Shinto, a Short History

By Ito Satoshi; Endo Jun et al. | Go to book overview

1

ANCIENT AND CLASSICAL JAPAN

The dawn of Shinto

Mori Mizue

Where did Shinto come from? Must we look for the origins of Shinto in the Jōmon period (c.12,000-400 BCE), or did its traditions arise in the subsequent Yayoi period (c.400 BCE-300 CE)? Opinions on this question are still divided. The least we can say is that excavations of ritual sites from the Yayoi period leave little doubt that during this period, people believed in, and worshipped, spiritual powers that controlled the weather and the crops. These sites bespeak the existence at this early date of what we may call kami worship.

With the arrival of wet rice cultivation from the Asian continent, kami worship became gradually more systematised. As the scale of rice cultivation increased, the necessity arose for large groups of people to cooperate in a more systematic way. At the same time, clan chiefs took control over water resources and agricultural techniques, and increased their own authority by linking these to specific kami. As indicated already by the twin meanings of the Japanese word matsurigoto - ‘secular rule’ and ‘ritual’ - these chiefs maintained order within their communities through the performance of kami rituals.

In the late fourth century, the end of the Yayoi period was signalled by the rise of the Yamato court to a position of dominance over other clans. By the latter half of the fifth century, the Yamato chief had attained the position of the country’s ‘Great King’. The kings of the Yamato court had originally worshipped the kami of the area around Mount Miwa, but this highly localised cult was gradually substituted with rituals focusing on military kami, and worship of a single Sun Deity. While recognising the ritual prerogatives of other clans, the Yamato court moved to force them into a larger political order; in terms of ritual, this was achieved by rearranging the

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Shinto, a Short History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors vii
  • Translators' Introduction ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Ancient and Classical Japan 12
  • 2 - The Medieval Period 63
  • Notes 102
  • 3 - The Early Modern Period 108
  • 4 - The Modern Age 159
  • Selected Reading 198
  • Index 204
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