Shinto, a Short History

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

2

THE MEDIEVAL PERIOD

The kami merge with Buddhism

Itō Satoshi

With regard to the history of kami worship, two trends characterised the medieval period (which is here taken to have begun with the decline of the ritsuryō system in the tenth and eleventh centuries). First, the court policy to establish a centralised system of kami worship collapsed, and the kami cults of different political and social groups (the court, local elites, warrior groups, occupational groups) developed into different directions. Second, kami cults and Buddhism amalgamated, and combinatory cults became prevalent. Parallel with this second development, theological ‘Shinto doctrines’ of increasing sophistication were formulated. These two trends, and the interplay between them, shaped medieval Shinto.

During the ancient period, kami ritual was a local or clan-based practice that followed a cyclical pattern. Its aim was to ensure the prosperity and peaceful existence of the community, be it clan or state. Kami worship was a communal affair, and did not address the concerns of individuals. However, when kami became widely identified as manifestations of Buddhist divinities, their function, too, came to resemble that of buddhas and bodhisattvas: now, individual believers addressed their hopes and wishes for this life and the next to kami as they did to Buddhist divinities.

As we have seen in Chapter 1, the distinction between private and public ritual had become vague already during the late classical period - as indicated, for example, by the fact that the clan rituals of the Fujiwara at Kasuga had become part of the official ritual calendar. But now, this distinction was blurred also in the opposite direction, as private (individual) rituals came to be performed at formerly strictly public (communal) shrines. Also, the collapse of the ritsuryō system of funding official shrines through allocating the taxes of ‘kami households’ (kanbe) left the shrines with an increasing degree of financial autonomy. This forced shrines to

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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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