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The Shōgun and Amaterasu Ōmikami

A few weeks ago, I received issue 270/271 of the Journal of Shintō Studies, and I want to pick up on some points from the articles in it for this blog. This issue isn’t themed, so there is quite a range across the five articles, and all of them have something that I think might be interesting to my readers.

The first thing I want to pick up is from “The Tokugawa Shogunate and Amaterasu Ōmikami: The Period of Shōgun Iemitsu”, by Tanido Yūki. The article is a bit more specific than the title might suggest, because it is concerned with Iemitsu’s personal connection to Jingū, rather than more general relations between the shogunate and the kami, but that is still quite broad.

The narrow argument of the article is that Iemitsu organised personal prayers to Amaterasu Ōmikami both for his recovery from smallpox, and for the birth of an heir. He did recover, and an heir was born, and Tanido argues that this led to the shogunate revering Amaterasu Ōmikami. It also seems that Iemitsu, at least, also saw Amaterasu Ōmikami as his ultimate ancestor, standing behind his grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was enshrined in the Tōshōgū, particularly at Nikkō. (Iemitsu was responsible for building the existing sanctuaries there.) The Tokugawa claimed to descend from the Minamoto, who were descended from the Imperial line, and so this was true within their mythology — which makes it as true for them as for anyone. (My understanding is that contemporary scholarship does not think that the Tokugawa were actually descended from the Minamoto. Or from Amaterasu Ōmikami.)

The broad argument is that contemporary scholarship has focused too much on the relationship between the shogunate and the Tōshō Daigongen tradition of venerating Ieyasu. While that was clearly extremely important, there were significant relationships with other kami as well.

The point I want to pick up on is a specific feature of the reverence paid by Iemitsu’s emissaries. In some cases, the records tell us their schedules at Jingū, and tell us that they visited the Inner Sanctuary first, and then the Outer Sanctuary. The ancient, and contemporary, custom is to visit the Outer Sanctuary first, and records of other visits to Jingū in the same period, for example by emissaries from the Tennō, do show the conventional order.

The Inner Sanctuary enshrines Amaterasu Ōmikami (and others), while the Outer Sanctuary enshrines Toyoukë Ōmikami (and others), and at this time, in the mid-seventeenth century, there was an ongoing debate between the priests of the two sanctuaries over which was more important. Iemitsu ruled in favour of the Inner Sanctuary.

Tanido therefore suggests that the break with custom was deliberate. Iemitsu wanted to make two points: first, that the Inner Sanctuary was more important, and second, that he was claiming a special relationship with Amaterasu Ōmikami, not with Toyoukë Ōmikami.

I agree with Tanido that this must have been deliberate. While the schedule is not recorded for all the visits, there seem to be no records of a visit sponsored by Iemitsu that followed the traditional order, and no records of a visit sponsored by someone else that didn’t. This is not plausibly a chance event. The reasons are more hypothetical, but certainly seem reasonable.

People have always modified Shinto traditions to make their own points about their relationship to those traditions, and that also continues today. When the people doing this are not the shogun, however, they do face a bit more overt criticism.

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