Shintō-uke: Religious control via Shintō shrines

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In the seventeenth century, a system of enforced membership to Buddhist temples, the so-called tera-uke system (lit. system of temple certification), emerged as a consequence of radical measures to wipe out Christianity in Japan. In some parts of the country, however, Buddhist temples were initially substituted by Shintō shrines. This system of religious control is known as shintō-uke (certification [of orthodoxy] by Shintō shrines). Shintō-uke was systematically employed in at least three important domains – Mito, Aizu, and Okayama – from about the mid-1660s to the early 1690s. In the wake of this system, institutional separations of temples and shrines were accompanied by anti-Buddhist violence. In many respects, shintō-uke foreshadowed events at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868). Eventually, however, the government forbade shintō-uke and accepted only certificates of orthodoxy by Buddhist temples.

The poorly understood phenomenon of shintō-uke is the focal topic in this project. On the basis of preparatory research on Okayama, three factors were identified as particularly important to explain this phenomenon:

  1. Neo-Confucian anti-Buddhist discourse,
  2. the institutional strength and wealth Buddhist temples gained by their administrative and ideological functions, and
  3. the conflict with “heretical” Buddhist groups (the Fujufuse-ha of Nichiren Buddhism, in the case of Okayama) and the growing political impact of the concept of heresy.

These factors receive particular attention not only in Okayama but also in Mito and – to some lesser degree – in Aizu and possibly some other domains. Taken together, the project aims at a new understanding how Shintō emerged as an independent tradition. While current scholarship often argues that modern Shintō, especially in its privileged relation to ruling authority, was solely the creation of the Meiji government, the project investigates local precedents going back more than two centuries earlier.


First results of the project will be presented at an international conference on “Control, repression, and tolerance in early modern Japanese religion” from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 2018, hosted by the IKGA.

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