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Ashizu Uzuhiko

The June 13th issue of Jinja Shinpō contained a long article about Ashizu Uzuhiko. He died thirty years ago this year, in 1992, and was probably the most important single figure in post-war Shinto. In the immediate post-war period he was known as “Shinto’s Lawyer”, because he publicly defended Shinto against the attacks launched on it by both the Occupation authorities, and by some elements of Japanese society. Although he worked at Jinja Shinpō and wrote a significant number of editorials for it, he was not a priest. However, his grandfather and uncle were, and he had extensive connections in the Shinto world.

According to the article, some people portray Ashizu as the eminence grise behind Jinja Honchō in the post-war period, working to restore State Shinto. As he was not a priest, I do not believe he ever held a formal position in Jinja Honchō itself, but he was extremely influential, and so in some sense this characterisation is justified. On the other hand, he exerted a great deal of his influence through editorials, and his positions were hardly secret, so he cannot really be accused of working behind the scenes.

It is also important to note that his attitude to State Shinto was somewhat ambivalent. He was formally censored by the pre-War government for certain of his views on Shinto, and opposed the attempts of some people in the State Shinto administration to unify Shinto around Amaterasu Ōmikami. In the immediate post-War period, he was instrumental in the foundation of Jinja Honchō as an association of fundamentally equal jinja, rather than as a more hierarchical organisation with clear religious doctrines. By the time of his death, he seems to have entirely given up on the idea that jinja might become state organs again.

On the other hand, he had very strong views about what jinja were. He saw them as essentially public institutions, functioning for society as a whole, and not as providing religious services to individuals. He defined the essence of jinja as “the spiritual foundation of the society and nation of the Japanese”, and refused to accept that any jinja could see itself as a religion for private individuals. This view accords with the pre-War view of jinja as “Kokka no Sōshi”, which could be translated as “State Thing-that-is-definitely-not-a-religion-but-has-rituals-and-plays-the-same-sort-of-unifying-role”. The precise meaning of “Sōshi” is debated even in Japanese.

As far as I can tell from my studies of the history of Shinto, this view of Shinto was essentially created by State Shinto. Although close links between Shinto and the state go back to the earliest written records, the idea that all jinja were primarily state organs of some sort does not appear to be ancient. Thus, it might be fair to say that Ashizu agreed with the basic ideas of State Shinto, but disagreed about some of the details of implementation.

People have started to study him as a historical figure, and he certainly deserves such study within the history of Shinto. He wrote a great deal, much of it unpublished or privately published, so he is not the easiest figure to grasp, but I suspect such a study would tell us a great deal about why Jinja Shinto currently looks the way it does.

No-one of his stature has appeared in the thirty years since his death, and I am not aware of anyone who even comes close. Even now, people in the Shinto world invoke his writings as expressing the ideals that jinja should follow.

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