Folk Beliefs in Modern Japan
[Table of Contents]

The Changing Face of Japanese Folk Beliefs

Norman Havens

1. The "Folk" of "Folk Beliefs"

On the canvas of human religious behavior, the concept of "folk religion" or "folk beliefs" is painted in broad and hazy strokes. Perhaps that is only to be expected from a concept aligned with a discipline, one of whose leading practitioners has introduced with the words, "No field of learning is perhaps more misunderstood."1

As most frequently encountered in English works, concepts like "folk religion" and "folk beliefs" have been adopted to express the religious beliefs and behavior of "folk cultures," which in turn form one-half of the "folk-urban continuum," a concept proposed by Robert Redfield to describe civilization complexes composed of both literate urban societies and basically illiterate peasant communities--the latter of which were more developed than primitive communities, but not so advanced as their urban counterparts or modern industrial societies.

In part, Redfield's concept of folk or peasant culture was meant to provide an alternative to the common binary partitioning of societies into "primitive" and "modern" (or "developed") categories. In Redfield's words, the concept relied on a distinction between "an isolated primitive community, which has for context only that community and its local and immediate culture," and the peasant community and its culture, where "the context is widened to include the elements of the great traditions that are or have been in interaction with what is local and immediate."2

In short, peasant societies were intensely local, sedentary agricultural communities lying on the margins of more advanced, centralized civilizations. And because of their rural situation and intermediate status between primitive and urban societies, Redfield called the folk cultures of peasant societies "Little Traditions" characterized both by attributes of primitive culture and by elements of the advanced "Great Tradition," of which they formed a peripheral part.

On the one hand, peasant societies shared with primitive societies the local worldview, unmediated face-to-face interaction, general illiteracy (with concomitant oral transmission of culture), and geimeinschaft orientation of an "ascribed community." Similarly, the folk religious beliefs of such cultures displayed "primitive" attributes first, in the sense that they were generally transmitted orally as part of a wider body of traditional custom and lore, and secondly, in that, with the exception of occasional sodalities, the "religious community" was coterminus with the social community as a whole.3

On the other hand, folk religion was also discriminated from primitive religion by the fact that it adopted or was influenced by, elements and motifs of the literate, institutionalized religions of the more advanced "Great Tradition." From the standpoint of the latter Great Tradition, however, such folk beliefs were frequently viewed as fragmentary, unorthodox, and "vulgar" accretions.

In sum, the concepts of folk religion and folk belief--at least when filtered through Redfield's categories--are descriptive anthropological categories meant to aid in the attempt to understand the conditions and development of certain kinds of society.

In the modern Japanese context, the terms "folk religion" and "folk belief" are most commonly encountered as translations for the Japanese minkan shinkô. As currently employed by most Japanese scholars, "folk religion" is used to refer to the aggregate of beliefs and practices arising from both orally transmitted indigenous religious beliefs and customs, and Japanese "popular religion" (the forms taken by lay observance of literate established religions). Thus Fujii Masao notes that minkan shinkô is "a very comprehensive term," stating that "in the broadest sense, it is the entirety of religious faith held by the common people (shomin no shinkô) set outside the peripheries of established religion (seiritsu shûkyô)."4

Miyake Hitoshi likewise defines folk religion as "essentially indigenous primitive religion into which elements from Shinto, Buddhism, Taoism, yin-yang dualism, Confucianism and other religions have been grafted."5

Sakurai Tokutarô, in turn, continues by saying that minkan shinkô is discriminated from the "established religions" by lacking a specific founder, organized doctrines, or group organization; further, while established religions like Christianity or Buddhism are translocal and universal, folk religion tends to be characterized by intense locality and particularity. Although various pilgrimage confraternities () exist throughout Japan, for example, they are all independent local bodies, lacking any horizontal network, and failing to comprise any kind of nationwide "church."

And the converse is equally true. Many elements of the translocal established religions have become assimilated to the local environment, coming to form elements of the local folk religion. For example, while originating within Buddhism, sodalities such as Taishi-kô, Kannon-kô, and Jizô-kô in time lose their original affiliation with Buddhist organizations, and come to act merely as one part of the local folk-religious scene.6

But while these definitions generally agree with the sense of folk religion encountered in most English materials, their background and usage occasionally appear different from that of their English counterparts.7

The concept of minkan shinkô was first developed by Yanagita Kunio[Glossary: yanagita_kunio] within his overall program of "Japanese folklore studies" (minzokugaku). While Yanagita's study of Japanese minzoku (folklore) appeared to go by the same name, it was meant to serve not only as an academic discipline, but also as a prescriptive "new nativism"8 which would valorize rural folk culture against the deleterious effects of the modern city, thus acting as a corrective to the views of broadly Confucian-influenced and modernist government and other elites. While Carol Gluck notes that Yanagita was opposed to the more radical of agricultural ideologues within the government, his discipline of minzokugaku nonetheless unintentionally "contributed to the same agrarian myth that the government was finding useful" in its own nationalistic aims.9

But the government's support of rural values was equivocal. In fact, since early modern times, elites had tended to view the folk-religious sentiments and customs of rural folk with disdain as "immoral and deviant religion" (inshi jakyô). Already in the late Edo period, for example, Nakai Chikuzan (1730-1804), fourth-generation leader of the Confucianist Kaitokudô Merchant Academy in Osaka, had covered most of the bases of "folk religion" in the following harshly worded critique:

";auguring weal and woe and praying for healing, divining propitious directions for a physician, or [telling people to] stop using medicines, thus leading to their deaths; worshiping Ebisu and Daikoku[Glossary: daikoku] as a pretext for lust and wickedness, making the shrine Tenmangû a medium for lasciviousness, substituting [the bodhisattva] Kannon in place of midwives; and with reckless talk of badgers and foxes and baseless fictions about tengu, imputing all kinds of marvelous wonders to insignificant kami and trivial buddhas; divining dreams of kami and buddhas and huckstering worthless drugs and base concoctions, performing divinations of mutual compatibility for men and women, divinations of physiognomy, swords, the geomancy of houses--these kinds of deviant beliefs [jakyô] are rampant, and nothing but techniques to confound the ignorant masses.10

This tradition of criticism was continued by Meiji proponents of "civilization and enlightenment," some of who argued that when considering indigenous Japanese customs, the "customs of farmers should not be considered customs," and that it was the culture of the bushi and noble classes alone which should be emulated. Others were more moderate, arguing that "beautiful" village customs useful to the new nation should be preserved, while simultaneously rejecting "superstition" and other "evil" customs.11

Even Anesaki Masaharu, working from Western notions, patronized folk beliefs by saying that the new Shinto sects represented the "crude, but relatively pure, religious spirit buried in the heart of the people."12

But it was precisely this "crude, but relative pure" side of unlettered folk culture which Yanagita and other folklorists sought to preserve, asserting that the true nature and attributes of the "ancient Japanese mentality"--the folklorists' holy grail--could be best understood by analyzing the orally transmitted customs and traditions (denshô) of the "ordinary people" (jômin) who, while composing seventy percent of the overall population, rarely appeared in standard histories. Of those traditions and customs, religious beliefs and behavior obviously formed a crucial core. Within Yanagita's "new nativism," tradition was almost inherently "Good."

While somewhat controversial, Yanagita's concept of "ordinary people"(jômin) originally was little different from other current terms like heimin, shomin, jinmin, taishû and minshû. These other terms, however, were excessively politicized, according to Yanagita. Heimin and shomin suggested a contrast with the nobility and bushi, while jinmin, taishû and minshû were used to differentiate the "masses" from their political leaders.13

Against such expressions, jômin was originally adopted to identify the "entirely ordinary peasant" (goku futsû no hyakushô)14 in contrast to the upper ten-percent of literate "great families" (ôya, oyakata) and a lower class of specialized craft occupations.15

As described by Miyata Noboru, Yanagita's conception of "folk" or jômin was centered on that group of sedentary agriculturists (teichaku nokômin), specifically those who, as landowners, had the status of "full farmers" (honbyakushô) within the early modern feudal village society. Fundamentally, such jômin were assumed to be illiterate and without written culture, but simultaneously, they were thought to be strongly influenced by the Great Tradition of urban literate elite.16

To this degree, Yanagita's conception of the minzoku (folk customs) of jômin largely coincided with the concept of the Little Tradition of peasant (folk) culture as advanced by anthropologists like Robert Redfield.

But as I suggested earlier, Yanagita's concepts and definitions transcended the province of mere descriptive anthropological categories, approaching the Tylorean realm of a deep layer of prehistoric, if not panhuman, mentality. Namely, for Yanagita, it was the class of "common man" which was responsible for unconsciously bearing Japan's enduring folk customs or minzoku, the study of which would eventually allow one to intuit Japan's "basic" or "deep culture" (kisô bunka) and "deep religiosity" (kisô shinkô) which lay as bedrock beneath the "superficial" (hyôsô) levels of literate culture and religion.17

For Yanagita, as interpreted by Sakurai Tokutarô,

folk religion [minkan shinkô] was comprised of those oral folk transmissions (minkan denshô) which the Japanese have always believed, apart from the doctrines of organized religions, and which the leaders of organized religions dismissed and downplayed. It was precisely this body of traditionally transmitted folk religion which formed indispensable material for the Japanese people's understanding of the true mental history of their ancestors.18 (Emphases added.)

Yanagita's initial conception of jômin, however, and his search for an eternal, ahistorical core to native Japanese belief was plagued by several difficulties.

First, it was clear that the real class of illiterate landed farmers forming the putative referents for the category of jômin were already extinct, or in the process of disappearing. If folklorists maintained that a real understanding of Japan's deep culture could be achieved only by studying the culture transmitted by a real class of jômin, they would end up defining themselves out of a subject.

Second, Yanagita and other folklorists recognized that it was not, in fact, a specific social class with which they were concerned, but with the enduring culture passed on by that class. Miyata notes that Yanagita himself revealed in a roundtable discussion of 1937 that he had chosen (tsune) because of its association with what he understood by the English term "common"; he felt that in their common activities--i.e., the everyday activities which they performed unconsciously and which gave the Japanese way of life continuity across generations--members of the warrior class, and even of the imperial family could be included within the category of jômin. In that sense, it was clearly not equivalent to terms like shômin, heimin, or minshû, and instead of an economic, political or social-status category, took the form of a "culture category"--a referent for all those people who unconsciously transmitted the "deep" elements of traditional Japanese culture.19

Similarly, Takakuwa Morifumi asserts that the folk culture forming the subject of Minzokugaku

refers to the entirety of stereotyped behavior which all persons--if they be Japanese--perform repetitively and unconsciously, and entirely without regard to class, status, place of birth, talent or other differences. It is these things which, as it were, make a Japanese person genuinely Japanese [Nihonjin o shite Nihonjin tarashimeteiru]. In the field of culture history, categories are proposed on the basis of the social class representing the culture, for example, court culture, warrior culture, or popular mass culture; or else based on the historical epoch (e.g., Muromachi culture, Momoyama culture, or Meiji culture). But the minzoku forming an object of study in Minzokugaku differs from these kinds of concepts and classifications of culture, continuously underlying all classes and eras, forming as it were, the bedrock of culture. If the former kind of culture can be called "surface culture" [hyôsô bunka], then minzoku certainly belongs to the region of "basic culture" [kisô bunka].20

This shift in emphasis from the really existing class of "ordinary people" to the "ordinary" or "enduring" culture which was supposedly transmitted by the class has been expressed most cogently by Takeda Chôshû, who argues from a division of Japanese culture into its "ordinary" (, tsune) and "extraordinary" (hijô) constituents. "Extraordinary" events were the subject of history, the discontinuities responsible for the "change" crucial to diachronic description. But the fact that such "extraordinary" elements could be apprehended by the historian was precisely because of an assumption of the preexistence of the , the ordinary substratum of everyday life which the historian largely ignored.21

As described by Carol Gluck, Japanese historians found the folklorists' concept of jômin insufficient, "in part because it was designed for the purposes of doing ethnography, not history, which means that it seeks 'the fixed stream' of tradition before the many moving ones of historical change."22

Based on the concept of a continuing, enduring substratum, Takeda reversed the conventional interpretation of the two characters making up the expression jômin, so that it referred not to "people who were common" (tsune no tami) but rather what was "common [or enduring] to the people" (tami no tsune); namely, from a referent for a kind of human being, it became a referent for a "kind of culture," the enduring, ordinarily observed cultural forms which typified the everyday lives of common people.23

When "folk religion" is interpreted from Takeda's perspective as what "ordinarily is", or "what endures," it no longer forms merely a Little Tradition against the Great Tradition of literate elites, but rather a kind of privileged "ground bass of spirituality," or ahistorical "deep religion" which endures in the face of all established "superstructural" religio-cultural institutions and dogmas.

It is, in fact, this breadth of definition, or search for an elusive constant in Japanese culture which makes it appear that some current uses of "folk religion" have stood the concept on its head. For ironically, while the concepts of the folk culture and Little Tradition of peasant societies were originally meant to apply specifically to rural "folk" (i.e., peasant) societies, in distinction to those of the urban Great Tradition, the Japanese concept of minzoku has broadened the range of referents to where "folk" should, in fact, be read volk, in the sense of the ethnic nation--without regard to issues of socio-economic class or geographical context. Perhaps this fact lies behind Joseph Kyburz's assessment that, when applied to Japan,

neither the noun "folk religion" nor the Japanese translation as minzoku shûkyô is really appropriate. In the strict sense, one could speak better of the homophone minzoku shûkyô [ethnic religion], but actually, the term "Nihon Shûkyô" [Japan Religion] might be most apt.24

As a consequence, the contents of concepts like "folk," and thus "folk belief," have expanded to portmanteau dimensions; black holes pulling in the detritus of religious categories. And needless to say, such expansiveness is not limited to Japan. Miyata Noboru, for example, has spoken of the influence of American folklore studies on the development of Japanese "urban folklore," specifically quoting from Alan Dundes' article "Who are the Folk?" as one encouraging motive for the Japanese discovery of folklore in the modern city.25

But while broadening the field of both folklore studies and folk religion to include everything from the initiation of blind shamanesses to the "observance" of Valentine's Day by college students indeed makes it possible to justify the diversity of articles found in this volume, it may also have the unwanted effect of tending to efface at least one possible object of study. When "the only thing that links together the festival of the village kami, the Koyasu Jizô for easy childbirth, and the worship of Batô Kannon for the repose of horses' souls is the fact that they all belong to the category of minkan shinkô,"26 and when the "folk" is taken to refer to "any group of people holding at least one thing in common," from baseball players to miners,27 we may find that we have unwittingly eliminated the need for the category of "folk" itself, as well as disguised what might be particularly "modern" about "modern folk beliefs."

2. Folk Beliefs: New and Old

While adopting a broader, deeper definitional bag may allow one to carry a wider variety of materials, it provides no help in discriminating between the materials one has gathered. Since the category of folk religion first became widely used as part of a conceptual division of illiterate-peasant and literate-urban societies, it is apt to ask what might have happened to that folk religion in the process of modernization and urbanization. In short, if we wish to continue to use "folk religion" and "folk beliefs" to refer to modern phenomena, we should probably keep in mind the minimum possibility that distinct changes have occurred to those phenomena. What, then, are the common features, and differences between pre-modern (rural) and modern (urban) Japanese folk beliefs?

First, the residents of premodern folk (peasant) society were rural agriculturists, and thus bound tightly to the natural calendar of production. Based on the Chinese sexegenary cycle, the twelve months of the calendar year were divided into seasons by nodes (sekku)--"time out of time" during which villagers were permitted "non-everyday" (hare[Glossary: hare_--_ke]) activities and behavior not ordinarily allowed during "everyday" (ke) time.28 For example, together with the festival to the village tutelary deity, the seasonal festivals[Glossary: reisai] were virtually the only occasions during the year when alcoholic rice wine could be drunk.

As a result, pre- and early modern folk religion was intimately related to the natural calendar, and village religious activity, with few exceptions, was linked to the annual calendar of events (nenchû gyôji[Glossary: nenchu_gyoji]). And in natural reflection of that fact, any folkloristic study of village matsuri[Glossary: matsuri] must of necessity be focused to a substantial degree on the village calendar, since it was only within that system of time that such festivals were observed.

For example, in his essay within this volume,A Ishii Kenji asks in what way can we call "religious" such "diverse behavior as young couples' visits to shrines and temples at New Year's, young women's crowding department stores in the search for chocolates on Valentine's Day, and the activity of young people who form early morning queues before the doors of department stores to purchase Tiffany necklaces as Christmas presents?" The response to that question must include the assertion that whatever religiosity is there must be directly related to the religious significance of "annual events" within the Japanese folk-religious calendar. But the difference which has occurred with modernization is not merely the disappearance of old "agricultural" festivals and simultaneous introduction of new "imported" festivals, but the fact that the relationship to time itself has undergone a revolution.

As persuasively argued by Ashida Tetsurô in his essay here,B modern means of production have freed industrial society from the necessity of adhering to a natural calendar with its divisions of "everyday" and "non-everyday" times. On the contrary, the exigencies of modern industry make it imperative that the passage of time be ordered within a constant, unchanging flow, eliminating so far as possible the disturbing seasonal irregularities and interruptions common to folk culture. As a result, while urban festivals are still observed, strong attempts are made to isolate their effects; authorities subject them to strict oversight and interdictions meant to minimize their disruptive impact on the ordering of both everyday morality and everyday time, which continue normally in the background.

In a manner of speaking, one might say that society and the calendar have followed inverse trajectories in regard to the division of labor. If the social division of labor signified the "specialization" of knowledge and occupations among members of society, it simultaneously signified the "generalization" of time and the calendar. Previously, time itself was subject to a kind of division of labor, within which the year was divided into segments separated by specialized "non-everyday" periods of sacred respite and recreation. In modern industrial society, however, time is not permitted such slowdowns or "time off" from its unswerving course; and since modern society finds distasteful the idea of its temporal and moral order being invaded by bacchanalian orgy at set calendrical "nodes," it instead provides easy, everyday access to formerly "non-everyday" entertainments and activities.

Second, folk beliefs in the pre-modern context referred to a body of belief and practice forming part of a community's "local knowledge," an often implicit level of understanding which generally preceded membership in voluntaristic groups or the personal acceptance of specific faiths and religious points of view. As a result, they tended to occupy a region close to, and occasionally overlapping, the core cosmology and common sense of the group, rather than the domain occupied by a consciously accepted "creed."

This fact does not mean that folk beliefs did not change, nor that everyone within the society held all such beliefs in equal measure. Folk beliefs are constantly adapted, added to, and revised, but such evolution occurs less within a specific process of religious indoctrination than as part of the more nebulous process of ordinary consensus-formation, which occurs via the medium of everyday social interaction.

In contrast, the diversity found in modern urban societies makes it unlikely that an entire society will share a sufficient proportion of the same implicit assumptions to allow the earlier form of folk religion its ground.29 In turn, modern folk beliefs are subjected to a greater degree of scrutiny and selection, one which reflects the "market" principle confronting urban residents not only in their choice of personal religious beliefs, but based on that selection, their choice of social identity as well. For once such beliefs are accepted, they play the role of denoting a degree of belonging or communality among individuals, much in the same way as agreement on the popularity of television "personalities," tastes in musical genres, sports activities, pulp literature or hobbies may act--in the West as well as Japan--as a social glue linking otherwise non-related members of the society.

Next, pre-modern jômin culture was orally transmitted. The jômin considered as the bearers of folk-religious tradition were defined as the middle levels of "full (land-owning) farmers," a class assumed to be illiterate; it was that dependence on the oral transmission of culture which shaped them as a category probably more than any other element. Orality meant not only a lack of access to written documents and the educated (elite) opinions found there; more importantly, it largely shaped folk attitudes toward the tradition itself, and toward the way in which the lore of the folk was to be transmitted. The high level of "traditionalism" was due in part to the primitive nature of the medium; oral transmission required the devotion of large amounts of time to memorization and face-to-face story-telling and instruction in order to assure that it would be passed on successfully.

In contrast, virtually all of the "folk" spoken of today under the rubric "urban folklore" are at least literate. In fact, with the high levels of education now common, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw any meaningful line between ostensible "folk" and "elite" classes.

In turn, few forms of Japanese folk religion remain strictly dependent on oral transmission; even the forms of village festivals can be easily preserved in writing and on video tape, while most other folk-religious elements are available through the masses of popular books filling the "spirit world" (seishin sekai) and "new age" (nyuu eeji) sections commonly found in Japanese bookstores. And these do not even begin to take into account the large number of traditional astrological almanacs--veritable "bibles" of folk religion--sold at shrines and temples during the New Year's season,30 together with a deluge of popular television programming on the "occult." The speed and emphemeral nature of modern computer communications today may prove merely one more nail in the coffin of such traditional forms of folk-cultural transmission.

Outside of such specific differences, a number of broader changes should be noted in Japanese society since the early modern period, changes which have impacted the form Japanese folk religion has taken. First, we should remember that the changes associated with urbanization began in earnest with the early modern development of Edo and other large cities, together with the emergence of classes of "townspeople" (chômin) and their culture. Those modernizing changes extended their influence to the folk culture of the village as well, introducing increasing social differentiation and opportunities for "enfranchisement" in the local socio-religious order, with a growing degree of voluntary participation in a wide range of alternative religious activities depending on individual interest, rather than communal obligation.31

Overall, however, such increasing individuation of religious participation was more typical of urban life, and was reflected in typically different directions taken by "folk religion" there. For example, in a description of what might be called "urban time" in Edo, Miyata Noboru states that in contrast to the village, where the determination of astrologically "taboo" days was a community issue, in the city, it was a matter left strictly up to the individual.32 In the village, the purpose of folk-religious rites observed at the tutelary shrine was likewise for the protection and welfare of the community as a whole, rather than for individuals, yet in the city, this order was also reversed, with far more temples dedicated to individual entreaties rather than community benefits.

In fact, the growing number of temples devoted to individual magical intercessions (kaji kitô[Glossary: kito]) during the early Edo period is a good indicator of the expanding region of religious alternatives which was opening to individual choice in the city. Tamamuro Fujio has documented the growth of temples built during the first century of Edo's existence, noting that after 1643 most new temples built were "intercession temples" (kitôji) dedicated to providing faith healing rituals for individuals, rather than the typical funerary temple of a fixed parish as found in settled communities. Without a base of captive parishioners, kitôji attracted unattached urban clients by the modern device of merchandising their religious wares, differentiating their magical functions and competences.33

For example, the Edo shinbutsu gankake chôhôki ("A treasury of invocations to deities and buddhas in Edo") published in 1814 is one of several popular guidebooks to Edo's thaumaturgic attractions, and lists at least thirty-one separate shrines, temples and other objects of worship, together with their respective magical "specialities": Takao Inari[Glossary: inari] for head pains; Osan no Kata for toothache and "mouth" problems; Kiri Daimyôjin for smallpox; Ishi no Baba for infants' 100-day cough; Myôtôishi for good marital relations; Kitami-mura Iuemon for protection against snakes; the balustrades on Nihonbashi bridge for 100-day cough; the pool beneath a waterfall at Meguro for protection of the shaven part of infants' heads; Kumagaya Inari amulets for protection against burglars. . . and so forth.34

Miyata has explained the high degree of functional differentiation among such objects of worship as a reflection of increasing social differentiation: whereas the unified communal rites of intercession found in the village were ordinarily limited in scope to group concerns such as prayers for rain and exorcisms of plague spirits or insect pests (ekibyô okuri and mushi okuri), the desires expressed by folk religion in the city were as diverse as the individuals making up the urban social environment in which they occurred.

But the high level of functional differentiation of religious objects was likely a result of more than mere increasing social differentiation. The currency economy newly introduced in Edo placed very real pressures of an economic nature on shrines and temples, forcing them to react more sensitively to their clients' needs and desires. It was that same economic incentive that drove urban temples and shrines throughout the country to compete in kaichô, ostentatious summer exhibitions of ordinarily "hidden" religious statues and relics, and during which time temples and shrines vied for offerings. This "marketing" of traditional culture was described vividly by the writer of Edo hanjôki around 1832, as he described a kaichô in the following words:

No matter how sublime the kami or buddha, without the offerings of Edo, even Amida's light is dimmed, and the spirit will not descend. As a result, the deities and buddhas vie with each other to come immense distances from all directions to gather at Edo. It's a toss up whether the deities and buddhas bring fortune to people, or whether people bring fortune to the deities and buddhas. . . Sweat falls like rain as people fill the roads en masse, much like ants gathering at a pile of rice bran. At the place where the image arrives, a temporary enclosure is built, a curtain (zushi) is hung, and amid solemn, reverent, magnificent adornment, miracles are sold.35

In this sense, the merchandising of traditional culture (religion) like that described in Ashida's article is by no means a trait unique to modern folk religion, although it may represent its greatest challenge. The exploitation of folk religion and other elements of traditional culture in "village revitalization" programs as described by Ashida is now an everyday reality, and the smallest of villages frequently have organized "festival preservation associations" in the hopes of attracting outside tourists to their "picturesque" shrine festival, thereby staving off for a day the tidal wave of rural depopulation which has rolled over Japan since the era of high economic growth in the 1960s.

Admittedly, the objective of preserving local folk culture may be a worthy goal. But in fact, the very self-consciousness of "tradition" represented by the concept of a festival preservation association seems somewhat an aberration in the context of a genuine folk culture. Certainly, from one perspective, it cannot help appearing as little more than a product of modern ideologues' claims about the "value of tradition" coupled to the economic motive of marketing folk religion--as a commodity--to people from outside the community.

Whether, and in what form, Japanese "folk religion" will survive modern marketing techniques remains an open question. The answer depends in part, as I have tried to hint in the above, on the sleight of hand involved in our definition of the phenomenon. For the rest, we must await the evolution of the Japanese community and its religious needs.


1 Richard Dorson, writing in Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition, s.v. "folklore."

2 Robert Redfield, Peasant Society and Culture, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), 91.

3 See Sonoda Minoru, "The Religious Situation in Japan in Relation to Shinto," Acta Asiatica 51 (February, 1987), 12-13.

4 "Kisô to shite no minkan shinkô" [The deep layer of folk religion], in Sakurai Tokutarô, ed., Nihon minzokugaku kôza 3: Shinkô denshô (Tokyo: Asakura Shobô, 1976).

5 "Folk Religion," in Hori Ichirô, et al., eds., Japanese Religion: A Survey by the Agency for Cultural Affairs (Tokyo: Kodansha International, [1972] 1981), 121.

6 Sakurai Tokutarô, "Kadai" [Introduction], in Sakurai Tokutarô, ed., Nihon minzokugaku kôza 3: Shinkô denshô, (Tokyo: Asakura Shoten, 1976), 1-4.

7 In the Introduction to his paper in this volume, Ikegami Yoshimasa suggests some of the definitional problems relating to Japanese terms like minkan shinkô.

8 Yanagita's lengthiest remarks on this concept are probably found in his Shinkokugaku-dan [Talks on new nativism], vol. 1 (Tokyo: Oyama Shoten, 1946), 173-176, although he used the expression shinkokugaku[Glossary: shinkokugaku] in another context as early as 1929. See his "Sugie Masumi," Teihon Yanagita Kunio-shû vol. 3 (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobô, 1963), 367.

9 Carol Gluck, Japan's Modern Myths: Ideology in the Late Meiji Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 181.

10 From Nakai Chikuzan's Sôbô kigen, quoted in Ôhama Tetsuya, "'Inshi jakyô' to 'ruiji shûkyô,' ["Deviant beliefs and quasi-religions"], Rekishi kôron No. 44 (July, 1979), 82.

11 Carol Gluck, Japan's Modern Myths, 178-186.

12 Masaharu Anesaki, History of Japanese Religion (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle, [1930] 1963), 310.

13 Yanagita Kunio, General Editor, (Minzokugaku Kenkyûsho, ed.,), Minzokugaku jiten [Dictionary of folklore studies] (Tokyo: Tokyodô, 1951), s.v., jômin.

14 Ueno Kazuo, et al., eds, Minzoku kenkyû handobukku (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kôbunkan, 1978), 11.

15 Miyata Noboru, "Jômin to jôminsei," Minzokugaku (Tokyo: Hôsô Daigaku Kyôiku Shinkôkai, 1990), 32.

Miyata goes on to note that although Yanagita began using the expression jômin as early as last years of Meiji, he used heimin at least as often in the Taishô period, with the two terms approaching roughly equal frequency in the early Shôwa period. It was only in the tenth year of Shôwa (1935) that Yanagita suddenly shifted to focused use of jômin, a process which, Miyata states, reflects Yanagita's own uncertainty regarding the term's meaning until that time. The turning point came with Yanagita's publication of three major methodological works around 1935, including Minkan denshôron, Kyôdo seikatsu no kenkyûhô, and Kokushi to minzokugaku. See Miyata, 37.

16 Miyata Noboru, "Jômin to jôminsei," 32-33.

17 See Fujii Masao, "Kisô to shite no minkan shinkô" [Folk religion as deep religiosity], in Sakurai Tokutarô, ed., Nihon minzokugaku kôza 3: Shinkô denshô, 7.

The rendering "common man" is Carol Gluck's. See her "The People in History: Recent Trends in Japanese Historiography," Journal of Asian Studies 38:1 (November, 1978), 32.

The Japanese folklorists borrowed the concept of "basic" (or "deep) culture from the German folklorist Hans Naumann's Kultur der Mutterschichten, one of the streams of thought said later to be employed by the Nazis in their construction of a German racial myth.

18 Sakurai Tokutarô, "Kadai" 2.

19 Miyata, "Jômin to jôminsei," 37-38.

20 Takakuwa Morifumi, "Kenkyû hôhôron" [Methodology], Minzoku kenkyû handobukku, 8-9.

21 Miyata, "Jômin to jôminsei," 38-9. Also, Minzoku kenkyû handobukku, 11-12.

22 Carol Gluck, "The People in History: Recent Trends in Japanese Historiography," 32.

23 Carol Gluck, "The People in History: Recent Trends in Japanese Historiography," 32.

24 Joseph Kyburz, "Shûkyô taiken to sono kijutsu ni okeru sôtaisei," [Relativity in the experience and description of religion], in Wakimoto Tsuneya and Yanagawa Keiichi, eds., Gendai shûkyôgaku 1: Shûkyô taiken e no sekkin [Modern religious studies: approaching religious experience]. Tokyo: Tôkyô Daigaku Shûppankai, 1992, 154.

Kyburz' comments are reminiscent of the concept of Nihonkyô, a rough translation of which might be "the religion of being Japanese," an expression which attempts to voice the pre-religious dimension of Japanese socialization and ethnic identity. See Yamamoto Shichihei and Ôhama Tetsuya, "Nihonjin no shûkyô ishiki to shinkô shûkyô," Rekishi kôron 44 (July 1979), 58-73.

25 See Miyata Noboru, "Toshi minzoku o kangaeru," in Gendai minzokuron no kadai (Tokyo: Miraisha, 1986), 35-6.

26 Joseph Kyburz, "Shûkyô taiken to sono kijutsu ni okeru sôtaisei," 156.

27 Quoted in Miyata, "Toshi minzoku o kangaeru," 36.

28 Norman Havens, "Translator's Postscript: Matsuri in Japanese Religious Life," Inoue Nobutaka, General Editor, Matsuri: Festival and Rite in Japanese Life. Contemporary Papers in Japanese Religion No. 1 (Tokyo: Kokugakuin University, Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics, 1988), 147-155.

29 Robert Redfield comments,

Folk cultures are borne by small, closely-integrated social units or by aggregates of such units which have already worked out satisfactory mutual adjustments. . .In modern civilization, on the other hand, the small, closely integrated social units are being broken down, giving place to masses of individuals who are much more loosely interrelated than the members of the former local groups and classes. . . . In modern civilizations, therefore, the core of culture is being progressively reduced. Our own civilization, as it presents itself to the individual, is mainly an assortment of Alternatives between which he may or frequently must choose. We are rapidly approaching the point where there will no longer be enough items on which all members of the society agree to provide the culture with form and patterns.

See The Folk Culture of Yucatan, University of Chicago Press, 1941), 348-9.

30 The most popular of these are published by Jingûkan and not only include annual almanacs of lucky and unlucky days, and astrological forecasts for each day of the year, but go so far as to provide explanations of the principles of geomancy, physiognomic divination, and palm reading; sections on manners and customs for funerals and weddings; explanations of Chinese medicine; and tables of tides, lunar phases, and the times of sunrise and sunset throughout the year.

31 Miyata Noboru, Edo saijiki. Edo Sensho No. 5 (Tokyo: Yoshikawa Kôbunkan, 1981), 12-13.

32 This development is the theme of Winston B. Davis' "Toward Modernity: A Developmental Typology of Popular Religious Affiliations in Japan." Cornell University East Asia Papers, No. 12 (Ithaca: Cornell China-Japan Program, 1977).

33 Tamamuro Fumio, Edo bakufu no shûkyô tôsei [Control of religion under the Edo bakufu]. Nihonjin no Kôdô to Shisô No. 16 (Tokyo: Hyôronsha, 1980), 220ff.

34 See in Tamamuro Fumio and Miyata Noboru, Minkan shinkô no gensô [The vision of Japanese folk religion], Edo Shiriizu, no. 6 (Tokyo: Mainichi Shinbunsha, 1977), 129-132. Miyamoto Kesao has also discussed the Gankake chôhôki within a framework of "individual" and "community" intercessions. See "Gankake chôhôki," in Kodama Kôta, et al., eds., Edo jidai no minkan shinkô (Tokyo: Yûzankaku, 1980), 88-93.

The province of efficacy attributed to the innumerable Inari shrines in Edo could often be determined from their names. In a list of fifty-one such "named" shrines, Miyata notes that thirty-six had titles reflecting their characteristic as a god of fortune, seven were for aid in producing children to childless couples, two were for healing, and six for protection against fires. See Kinsei no hayarigami[Glossary: hayarigami] [Faddish deities of the Edo period] (Tokyo: Hyôronsha, 1972), 144-5;

35 Terakado Seiken, Edo Hanjôki, [The glory of Edo], Asakura Haruhiko and Andô Kikuji, eds., 3 vols., Tôyô Bunko, vols. 259, 276, 295 (Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1974), 2:147.

Editor's Postscript

A. See Ishii Kenji's article, "Annual Events and the Transformation of Japanese Religious Life".

B. See Ashida Tetsurô's article, "The Festival and Religion Boom: Irony of the 'Age of the Heart'."

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