in winter 

The importance of water and washing
There are several different ways in which cleansing with water is practised in Shintoism – ranging from ‘harae’ – the washing of hands and face – to the full-body cold-water immersion of ‘misogi’. It is considered optimal to use natural, free-flowing water such as a stream, waterfall, or the sea; and while you may be forgiven for thinking that the water at the hot springs will be purified like a swimming pool, it is the free-flowing nature of onsens which keeps fresh water in the pools and gives them their purifying qualities.

Onsens for Shinto purification
The deep cleansing soak of an onsen is about more than just getting physically clean: you will generally have to wash at a normal shower before entering the hot springs. The act of soaking in the gently flowing, hot mineral water helps to cleanse your soul too. It may be accompanied by chanting or meditation practises designed to clear the mind. This purification means that you can live a more spiritual and balanced life in harmony with the surrounding teachings of Shinto and the natural world.

Kuwayu hot spring (courtesy of Wakayama tourist board)

 The science behind it
The physical benefits of onsen bathing are also attractive, if you are not a practicer of shinto yourself. Onsens range in temperature from around 30 degrees upwards. This heat helps to improve blood circulation and metabolism, and literally take the weight off your feet as you can relax and let the water support you. The hot springs also contain different minerals, which should be listed on the outside of the onsen. Compounds useful for healing bruises and dermatitis and easing joint pain include calcium chloride, sulfate ions, and sodium chloride.

Whether you are keen to try the rituals of Shintoism to experience the cleansing of mind and body, or if you would just like a comfortable afternoon soaking in a natural hot spring, the benefits of Japan’s onsens are enjoyable for all.

Kawayu Onsen in Wakayama, the world’s only World Heritage hot spring open to the public

Torii at Unzen in Kyushu where a shrine sanctifies the awesome power of the hot spring

Sports shrines (Kyoto)

The Kasagake event at Kamigamo Jinja which displays horseman archery

Sports gods and victory prayers in Kyoto

(1) Hachidai Jinja
(2) Goou Jinja Shinto Shrine
(3) Fujinomori Jinja
(4) Shiramine Jingu
(5) Kotari Jinja

This is the year of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the football World Cup finals in Russia. As is a common custom before major games or challenges in Japan, both athletes and fans alike are heading to sports-related Shinto shrines to say their prayers. Here is an introduction to some of those shrines located in Kyoto.

Martial arts – Hachidai Jinja

The ema of Hachidai Jinja featuring Miyamoto Musashi

Visitors to the shrine are greeted by a bronze statue of the master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, who is said to have visited the shrine before a series of noted duels against members of the Yoshioka school of swordsmanship.

“Musashi came here because he wanted something to rely on, but he left without offering a prayer and went straight to the place of his duel, saying, ‘I revere the gods and buddhas and ask them for nothing’,” explained senior priest Masahiro Takeuchi, 42.

This particular duel took place by a cedar tree about 200 meters west of Hachidai Shrine. Since Musashi’s time, five trees have stood there. The earliest was enshrined as a sacred tree within the shrine’s grounds. For the past 30 years, small fragments of the tree, called “Kachimamori” (Victory charms), have been given out to parishioners in the belief they will bring victory and good fortune. People involved in all types of sports, not only martial arts, offer prayers at the shrine.

Every year on Jan. 5, elementary and middle school-aged students of a local school of kendo, or Japanese-style fencing, visit the shrine and pray to improve their skills. “I want to become strong like Miyamoto Musashi. I want to do my very best at fencing practice so I can achieve my goal,” said Seiya Okuda, 12, a sixth-grade student at Shugakuin Daini Elementary School, of his prayer.

Leg strength – Goou Jinja Shinto Shrine

Protecting legs is a function of Shimogamo Shrine’s subshrine, Mitarashi Jinja

Athletes visit this shrine, said to be home to gods that protect one’s legs and lower back, to pray for recovery from lower-body injuries. Wake no Kiyomaro (733-799), a member of a noble family, is said to be enshrined here as a statue of an inoshishi, or Japanese wild boar. Wake no Kiyomaro’s legs were injured during a journey but it is said that the inoshishi protected and cured him.

Runners and spectators visited the shrine when the annual high school “ekiden” long-distance relay race began in December in Kyoto. Yukiko Osawa, 53, from Tokyo, visited to pray for her son, who was a substitute runner for Kokugakuin Kugayama High School and had sustained an injury to his leg. “I want to rely on the gods (of this shrine),” she said.

The fans of top Japanese figure skaters Satoko Miyahara, from Kyoto, and Yuzuru Hanyu have also visited the shrine, leaving behind written prayers for success. According to senior priest Takahiro Hongo, 46, the number of visiting fans grew after 2007, which was the zodiac Year of the Boar. Hongo said he senses that word about the shrine “is spreading online.”

Horse Racing and Dressage – Fujinomori Jinja

Some knowledge of Japanese is required to appreciate the connection between Fujinomori Shrine and sports, since it comes from a play on words. On May 5, an annual festival is held at the shrine featuring seasonal flowers, including Japanese irises. The Japanese word for “iris” is “shobu,” while the word for “battle” or “game” sounds the same despite being spelled with different Chinese kanji characters, leading to the trend of athletes coming to this shrine to pray for victory prior to a big match.

Visits by those involved with horse racing are characteristic of the shrine. Trick riding is performed in Kakeuma shrine rituals before a crowd at the annual Fujinomori Festival. The turning point occurred roughly 40 years ago when a parishioner asked if it was possible to offer a victory prayer for horseracing, and the shrine began handing out votive “ema” pictures of racehorses.

Before the big race at the Kyoto Racecourse, horse riders and owners can be seen making prayers at the shrine. In the fall when many Grade I races take place, the shrine is said to be bustling with horse racing fans.

The number of people involved with dressage who visit the shrine to pray for the safety of the horses has also grown, chief priest Nobumasa Fujimori, 53, said. “For horseback riders, horses are important partners. I believe they think of their horses in the same way they think of themselves,” he said.

Ballgames – Shiramine Jingu

The priests of Shiramine Jinja depicted on an ema playing kemari (a kind of kick ball game in which the object is to keep the ball in the air as long as possible while retaining elegance)

Known for possessing “the ballgame gods,” offerings of balls from official soccer teams, professional baseball, sepak takraw or kick volleyball and more abound at the shrine.

What has garnered the respect of those involved in ball-type sports is the shrine’s deep connection with “kemari,” a type of football played in ancient Japan. Located on the remains of the estate of the Asukai family, the head of which was a prominent figure in kemari and traditional “waka” poetry, it is said that the family’s guardian deity seidaimyoujin is enshrined there.

Visitors are expected to increase in number this summer as Japan’s team plays in the soccer World Cup in Russia. “It seems like it is becoming a place where athletes can reflect on themselves,” said Yuko Kitamura, 30, a priest of the shrine.

Visitors who are not connected to ball games can be seen praying at the shrine as well. Figure skater Miyahara visited last summer at a time when she was recovering from an injury, and it is said that she prayed for her victory in figure skating. “She prayed that the results of her practice would show,” Kitamura said.

Athletics and Soccer- – Kotari Jinja

It is said that Kotari Jinja originated as a small shrine built by Emperor Kanmu after he dreamt that a god’s feet landed on the ground in that spot in the 8th or early 9th century.

Because of its association with “the feet of a god,” every year regular visitors give lucky charms from the shrine to the Kyoto team in the national women’s ekiden race. “This tradition has continued for at least 20 years,” senior priest Mitsukazu Yoshino, 70 said.

Tradition and word-of-mouth have garnered attention for the guardian deities said to inhabit the shrine. The number of visitors involved in athletics and soccer is growing, with even the coach of a J-1 League soccer club visiting in February 2017. “It was just by chance,” said a modest Yoshino when asked about the club’s top ranking last season.

“It is important to make an effort. I would be glad if people visited with the hope of receiving help from the gods in the end,” said Yoshino.

Karasu Tengu, who trained Yoshitsune and others in martial arts in Kyoto’s northern hills

Sapporo Tower shrine

Thanks to Green Shinto supporter, Jann Williams, for sending this item in from her travels in Hokkaido. It’s at the top of the Sapporo TV Tower and in addition to the views she was surprised to find a shrine and people praying. Notice the oddly shaped guardian figure with the kanji for ‘Mother’ written below it.

A helpful notice nearby clarifies the rather odd appearance of the guardian figure and encourages the worshipper in the kind of prayers that might be most suitable…

Konkokyo priestess interview (Bernkastel)

Olivia Bernkastel performing ‘kibimai’ dance for the kami (Photos courtesy Bernkastel)

1) Could you tell us how you came to be a Konkokyo priestess?

It’s a bit of a long story, but the beginnings were when I met the Konkokyo shrine in Toronto in April 2011. I had practiced Jinja Shinto before, so I had noticed the chigi [see photo below] on the Toronto shrine roof. I wondered if it was a Jinja Shinto shrine, so I when got home, I read about Konkokyo online. I met with the Head Priest of the Toronto branch to talk to him and learn more. I ended up really liking it, and in October 2011 decided to attend services more often. It wasn’t until 2013 that I had the passing thought to maybe someday become a priestess. But I thought long in the future it could happen, not anytime soon. I mentioned it to my sensei (my teacher, head priest of the Konkokyo Toronto shrine) and a few others, but just as a long term goal.

A shrine building with characteristic chigi crossbeams on the roof

The next year Konkokyo Chicago shrine’s 5th Anniversary was in November 2014. I was able to dance kibimai, a type of ancient kagura dance from Okayama prefecture. After the dance and during the dinner party, a priest called me over and asked if I still wanted to be a priestess. I said of course!

After that, things began to be organized to start training. I did the training program; which consisted of six months training in North America, and then six months training in Japan. On October 22nd, 2015, after completing all the requirements including an official interview by a group of head priests, and the approval of the head of the Konkokyo faith, I was officially ordained as a priestess and received my license.

2) As a priestess what are your duties and how large is your group?

My duties are to basically serve both the Kami-sama of our shrine and people. What this entails is doing the monthly ceremonies for Kami-sama, preparing offerings, keeping the shrine clean, helping others in the community (people in the shrine and outside), keeping the community clean as well, and a duty unique to Konkokyo clergy called toritsugi mediation.

Olivia in priest uniform

What toritsugi mediation is: if there is someone who comes to a Konkokyo shrine and needs to talk about any problems, or express gratitude to Kami-sama, the priest or priestess acts as the mediator between the person and Kami-sama.

So in my case as an example, the person relays everything they want to vent or tell Kami-sama to me, then I go to tell Kami-sama in prayer right after. Then if Kami-sama has a reply for the person, I will listen to it, and also relay it back to the person. If there isn’t a reply at the time, I will still pray about their requests daily, and let them know if there was any message from Kami-sama later on. In a practical sense as well, it’s also an open opportunity for people to be able to come anytime and talk to the priest or priestess about something on their mind, to have someone that will listen to them or anything on their mind sincerely.

In our shrine itself, I’m not sure exactly, since we don’t strictly keep membership nor have any conversion process in Konkokyo. We do have dedicated ujiko, or shrine parishioners, and shrine elders (called shinto sodai, or simply sodai). But regular sanpaisha, or visitors to the shrine, can vary depending on the event and day, and we don’t keep records of them. If someone does toritsugi mediation, we do record their name in a confidential prayer book to Kami-sama, but it’s not a membership book, it’s for Kami-sama and to tell Kami-sama the person’s name when we pray.

3) In global terms, how large a presence does Konkokyo have?

I think the latest number in terms of registered ujiko /shrine parishioners, the number varies between (rounded) 450,000 to 500,000 people, but again there are many unregistered people and visitors, so I’m not sure of the exact number. To put it in perspective, there are more Konkokyo shrine branches in Japan than there are Starbucks branches in Japan! (I was honestly pretty surprised at that myself.)

Konkokyo ceremony with Olivia dancing

4) How would you explain the main difference between Konkokyo and mainstream Shinto?

This question is a little tricky, since both Konkokyo and Jinja Shinto (mainstream Shinto) have no strict dogma or doctrine, and it’s hard to specifically define the differences as well. In addition we have many similarities if not in general the same – such as shared ritual style, and the way to do offerings is the same standard, and there are the same beliefs and way of living. But I think the biggest difference (and a major reason that made me prefer to dedicate to Konkokyo) is toritsugi mediation, the practice unique to the faith.

As for other differences…It’s a common misconception Konkokyo is monotheist, but we are not. If anything, traditionally and in our shrines, we are more henotheist. We place a focus on Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama (the kami-sama of our shrine), as well as the mitama no kami (divine ancestral spirits or spirits of people who have passed away) but respect and honor all other deities and faiths equally. In fact, a lot of teachings of Konkokyo say to always bow when passing in front of another shrine or temple.

Konko Town

That being said however, individual seekers of the faith don’t have to be strictly henotheist to Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama. They can pray to the kami-sama closest to them and also ask for help from Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama, or even take a more polytheist approach. Even still, some prefer to view Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama in a monotheist sense. We don’t have a strict dogma, so it can vary for people, which is where a lot of confusion can come from.

For clergy, we focus on Tenchi Kane no Kami-sama and the mitama-sama, but still respect or can visit shrines and temples of other kami-sama’s and buddhas. In a few examples I saw here in Japan as well, Konkokyo clergy can also help serve ceremonies for kami-sama’s at Jinja Shinto shrines, but can only do so in the second rank position (not head priest position) unless there’s a special circumstance.

In Konkokyo, we don’t have the concept of most important deity or shrine ranks. This is a bit of a difference with Jinja Shinto, as Amaterasu Omikami-sama is the deity who has the most focus and seeing her as the highest deity (such as placing her ofuda in the highest position in the kamidana for example), as well as Ise Kotaijinguu having the highest rank as the most important shrine.

In addition, while Jinja Shinto has stricter guidelines for how to set up a kamidana or build a formal shrine, there is no strict guidelines or rules how to make a kamidana or shrine style in Konkokyo. So it’s a little more relaxed in that sense as well. We still need to do the rituals, offerings, and manners to Kamisama strictly like in Jinja Shinto, but the architectural style or aesthetic of the shrine or kamidana itself can vary. We do have traditional guidelines, but they do not need to be strictly followed.

We also don’t have juyosho (amulet office) for omamori or ofuda like Jinja Shinto shrines. This is because the kami-sama of our shrine  said in an oracle from the late Edo era not to sell them, so people won’t feel like they can’t receive blessings or have kami-sama’s presence near them if they can’t afford omamori or ofuda. This also ties into why we don’t ask for donations or membership fees, nor do we have set ritual fees in the present day.

5) Why do you think Shinto sects like Konkokyo, Omotokyo and Tenrikyo have been successful in spreading overseas whereas Shrine Shinto (Jinja Honcho) seems uninterested? 

This is also a tricky question. While I have friends and know fellow priests who are Oomotokyo and Tenrikyo, I don’t know much about the organizations or outreach of the faiths, nor should I speak on their behalf. But, for Konkokyo, the reason there are so many branches overseas is mostly because of immigration of Japanese people around the world at the turn of the century. Most of the branches in North America are very old, pre-WWII. It was due to immigration of Konkokyo families or priests and priestesses.

The way branches usually start up, whether overseas or in Japan, is: a group of believers, or a priest or priestess sets up a small shrine in their home. If there is a priest or priestess present, they also offer to do toritsugi mediation for the community and other prayer services and host monthly ceremonies, whether in the home or renting a space. If the group of worshipers gets large enough, the home space is registered as a non-profit religious center. And if it grows big enough to make a formal shrine building, then all the community come together to fund and build it. There is no money given from the head shrine/Konkokyo headquarters; every branch is self-sustaining and self-built by the local community and their donations. Same for buying the ritual tools and sacred items, most if not all are donations.

We are strictly not allowed to do proselytization, as in going to others’ homes or trying to spread Konkokyo aggressively. But outreach is okay, as in letting others know about the faith, especially that they can do toritsugi mediation anytime no matter their background or religion. For someone to make their own personal enquiry, the choice to want to learn more is the best route. As well, people don’t need to leave their religion or give up faith in their main deity if they also want to be Konkokyo as well, so we are open in that sense too.

One of our main teachings is to not rely on people to build a shrine, so we don’t ask for any building donations or set up a fund to build one. We should rely 100% on Kami-sama for a shrine, with a sincere heart to wish building one would help the community; both Kami-sama and people. Then, things tend to happen naturally. In my own personal experiences, and foundation stories I’ve heard, that is how branches and the faith has grown a lot.

As for Jinja Shinto and Jinja Honcho…I’m not sure entirely. There were many shrines overseas as well, same as Konkokyo, before WWII (though before WWII they would have been State Shinto shrines). It seemed to follow the same pattern, that shrines would follow with Japanese immigration. Hawaii is a really good example of many Japanese religious places existing together. Konkokyo, Izumo Taishakyo, Tenrikyo, Jinja Honcho shrines (such as Hilo Daijingu), and various branches of Buddhism can be found in one state.

I think there may have been a big hit after WWII, especially with the dissolution of State Shinto in 1945 to the creation of Jinja Shinto afterward organizationally, so the chance or ability to have Jinja Shinto shrines was more difficult. But nowadays I see more Jinja Shinto presence as well, especially with Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America with Reverend Koichi Barrish, and the shrine’s community efforts, as well as the upcoming Shusse Inari Jinja community. In addition the newly built San Marino Jinja in Italy, I think there will also be a spread for Jinja Shinto in the coming years!

6) On your visits to Japan, what are the places that impressed you most, and what are the best experiences you have had?

My absolute favourite place personally is Goreichi, or the sacred grounds of Konkokyo. It’s officially called “Konko Town”, or “Konkocho”, a small area of the larger Asakuchi Town. It’s a very simple, super rural, small town in Okayama prefecture. But that’s what’s so charming and spiritually powerful about it I personally feel. It feels almost like you go back in time to late Edo/Shinbutsu Shugo (Shinto and Buddhism side by side practice) era, the time when Konkokyo began. It’s a quiet place full of nature and spiritual power. There are many old shrines around and hidden shrines, and surrounded by farmland on the outskirts. It’s one of my favourite places. I did priestess training in Konko Town for 6 months, and it was a great place to develop spiritual senses. I spent so much time to explore and feel the power of the grounds, and just meditate and enjoy the atmosphere.

After Goreichi/Konko Town, of course my second favourite place (maybe on a par) was Ise Kotaijinguu. The only downside being the bustling and the tourist feeling of the area (for example, people taking a photo in front of the main torii instead of greeting Amaterasu Omikami-sama first before the photo) – but the Grand Shrine itself was so beautiful and powerful, and had such an ancient power. I loved Geku (the outer shrine) a lot, but Naiku (the inner shrine) was just amazing. My favourite time to go was at 6am, right at the sunrise and so quiet, not many people around. The most power I could feel then. I absolutely loved it there.

The main shrine at Ise, known as Naiku 

I spent a week in Ise and most of my time was just to go make the full omairi (sacred visit); I walked to Geku and paid respects to Toyouke Omikami-sama there, then walked to Naiku to greet and pay respects to Amaterasu Omikami-sama at sunrise. Then I would just kind of sit on the far side stones and just feel the energy from the shrine. By 11am it began to get really busy, so I would then walk around and see the grounds, the museum at Geku (highly recommend!) and Okage Yokocho, the shopping street was also fun. About sunset, when the visitors would begin to dwindle, I’d also stay at Naiku to watch the sunset. I did that every day the week I was there. I went again in 2016 and 2017, and I plan to go annually alongside visiting Goreichi annually (they are relatively close to each other via shinkansen).

The great shimenawa rope at Izumo Taisha

The next favourite place was Izumo Taisha. I was lucky to go in October (Kannazuki, or Month of Kami, when most of the kami of Japan are said to meet at Izumo Taisha). It felt so strong at that time. Not only Izumo Taisha itself, but even the surrounding San’in Region was so powerful as well. I remember we visited many of the shrines around there and they also felt so strong and ancient, and very earthly. I still can’t forget when my friends and I were driving to Izumo Taisha, I had a sudden striking feeling in my chest. I checked the map on my phone, and I realized we had passed by the legendary entrance to Yomi in the region. I had thought it was only just a legend, but that feeling just in the car I can’t forget. It was one of the many experiences that confirmed the reality of spiritual power to me.

I have probably visited over 100 shrines and temples at this point, all around the country. But these three places are definitely my personal favourites and most powerful to me. Of course there were so many other beautiful powerful places, so it was really hard to think about the main ones. I think every spiritual and sacred place is definitely special in its own way – just these three were the most special for me personally speaking.


For the Konkokyo home page, click here. For more about the sect, see the Wikipedia page here.

Rikkyo Seijo, the place where ‘toritsugi’ mediation was first practiced

The three hokora that stand between Hayama Jinja and Ko Jinja, two of Konkokyo’s most important shrines

Setsubun 2018

A red devil terrorises the locals at Rozanji Temple in Kyoto

It seems that we have only just finished Oshogatsu with its new year shrine visits, and Kyoto is still cold enough to feel as if it’s mid-winter, yet here we are already on the brink of Setsubun and looking forward to the prospect of spring. The exorcism of demons at the darkest time of year is done in ritual fashion and celebratory fashion, featuring the throwing of beans.

Green Shinto has covered this joyous occasion on several occasions in previous years. An explanation of why beans are used to throw at demons can be found here. For several photos of the many events that take place in Kyoto, see here. A photo account of the religious ritual at Shimogamo Jinja can be seen here.  Food and festivities at Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto are covered here. Some interesting background facts can be found here. For Lafcadio Hearn’s detailed description of the festivities at Matsue in 1891, see here.

However and wherever you care to celebrate the occasion, a happy Setsubun to you!

Maiko from nearby Gion leave the stage after participating in the bean-throwing at Yasaka Jinja in Kyoto

Shops at busy in the days before Setsubun selling packets of beans for families to use at home and for someone to play the demon

At Kyoto’s Heian Jingu beans are thrown to the crowd and catching them brings good fortune

First Setsubun Kushida Jinja.jpg At Kushida Jinja during Setsubun, one passes through Otafuku’s mouth in order to receive blessings for the next year.

The spectacular Setsubun ritual at Shogo-in carried out by yamabushi (mountain ascetics) with a fire ceremony in which prayers are ritually burnt and sent up to heaven

Purifying the four directions at Setsubun with a symbolic arrow fired into the air

Parade of the demons at Rozanji prior to their banishment by beans


Animist poem (Nancy Wood)

The American poet and photographer, Nancy Wood (1936-2013), had an evocative name for someone inspired to write nature poetry. She was influenced by the Native American culture of shamanism, particularly the Pueblo peoples in the area around Taos in New Mexico.

My help is in the mountains
where I take myself to heal
the earthly wounds
that people have given me.
I find a rock with sun on it
And a stream where the water runs gentle,
and the trees which one by one give me company
So must I stay for a long time
Until I have grown from the rock
And the stream is running through me
And I cannot tell myself from one tall tree
Then I know that nothing touches me
Nor makes me run away
My help is in the mountain
That I take away with me.

London book launch (Feb 6)

book cover 1

News comes of an exciting double book launch featuring two books Green Shinto has been keenly anticipating, presented by three progressive thinkers on Shinto matters. This comes courtesy of the Bloomsbury Shinto series, an exciting venture publicising scholarly books about Shinto. Gone forever now are those distant days when the sole book to be found on the subject was Sokyo Ono’s Shinto: The Kami Way.


(For the original page of this announcement, and to book a place, please see here.)

Tuesday 6 February 2018
6:00pm – 7:00pm

21st Century Shinto Studies

Drinks reception from 7:00pm

13/14 Cornwall Terrace, Outer Circle (entrance facing Regent’s Park), London NW1 4QP

Organised by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation


A Social History of the Ise Shrines: Divine Capital by Mark Teeuwen and John Breen
Shinto, Nature and Ideology in Contemporary Japan: Making Sacred Forests by Aike P. Rots

This event launches two books from the new Bloomsbury Shinto series (Series Editor: Fabio Rambelli, University of California, Santa Barbara): A Social History of the Ise Shrines: Divine Capital by Mark Teeuwen and John Breen, and Shinto, Nature and Ideology in Contemporary Japan: Making Sacred Forests by Aike Rots.

Mark Teeuwen will introduce the idea behind A Social History of the Ise Shrines and address the topic of “The ever-changing Ise Shrines: Studying Ise’s history through the lens of its agents.” John Breen will focus especially on the radical modern transformation of the Ise shrines in his talk, “The pleasures of pilgrimage in 19th century Japan.” In his presentation, “Ancient Sustainability? Ise Shrine, the Shikinen Sengū, and the Shinto Environmentalist Paradigm,” Aike Rots takes a critical look at the new Shinto discourse on nature and the environment, as it came to the fore at the start of the 21st century.

British scholar John Breen, of Kyoto’s International Research Center for Japanese Studies

Dutch scholar Mark Teeuwen, currently professor at the University of Oslo

Aike Rots, when he was studying for a doctorate at Oslo University


Kami (Olivia Bernkastel)

Kami explanation by Olivia Bernkastel (Konkokyo Shinto priestess)

Olivia and friends on a visit to Kyoto last year

To worship kami, there is always a “goshintai”; or a sacred vessel for the kami’s spirit/energy which is considered as a “body” for the kami to alight to as a vessel permanently. This allows their energy to be present strongly with worshippers and clergy at a shrine.

There is also an item called “yorishiro”, which is a sacred item that calls to, or draws a kami’s energy. When the kami enters the yorishiro during prayer, it becomes a temporary goshintai, or vessel for the kami to dwell. After prayers finish, the kami leaves the yorishiro until the next prayers.

All shrines have goshintai, but at home altars, or kamidana, generally only have yorishiro, commonly in the form of ofuda. There are a few exceptions to this, one example being Fushimi Inari Taisha which does a special ceremony for sincere members, and thus ordinary people can receive a goshintai of Inari Okami to caretake at home.

Nowadays yorishiro usually takes the form of an ofuda, but as well natural items like a rock, tree, or gem can also be yorishiro. Gohei are used as goshintai, but they were also the original kind of yorishiro, before ofuda. It was standard for most kami. Mirrors were also quite common yorishiro, especially for Amatsukami. You can pray to kami anytime anywhere, but to have their energy presence alight near us, goshintai or yorishiro are needed to be present as the kami’s vessel.

Gohei stand

There are two kinds of kami traditionally. Amatsukami (Heavenly kami) and Kunitsukami (Earthly kami), with some kami in-between, or having aspects of both.

For Amatsukami, or kami in-between Amatsu and Kunitsu, the goshintai is a physical item. This is because Amatsukami and kami in-between usually are not tied to any particular Earthly feature.

Amatsukami and in-between kami need a physical item as a goshintai or yorishiro. Commonly a gohei, mirror, sword, or gem. It is because their true “body” is celestial and not Earthly or an Earthly location –  like the sun, moon, sky, clouds, universe, etc. Or,  something not tangible like Amatsukami of concepts, or non physical things. For example the kami of wisdom, Omoikane no Mikoto.

For Kunitsukami, the goshintai is usually an Earthly feature, such as a mountain, tree, rock, lake, ocean, or particular location, such as Mt. Fuji for Konohanasakuya Hime no Mikoto or Mt. Miwa for the kami of Omiwa Jinja.

A good example is Lake Suwa region for Suwa Daimyojin, with local folklore saying Suwa Daimyojin cannot leave the lake. So what should one do to worship him outside of Lake Suwa region?  A new goshintai or yorishiro can be ritually made for him. There are Suwa branch shrines throughout the country. But how?

There are two main methods. One is at the main shrine (in this example, Suwa Taisha); a new goshintai is ritually made for the kami to be brought elsewhere at a new Suwa Shrine branch location. The other way is the new goshintai is ritually created at the new Suwa Shrine branch itself.

A small Inari shrine with an ofuda between the two white foxes.

What this means is that Suwa Daimyojin can be worshipped anywhere with the ritual creation of the new goshintai. This is called “bunrei” and the ritual ceremony is “kanjo”.

To describe bunrei with a metaphor: Let’s say the main shrine, Suwa Taisha in the Lake Suwa region, is the original “bonfire” of energy for Suwa Daimyojin.

Bunrei, and the ritual ceremony Kanjo is like lighting a “torch” (part of energy/spirit) from Suwa Daimyojin. When that torch is used to make a new “bonfire” at another shrine, the flame is from the original “bonfire” or energy/spirit of Suwa Daimyojin. Thus, they can be directly present both at Suwa Taisha and in the branch shrine. Of course it may be slightly stronger spiritually at Suwa Taisha due to the location’s own power and history.

While bunrei for goshintai is like lighting a torch from the original bonfire to create a new bonfire in another location with the original flame – creating ofuda, or a yorishiro, is like creating a “candle” which when you “light with fire” (pray) the kami can enter that “flame” (energy) temporarily during the prayer.

This is generally how kami have spread from their home area or original place of worship to shrines all across the country. A shrine overseas is no different and the same process can be done.

There are of course local spirits  and ancient deities in each country, but I feel they should be respected in their own traditions rather than having Shinto rituals for them.

I personally think it’s not too respectful. When I lived in Canada, I simply left biodegradable offerings in the woods and said thank you to the local deities rather than doing a Shinto ceremony. I kept a kamidana in my home with an ofuda for the kamis who needed them and worshipped no different than in Japan.


Suwa Taisha, dedicated to a prime example of an ‘earthly kami’

Shinto beginnings (Bender)

The great debate about when Shinto began continues to be a subject of controversy. Some say in ancient times, some say in the seventh century, and some say in the medieval period. Helen Hardacre’s monumental book on Shinto: A History (2016) inevitably touches on the topic, and in the article below scholar Ross Bender discusses her stance.


Prepared for Society for Study of Japanese Religions Meeting in Conjunction with Association for Asian Studies  Annual Conference, Toronto, 3/17/2017  by Ross Bender

Author, Ross Bender

(This is an extracted and abridged passage. For the original article on, please click here.)

When the advance publicity for the book came out, I read Richard Bowring’s effusive blurb with mixed emotions. Dr. Bowring wrote: “Professor Hardacre manages to lead us carefully and judiciously on a long journey through what can often be recalcitrant, complex material. The notoriously difficult question ‘What is Shinto?’ has finally been answered.”

On the one hand I was tremendously relieved that this notoriously difficult question had finally been answered; on the other hand I was somewhat disappointed that the question had finally been answered, and that this might mean that no more remained to be said about this fascinating phenomenon. But when I bought the book and began to read it, I discovered that Dr. Hardacre was more modest in her assessment; she writes “… I make no grand claims for my approach, anticipating that future researchers will supersede it with more precise analytic tools.” As John Breen and Mark Teeuwen reminded us in their 2010 New History of Shinto, there are “many Shintos, and many histories.” Certainly there is so much more concerning this multi-faceted and multi-splendored religion, if we may call it a religion, that awaits to be discovered and analyzed.

Dr. Hardacre from the outset presents her claims and her thesis forcefully and lucidly. Thus, and I quote the very first sentence, “From earliest times, the Japanese people have worshipped Kami.” This forthright statement might appear to some as fighting words, since the tendency in recent discourse has been to problematize the question of origins, and particularly to challenge the notion of an indigenous reverence for the Kami. But Hardacre declares from the outset that “I argue that although the term Shinto hardly appears, we can identify Shinto’s institutional origins in the late seventh- and early eighth-century coordination of Kami worship, regarded as embodying indigenous tradition, by a government ministry following legal mandates.”

In a long section titled “The Term Shinto” she rejects the claim of various medievalists that “Shinto thus begins not in the ancient period but was fully established for the first time in the medieval period.” (p. 43), quoting Inoue Hiroshi). Here she further restates her thesis, “It seems to me that once system and centralization emerge in the late seventh century, it is reasonable to speak of Shinto in recognition of the watershed represented by the Jingikan, a structured ritual calendar, Kami Law, and the incorporation of Kami priests into the government. By comparison with this ritual, institutional, and social system, doctrinal and philosophical expositions came later and were transmitted in esoteric frameworks restricting their transmission to initiates.”

,,, [In the Nara era] The common formulation was that the sovereign was first to serve the Three Treasures (Buddha, Law, Priesthood), second to revere the kami, and third to nurture the people. While this articulation has traditionally been characterized as Buddhist, Shinto, and Confucian respectively, the situation was of course more nuanced. The political theology of the time also included other aspects of Chinese thought, including particularly a systematic omen theology which functioned in tandem with other theological expressions.


Emperor Tenji, who in the mid-seventh century first asserted divine descent of the imperial line

[In Senmyo 14, when Emperor Shomu announced his abdication and the accession of Empress Koken [749], the imperial proclamation employed] a lengthy and typical formula explicating the sovereign’s legitimacy: “Let all hear the words which are the command proclaimed by the Emperor, Beloved Child of Yamato, who rules all under heaven as a manifest god. Let all hear the command of the Emperor, which he decrees and pronounces as a god carrying out the duties of the High Throne of Heavenly Sun Succession, ruling the country in the divine lineage, age after age of Emperors, beginning with the reign of the distant divine ancestor, according to the decree that “Our Grandchildren shall have the rule of all under heaven,” given by the Divine Male Ancestor and the Divine Female Ancestor, seated as gods in the High Plain of Heaven.

Here the mandate to rule on the High Throne of Heavenly Sun Succession is traced back not to Amaterasu, but to the Divine Male and Female Ancestors on the High Plain of Heaven. Norinaga commented that these divine ancestors, kamurogi kamuromi no mikoto 神魯棄・神魯美命, may refer explicitly to Izanagi and Izanami or perhaps to all the male and female imperial ancestral deities down to Amaterasu.

The phrase Yamato Neko 倭根子 occurs nine times in the senmyo [imperial rescript]. I have translated it as “Beloved Child of Yamato,” following Herbert Zachert’s “Das Liebe Kind von Yamato,” although the term is not transparent. Hermann Ooms has speculated that it should be translated literally as “Root Child of Yamato,” It is significant that both Shomu and Koken/Shotoku reached back to Emperor Tenji [661-672], “the Emperor who ruled from the capital of Otsu in Omi,”  as a guarantor of legitimacy. In Senmyo 14 there appears the supposed decree of Emperor Tenji that the imperial line should not be broken.


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