Thursday, March 14, 2013

From Shinto Shrines: A Guide to the Sacred Sites of Japan's Ancient Religion

In the interests of keeping this blog's classifications to a minimum, I am including the following under the title "Excerpts" even though it is not in the book. In was in fact edited out before the book went to press in favor of using the space for other entries. So one could say it is an "excerpt wannabe."

It is a rather long entry which I am splitting into three parts. Hopefully, the intro adequately explains the  reason for the entry and the contents.

Here is Shinto in Ancient Texts  Part 3

Shinto in Ancient Texts (prior to the year A.D.1000)
A hanafuda with a poem by and
image of Kakinomoto Hitomaru
from the Manyoshu
  Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves; mid-eigth century) - the oldest compilation of Japanese-style poetry (20 volumes) and a valuable source of language, religion, important places (including the names of shrines), and customs. Some poems are from as early as the fourth century, but most are from the seventh and early-eighth centuries. These are primarily long poems called choka, and short poems called tanka with both forms containing combinations of five and seven syllable meter. Beside the quality of the poetry and the insight into Japanese thought and emotion, it provides valuable information on places and people and names about one hundred and fifty plants of the time.

  Sumiyoshi taisha jindaiki (731 or 789) - a record of the Sumiyoshi Shrine in Settsu (present day Osaka), compiled by Tsumori Sukune Shimamaro and Tsumori Sukune Marodo in 731. The existing version, an account of the enshrinement and origin of the shrine as well as its property and treasures, is stamped with an official seal from 789.

  Gangoji Engi (747) - a record of the history and holdings of Gangoji Temple, includes accounts of older temples and valuable information on the introduction of Buddhism to Japan. In recent times, the actual date of this document has been called into question.
  Kogoshu (Gleanings from Ancient Tales; 807) - writings ordered by Emperor Heizei to Inbe no Hironari. The Inbe were a clan in charge of festivals and aspects of rites relating to the Emperor. They were also a family of ritual abstainers. The Kogoshu records a number of traditions and stories left out of the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, and provides a slightly different angle on the official viewpoint of history, making it a much-referenced addition to those two works.
  Shinsen shojiroku (New Compilation of Register of Families; 815) - a list of 1,182 family names from the area around the capital acknowledged by the Yamato court, including about three hundred and twenty-six of foreign origin, one hundred twenty of whose country of origin is specified. Divides clan names into shinbetsu (descended from kami), kobetsu (descended from emperors), and banbetsu (descended from immigrants). An important source of the history of Japan's early families and of the role played by Chinese and Korean immigrants in the founding of the Yamato state.
  Kokin Wakashu (Collected Poems of Ancient and Modern Times; about 905) - the first collection of waka poems ordered by imperial request. This collection began a tradition of twenty-one poetry anthologies that extended to the year 1433. As with Manyoshu, mentions shrines and deities and reveals spiritual sensitivities of the time, but also emphases seasonal change and love poems. The ability of an emperor to produce a fine collection of poetry under his reign became a political as well as a social confirmation of his position and the stability of his court.
  Engishki (927-67) - details for implementing laws described in the Taiho and Yoro codes. The only existing part of what was a three-part document known as the Sandai Kyakushiki. The Engishiki is especially important to Shinto in that it gives the names of 2,681 “official” jinja (not including jinguji, miyadera, and others), festivals and rituals, prayers (norito), and the names of 3,132 kami. Along with the Kojiki and Nihon shoki, it is considered the third primary text of Shinto.
  Sendai kuji hongi  (also called Kujiki; possibly tenth century) - a work in ten volumes originally presented as a lost work of Soga no Umako and Shotoku Taishi, generally thought to be fraudulent. Nevertheless, it is a work from the early tenth century or possibly from the early eighth century, probably compiled by a member of the Mononobe clan. As such, though not what it was purported to be, it provides valuable information on the Mononobe and Owari who were early military clans claiming decent from the kami. It also puts forward a mythology based on the descent of Nigihayahi and the ten heavenly objects, found in no other writings on Shinto. It was accepted as authentic up until the seventeenth century and was one of the main scriptures of a branch of theology known as Yoshida Shinto.

There are several other writings also used for historical and religions reference, especially private journals (nikki), many from the eleventh century on, but I would like to briefly outline another category of ancient documentation. In addition to writings there are several types of excavated objects that include important clues to everything from daily life, to the history of Japanese Kingship. One of the most numerous of these objects are the mokkan. These are narrow, wooden slips on which Chinese characters are written in ink. They were used for many purposes but the two main ones were for shipping tags and documents including orders, requests, records, etc. However they were also used for administration and often contain the names of historical figures. The number of these mokkan discovered to date, though mostly incomplete fragments, number in the hundreds of thousands. The vast majority have been found in the Nara area and date from the seventh to eighth centuries. They have greatly aided in understanding the daily operation of the society, and offer a comparison of how systems were implemented versus how they were written in law. Of other objects that shed light on Kingship, two particularly important ones are both swords with inscriptions in Chinese. One is the Inariyama Sword, unearthed from a burial mound of the same name in Saitama Prefecture in eastern Japan. The sword contains a long list of names of family descendants ending with the author who claimed to be in the service of a King thought to be Emperor Yuryaku (r. 456-79). The sword, containing 115 Chinese characters, is dated to the late-fifth century and provides some verification of the reach of the central government at that time. Another important inscription is found on the Nanatsusaya no Tachi (“Seven-branched Sword”), dated to the mid-fourth century and housed at Isonokami Jinja. The inscription on this sword is broken and illegible in places, and what it actually says is still a matter of debate. However it does point to close relations between one Kingdom of Japan and one Kingdom of Korea from at least the mid-fourth century when the sword was probably created. The sword seems to verify an account in the Nihon shoki of a Seven-branched Sword being sent from the King of Paekche to Emperor Ojin in 372. The debate is over whether it was sent from an inferior to a superior or vs. versa. 


  1. I have really loved the part about Japanese swords, I mean those ones of Japanese Kingship. It is really surprising they contain Chinese characters! Thank you, it is an amazing article!

    1. Maria,
      Thanks very much for your comment. I might have caused you some confusion with the comment on Chinese characters. As you know, there was no "Japanese" writing. The Japanese borrowed their writing system from the Chinese, hence the word for Japanese characters is "kanji" meaning Chinese characters. Of course, at the time the sword was made, there was as yet now way to read Chinese characters with Japanese pronounciation. That came later. Korean writing also came later and was at first Chinese. The sword in question came from a Korean King to a Japanese King but the only writing system available to either was Chinese.

      Another fascinating sword, in case you are interested, is the Inariyama Sword found in a kofun burial mound in Saitama. It shows the long line of allegiance of at least six generations of one warrior clan to the rulers of Yamato. A brief explanation can be found on Wikipedia here: