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8th August 2003, 07:36
The Origin of Rites of Worship Within The Local Community
Harada Toshiaki

The objects of worship within the local community (burakuII) in Japan are normally considered to be the tutelary deities that are today called chinju no kami or ubusunagami or what from an early time were singled out as "clan deities" (ujigami). Basically, what are here called ujigami have come to be thought of as the common ancestral deities of a clan lineage kinship organizationIII. In point of fact, however, even though they might be called ujigami, it was rather the exception than the rule for such deities to be limited to the common ancestral deities of clan lineages, particularly in older areas. As a result, the term ujigami in fact refers merely to the deity worshiped by a clan lineage, without that deity's necessarily being related to the clan as a consanguineous "ancestor."

Moreover, even when there are consanguineous relations between the members of a clan lineage, such consanguinity is not a necessary condition for the existence of the group, since even without blood relations it is possible for those involved to conceive of themselves as a "kinship group" (d˘zoku). From this perspective as well, even though the members of the group are called a clan lineage, or "clan members" (ujibito), their relationships in that "clan" are not necessarily based on the condition of consanguinity. On the contrary, the fact of their having a common territorial relationship is the more important factor. In ancient agricultural society, at least, even d˘zoku groups which had true consanguineous relations normally also shared a common life environment, and settled within the same territorial area.

But more importantly, since the members of a group led their lives within a common geographical region, a natural result was that they came to have intimate consanguineous relations as well. In other words, there is a substantial difference between a lineage clan's naturally having consanguineous relations, and its necessarily having consanguineous relations. Clan (ujizoku) relations in Japan are in most case characterized by relations of consanguinity, but this is not a necessary condition. Rather, the clan (ujizoku) can better be called a kind of kinship group united under the necessary condition of living within common territorial borders.

In areas where clan society is very old, the society is strongly localized. As a result, it became inevitable even for kinship groups to take the form of a kind of localized territorial community (buraku), and it goes without saying that this fact is largely a result of the special conditions of life brought about by Japan's hydraulic rice agriculture.

The unique characteristics of this kind of society can be seen especially well in religious observances. Namely, even the ujigami worshiped by a single-lineage kinship group has its basis in a fixed territorial area, with the result that it can be viewed in the same way as those territorial community tutelary deities today called ubusunagami and chinju no kami. In that sense, what are here called the rituals of an ujigami closely resemble the observances of a local community seen today, although not in their original form. In turn, when considering the origin of rituals in local territorial communities, some degree of distinction must be made between their present form and their origins. Even if religious observances have been present in buraku since long ago, they have changed and developed over the passage of time and under the impact of various circumstances.

The present form of the so-called ujigami type of shrine is relatively new. No matter how old they are thought to be, the presence of the architecture alone shows considerable continental influence. Even in the case of the taisha-zukuri of the Izumo Taisha, or the shinmei-zukuri of the Grand Shrine of Ise (Ise Jingű), the appearance of the shrines today cannot be thought to be the same as that present at the beginning of these shrines.

Of course, as can be gathered from K˘tai jingű gishiki-ch˘ (804) , the case of Ise is rather exceptional, since even early in the Heian period its shape became set in a form little different from that visible today. Even there, however, the architecture did not exist from the original establishment of the shrine, and the presence of such changes suggests the possibility that the situation at the very earliest period was akin to that seen elsewhere, namely the simple worship of something like a divine tree (himorogi).

Originally, the majority of shrines had no permanent architecture, but were provided merely with such facilities as a himorogi or iwasaka (divine stone) at which periodic worship was performed. But even there, the problem arises whether the himorogi and iwasaka found in ancient documents were the same as those thought of today, a question that admits of no easy answer.

There are other cases as well - such as the ďmiwa Jinja in Nara Prefecture, the Suwa Jinja (upper shrine) in Nagano, and the Kanasana Jinja in Saitama - in which a sacred mountain exists without any shrine building. Or again as in case of Isonokami Jingű in Nara Prefecture, some shrines only recently came to possess permanent architectural structures. Why was it that at such shrines without original buildings, house-like shrine facilities came to be erected, and moreover such edifices came to be viewed as essential necessities? Whatever the answers to such questions, such changes in the physical configuration of shrines exerted a great impact on the style of shrine worship, and brought about transformations in that worship.

On the other hand, although it can be said that present-day shrines are the result of such changes in exterior form, it remains true that the rituals directed to the ujigami as the tutelary deity of a territorially or consanguineously based society - namely rituals of worship at the buraku level - have existed in some form from the very earliest period. Wherever social life coalesced around a local community, some form of rituals of worship were performed, based on that social community.

It goes without saying that worship of a deity requires a community of people to do the worshiping. Namely, such religious practices are found within the actual life of a society, since in fact there is no other nexus for religiosity apart from that social life. Naturally, such a society implies not merely a simple aggregation of human beings, but a highly psychological or emotional integration which results in the formation of a society with an even greater sense of communal solidarity.

As people lead their lives within such a society, it is even more inevitable that they come to recognize a center to their spiritual union; the life of the society comes to be regulated by that center, and follows that center. Such behavior is fundamentally religious in nature, and the rituals revolving around ujigami as well can thus be said to be precisely the social ceremonies observed on such occasions.

In turn, the physical space which became the fixed locale for these rituals was what is now called the ujigami shrine. Needless to say, even if its exterior form was not necessarily one which our current common sense would call a "shrine," it nonetheless was a location for the observance of religious ceremonies, namely ritual worship. In short, the worship of a deity was not dependent on the prior existence of a physical structure as became common in later shrine architecture.

If these facts are correct, is it then the case that the ujigami shrine is merely something optional which can be established voluntarily in terms of time and space, in accord with the desires of the people of the community? Here, in order to clarify the the origins of shrines, and ujigami shrines in particular, it is necessary to look into the origins of the worship performed at such shrines. In this context, I would like to first of all mention two or three ideas which have been previously raised by other scholars.

When considering the origins of so-called ujigami shrines as a form of community religion, it has become a virtual commonplace to refer to ancestor worship in the explanation, so much so that this form of explanatory rubric is felt to leave little room for doubt. Fundamentally, the rationale for this kind of explanation reflects to a considerable degree the normative wishes of certain segments of modern society, but the concept is not only characteristic of popular thought; it has also spread considerably among certain ranks of specialists, allowing us to say in fact that it reflects the most common consensus on the issue.

For example, one scholar writes, "When examined rigorously, other complex possibilities can also be imagined, but fundamentally, or typically, it is likely proper to view it [ujigami worship] as originating in the union of a single consanguineous group around a core of ancestor worship, the group possessing a common ujigami, and worshiping it together." (Hiraizumi Kiyoshi, "Jinja no za ni tsuite" Shint˘gaku zasshi, No. 2, April, 1927, p. 85).

The following opinion goes even further:

The fact that shrines (jinja) originated in the worship of the uji no kami, namely the spirit of the ancestor, is evidenced by (1) the characteristics of the day of worship [saijitsu]; (2) the fact that the place for the performance of worship was the mountain in winter and the village in spring, thus corresponding to the path taken as the ancestral spirits came and went; (3) the fact that the management of agriculture, in particular rice paddies, was central to this worship; and from various other facts as well

(see Yanagita Kunio, "Koyasugami no hanashi," Teihon Yanagita Kunio-shű, Volume 11, 515-516).

Unfortunately, this theory clearly contradicts the historical facts, leading us to feel it is unreasonable to locate the origin of ujigami festivals in ancestor worship alone. Although there are certainly a number of cases from later periods which can be properly apprehended through such an explanatory scheme, it seems likely that such situations should be viewed as developments which occurred after the fact, as the concept of divinity took on more pronounced anthropomorphic characteristics. As a result, it cannot be argued from such evidence that the original source of ujigami festivals is to be found in the ancient worship of ancestors, or that festivals at the level of the local community were acts of worship directed toward ancestors.

On the contrary, it is more likely that worship was not originally directed toward ancestors, but as such ancestor worship in time came to be given more prominence, examples of such rituals to ancestors gradually came to be more common at ujigami shrines as well.

In the ancient period, life at the level of the territorial community fundamentally tended towards static localization, thus producing extremely strong communal solidarity, and resulting in a natural establishment of consanguineous relations. At the same time, there came about a tendency for people to believe that such consanguineous relations were an integral, definitive element of their community identity, thus encouraging them toward a conscious maintenance of those consanguineous relations. In time, the solidarity of the local society came to be essentially defined not merely by the fact of local territorial communality but also by the necessary condition of consanguineous relations, so much so that such blood relations actually came to take on the greater significance, while the condition of living within a common territory lost its necessary character.

It is as a result of this fact that the so-called clan organization (ujizoku) has come to be understood on the basis of consanguinity rather than geographic affinity. In spite of the fact that the god of the buraku was originally a geographical or territorial concept, it came to be called the ujigami ("clan god") as well.

Finally, this god of the buraku, the ujigami, came to be viewed not merely as the deity worshiped communally by the clan lineage, but almost as though it were something which represented the very essence of the community itself. For the clan lineage, this meant its ancestors. But not merely ancestors in general; rather, its ultimate, first and foremost ancestor its "great ancestor of origins." As a result, a form of ancestor worship, or "great founder" worship developed, but one profoundly different in nature from the later kind of ancestor worship which revered each generation of ancestors.

To sum up my argument here, the practice of calling the ujigami an ancestral deity did not in fact originate from the worship of ancestors, but on the contrary, the deity originally worshiped in common by a clan lineage came to be viewed, in particular, as the deified ancestor. In fact, when we think of the god of the local community as an ujigami, it is on the whole more appropriate to say that there are simply no concrete examples of an ancestor initially being worshiped, and on that basis coming to be called an ujigami in the sense of a territorial tutelary deity (chinju).

At that point, we might consider whether the transformation of an ujigami into an ancestral deity might not have originated in the practice of enshrining humans as deities, and if so, the question of whether such practice indeed existed in the ancient past. Here, it must be fundamentally admitted that the concept of viewing persons of unusual status as deities was present already from a very early period. This is precisely what is done in the episodes regarding the divine age in the Nihon shoki and the Kojiki, where, by weaving the tale of the age of the gods and their world, an explanation is given for the origins of the real world, while such gods are interpreted as the ancestors of living people.

But even so, when we ask, of those numerous deities appearing in the episodes of the divine age how many were in fact enshrined as the central deity of a shrine, the number is uncannily small, so small in fact that we can say virtually none. The fact that there are only around twelve examplesIV shows clearly that objects of general shrine worship were not taken originally from ancestors or the gods of the divine age.

Namely, the episodes involving the divine age were produced as a result of concepts found within the upper strata of the society at that time, a train of thought quite singular in nature, and thus considerably divorced in substance from the deities of the buraku - the ujigami - which were born from within the everyday concerns of common people in local communities. As is well known, the majority of extant shrines at present claim for their deity one of those gods appearing in the episodes of the divine age, and in those cases where the deity's identity is uncertain, it is often said to be "not yet identified" (mish˘). In fact, however, it is not merely not yet identified, but rather "without identity" or "unidentifiable" (fush˘).

Since the ujigami of a local territorial community was limited to that community, it was on the whole more natural for there to be no need for the use of a particular name to discriminate that deity from the gods of other communities. The enshrined deities at most ujigami shrines today were merely given their present identities in later periods, when, based on particular historical rationale,V the local deity was identified specifically with one of those gods appearing in the "Divine Age Episodes" of the Nihongi or Kojiki.

For example, consider the remainder of the Nihongi and Kojiki other than those portions dealing with the divine age; or the Shoku Nihongi, and the entirety of the Man'y˘shű. While these works admittedly appear to have isolated episodes relating in some degree to the twelve cases noted above, in all other instances the deities which appear in the divine age accounts are entirely absent. In short, we can even go so far as to say that the deities appearing in the divine age mythology are of a nature entirely different from and unrelated to those gods actually forming the objects of everyday worship, namely those found as the deities of shrines in local communities.

Take note as well of that section of the Engishiki known as the "Names of the Deities" (Jinmy˘ch˘). Here, shrines to deities with personalized titles can be seen in such limited locales as the capital area around Kyoto or at Izumo, Izu, Noto and other special places, but the great majority of shrines are called simply by the place name where they are found, or on occasion, by some natural feature of the local topography. Such cases are not merely the result of an oversight in listing the deity's name, but rather the fact that it was considered fully sufficient to call the deity simply the "god" (kami), and indicate that it was the ujigami shrine of that locality. In short, these deities did not possess such conspicuous individuality that they necessitated the affixing of personalizing names.

The practice of enshrining a human being as a deity in a shrine is, in fact, not even necessarily so old. Even when the Hachimangű is said to be Emperor ďjin or some other figure, such appellations do not represent the original way that deity was understood. And although the Heian period as well witnessed frequent cases - such as the Hassho Gory˘ or Kitano Tenjin - the enshrinement of the spirits of dead humans as gods of vengeance (onry˘), that practice was related to the shamanistic worship of dead spirits, or rituals for the dead, and is thus completely different in nature from those buraku deities that were anciently enshrined as ujigami.

All the more, the practice of posthumously enshrining humans who had exhibited noble character during their lives actually belongs to an even more recent historical period. This is equivalent to saying that ancestor worship was, on the contrary, not present in the ancient period, but arose as a new phenomenon and became increasingly generalized as the result of the increasing influence of social concepts of family and individual, so that it came to be a central element at shrines as well.

As actual social life comes to place increasing value on relations of consanguinity, the ancestor-descendant relationship within a blood line is viewed as a strong legitimizing rationale for that consanguineous social solidarity, and the shrine deity said to be the root of that social life comes as well to be given the status of the society's ancestor - the original ancestor or "great founder." The shrine deity of the local community, too, thus comes to be known as the ujigami of the clan lineage built upon such consanguineous relations, and from there, it ultimately comes to possess the status of ancestral deity.

In the same way, as the life of that society takes on an increasingly national character, and a national ethos becomes more strongly emphasized, persons who have served the nation faithfully, namely loyal ministers and warriors, are proclaimed as deities for their noble character, and thus enshrined as objects of worship (for more on this topic, see my essay, "Ningenshin ni tsuite," in Nihon kodai shűky˘ [Tokyo, 1970]).

Once the concept arises that the deity of the buraku, namely the ujigami, is the original ancestor, the "great founder," the concept of the deity gradually comes to take on more anthropomorphic characteristics as a "human-god" (ningenshin), and the practice of worshiping the spirits of generalized ancestors as ancestral deities thus begins. At that point, the physical tomb may become an important concrete locus of legitimacy for the worship of ancestral spirits, and it is based on this fact that some people find the origin of ujigami festivals in rituals at tomb mounds.

This theory as well, namely that rituals directed toward the tombs of individual persons gradually developed into shrine worship, is likewise based on the assumption that it is humans who are made the deities of shrines. Unfortunately, such a conclusion is in complete disagreement with the facts. Even if such a theory finds only extremely dubious substantiation in the claim that the Tanzan Shrine (Tanzan Jinja) of T˘nomine developed from the tomb of Kamatari,VI let us grant that among the many instances present, there may well be some cases in which tombs did become the basis for ritual shrine worship. But even so, these cases are not evidence of a practice which existed from an ancient period, but rather examples which developed in later times as a ruler or some other individual of noteworthy personality came to be viewed as having human characteristics superlative to those of the general ranks of men, with the result that their tombs may well have formed the basis for later shrines.

Essentially, within an agricultural society like that of Japan, one in which people lead sedentary lives within a fixed locale, territorial conditions are essential to the society's solidarity. Leading their lives together with an intimate relation to a specific area, such people come to observe rituals in common as a central part of their social life, and it is precisely such communal rituals that come to be called the religious observances (saishi) of the local society. As a result, we can say that apart from such communal rituals, no religious observances exist in such communities.

In such communal observances, it is the deity that determines, and forms the central focus of, the rites. The concept of the clan deity (ujigami) is one of various possible forms for the expression of this concept of the divine, and in Japan, it is the primary form.

When such rites within the buraku are centered on agricultural activities -- those of hydraulic agriculture in particular -- a select set of rituals comes to be performed, focusing on the occasions of rice transplanting and harvest. These rituals are the Spring and Harvest Festivals (toshigoi and niinamesai) directed toward the ujigami.

These basic community rituals -- the festivals of toshigoi and niinamesai -- have as their significance the prognostication of abundant crops and the celebration of harvest. These rites are observed as communal activities with the kami, at places appropriate to the public life of the residents of the buraku, in most cases a village square, or the entrance to the village. The locales in which such deities are worshiped form, in short, the original significance of the "shrine." Such locales did not necessitate physical buildings, and it was moreover considered sufficient to invoke the deity's presence merely for the duration of the festival.

It is likely that in ancient times this central locale was called the "divine tree" (himorogi), a religious motif thus essentially the same as the "God of the Cave" in Korean mythology, a deity centered on a tree known as the "eternal mountain tree" (j˘zanboku), or similar to the belief in Okinawa's mountain peak Utaki, focused as it is on a tall palm.

Considered from these perspectives, not only was a physical building not originally necessary for worshiping the deity, but rites were centered on, and limited to, a spring festival and fall festival, once or twice a year. This form is still seen today within buraku and even smaller territorial groups (kumi), and in the worship observed by extended-family clans (d˘zokudan). In these cases, the house god (uchigami), the god of the gate (kadogami) or again the ancestral deity or the god of the mansion (yashikigami) is worshiped by annually rebuilding a small shrine from new straw, with the rites being performed at a spring or fall festival.VII

And although increases in the size of the local community and changes in the concept of kami have resulted in the erection of more imposing permanent shrine edifices, we should keep in mind that even today, some shrines, like the ďmiwa Jinja and the upper Suwa Shrine lack a physical Sanctuary (shinden), considering it sufficient to provide a Hall of Worship (haiden) alone.

Translator's Notes
I. This article appeared originally in Japanese as "Buraku saishi no kigen" Shint˘ shűky˘ 70-71 (August 1973): 1-10.

II. The buraku is the most elementary unit of rural territorial communal organization in Japan. Although the word is at times translated as "hamlet," I have chosen to avoid that term since, during the Edo period, in which the form of most presently existing such communities was established, the basic unit of local government administration was not the buraku, but the mura (village). Namely, a village might be composed of from one to several buraku, which thus formed geographical subdivisions of the basic unit of local administration. Further, the actual referent of the term buraku tended to vary depending on the locality. As a result, even today the word may be used in a broad sense to refer to anything from a simple territorially limited grouping of homes - a "community" - to a territorial subdivision of a village, to an entire small village itself; I have here generally rendered the term as "local community" since, as becomes clear from the text, Harada uses the word primarily in this general territorial sense.

III. "d˘zokudan de aru uji itt˘." The actual composition of ancient clans is believed to have involved not only the direct descendants of a single ancestral line, but collateral, and non-consanguineous hereditary servants. This fact explains Harada's subsequent remarks regarding the non-necessity of consanguinity in such clans.

IV. It is unclear what specific twelve examples Harada has in mind, although they would likely include such anthropomorphic deities as Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Izanami and Izanagi. For more on this subject see Harada's Jinja (Tokyo: Shibund˘, 1961), and Nihon kodai shis˘ (Tokyo: Chű˘ K˘ronsha, 1972).

V. Harada is no doubt referring primarily to the results of the policy of the Meiji government in establishing State Shinto; in order to unify the practices of shrine worship on a national level, the names of many shrine deities were changed to those found in the "divine age" chapters of the Kojiki and Nihongi.

VI. Founded in 701, Tanzan Shrine is located in Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, and is dedicated to the spirit of Fujiwara Kamatari.

VII. Here, Harada seems to have in mind those cases in which so-called gods of "house" and "gate" were in fact not limited to individual households, but closer in significance to communal or "clan" deities, for example, as seen in the uggan and kadogan of the Satsuma area (see Sakurai Tokutar˘, K˘shűdan seiritsu katei no kenkyű (Tokyo: Yoshikawa K˘bunkan, 1962, 112ff).

Prince Loeffler
14th August 2003, 04:56
Thanks Russ for this valuable sources of information on shinto. Keep them coming please.