Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shamanism in Japan

By HORI Ichirii

ORIGIPU' AND DISTINCTIVE FEATURES OF JAPANESE SHAMANISM

What are the distinguishing characteristics of shamanism in Japan, and what formative influences has it exercised during the course of its history on the spiritual structure of contemporary Japanese people? This is the general problem to be explored in this paper. The perspective adopted is that of the history of religions.
Shamanism is by no means a phenomenon peculiar to primitive societies. Among the founders of new religious movements in Japan are several with shamanistic characteristics. Even in the higher religions with their metaphysical and theological embellishments, "enlightenment" or "conversion" at bottom appear, despite the erudition of their philosophical elaborations, to possess a structure remarkably similar to that of shamanism.
In 19 1 3 Y anagita Kunio 80 81 a g, under the pen name Kawamum Haruki !I I$jzEj, published a series of twelve articles entitled "Fujo k6" [Monograph on shamanesses]' in the first\~olunleo f the journal KyGdo kenkyn $&j-af$ [Village studies], of which he was editor. This was, I believe, the first time the scalpel of religious folklore studies had been applied to shamanism in Japan.
In this monograph Yanagita divides Japanese shamanesses into two types. "In the district west of Kobe once known as Harima, shamanesses or miko fall into two classes. One is comprised of women attached to large shrines who perform sacred dances at festival times, making use of boiling water believed to possess purifying power. The other is constituted by women called 'drumming shamanesses' (tataki miko) or 'mediums' (kitchiyose).
Where they live is not usually known. A shamaness simply walks into a village from some place ten or twenty miles away, holds seances for those who come to her, and moves on."2 According to Yanagita's classification, there are in effect "shrine shamanesses" (jinja miko) and "spiritualist shamanesses" (kurhiyose miko). He hypothesizes, however, that both derive from a single source which he thought could be identified as the mikogami or "child of the kami." Particularly in the two sections entitled "Kami no kuchiyose o gy6 to suru mono" +$o A ~ ~ ~ 2- $$-6&$j ~[Pe ople who make a profession of communicating with the kami] and "Takusen to matsuri" 33 2 e [Oracles and festivals], Yanagita suggests that the word miko comes from mikogami.
In tracing the changes the root word has undcrgone, he pays considerable attention to the shamaness as a "mcdiator" between the world of men and the world of gods and spirits-a Japanese folk tradition of great antiquity. Making rrfel.ence to corruptions such as Ebiszt oroshi ("calling down Ebisu"), inari sage ("calling down the fox god"), and tsukimono (a spirit that attaches itself to a person, family, or lineage), phenomena that came into being when shamanistic elements entered into folk religion, Yanagita proposes that the term miko gradually
took on degenerate forms. He suggests that the way to reconstruct it is to recognize that while the shamanesses of the earliest period had a recognized position in the clans, their position became weak during the medieval period, at \\,hich time they drifted to the provinces and there reestablished thcmsr!\m. Such was the conclusion Yanagita had reached at the time of writing his monograph on Japanese shamanesses.
In 1940 Yanagita published the stiidy Im6to no chilinm tjtj;-a!J [The power of the younger si~ter].~11 1 this study lie called attention to the fact that since the earliest times, Japanese women have on occasion been possessors of spiritual power. Thc cluc of particular importance to him in this connection was the Okinawan belicf in the kami Onari. 'l'he word onari signifies n man's sisters, both older and younger, and Onari faith has made thcse sisters divine. In Okinawa when a man is about to set out for ,Japan proper or embark on a long trip, for example, he will receive G-om his younger or older sister one of her hnndkercliiefs or combs and keep it on his person wherever he goes. Thc object so employed thus becomes a kind of a.mulet with the function of a guardian spirit.

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