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Weaving and Binding

Weaving and Binding: Immigrants Gods and Female Immortals in Ancient Japan

Michael Como
Copyright Date: 2009
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    Weaving and Binding
    Book Description:

    Among the most exciting developments in the study of Japanese religion over the past two decades has been the discovery of tens of thousands of ritual vessels, implements, and scapegoat dolls(hitogata)from the Nara (710-784) and early Heian (794-1185) periods. Because inscriptions on many of the items are clearly derived from Chinese rites of spirit pacification, it is now evident that previous scholarship has mischaracterized the role of Buddhism in early Japanese religion.Weaving and Bindingmakes a compelling argument that both the Japanese royal system and the Japanese Buddhist tradition owe much to continental rituals centered on the manipulation of yin and yang, animal sacrifice, and spirit quelling. Building on these recent archaeological discoveries, Michael Como charts an epochal transformation in the religious culture of the Japanese islands, tracing the transmission and development of fundamental paradigms of religious practice to immigrant lineages and deities from the Korean peninsula.

    In addition to archaeological materials, Como makes extensive use of a wide range of textual sources from across Asia, including court chronicles, poetry collections, gazetteers, temple records, and divinatory texts. As he investigates the influence of myths, legends, and rites of the ancient Chinese festival calendar on religious practice across the Japanese islands, Como shows how the ability of immigrant lineages to propitiate hostile deities led to the creation of elaborate networks of temple-shrine complexes that shaped later sectarian Shinto as well as popular understandings of the relationship between the buddhas and the gods of Japan. For much of the book, this process is examined through rites and legends from the Chinese calendar that were related to weaving, sericulture, and medicine-technologies that to a large degree were controlled by lineages with roots in the Korean peninsula and that claimed female deities and weaving maidens as founding ancestors. Como's examination of a series of ancient Japanese legends of female immortals, weaving maidens, and shamanesses reveals that female deities played a key role in the moving of technologies and ritual practices from peripheral regions in Kyushu and elsewhere into central Japan and the heart of the imperial cult. As a result, some of the most important building blocks of the purportedly native Shinto tradition were to a remarkable degree shaped by the ancestral cults of immigrant lineages and popular Korean and Chinese religious practices.

    This is a provocative and innovative work that upsets the standard interpretation of early historical religion in Japan, revealing a complex picture of continental cultic practice both at court and in the countryside.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3752-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    AMONG THE MOST exciting developments in the study of Japanese religion over the past two decades has been the discovery of tens of thousands of ritual vessels, implements, and scapegoat dolls (hitogata) from the Nara (710–784) and early Heian (794–1185) periods. Because inscriptions on many of these items are clearly derived from Chinese rites of spirit pacification, it is now evident that both the Japanese royal system and the Japanese Buddhist tradition developed against a background of continental rituals centered upon the manipulation ofyinandyang, animal sacrifice, and spirit-quieting. Thus in spite of the longstanding tendency...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Immigrant Gods on the Road to Jindō
    (pp. 1-24)

    ALTHOUGH FEW SCHOLARS of Japanese religion today would accept Meiji-period claims about the centrality of the royal cult for the spiritual life of the Japanese people, one of the most enduring legacies of prewar Japanese ideology has been the association of the Japanese royal house with Japanese nationalism. In this ideological configurationtennōandkamiwere represented as cornerstones of a purportedly continuous native Japanese cultural and religious identity with roots in pre-Buddhist antiquity. Perhaps because the Japanese university system and the academic study of religion began to take shape at just this time, to a large degree these ideological...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Karakami and Animal Sacrifice
    (pp. 25-54)

    BY THE EARLY Heian period several of the shrines and deities associated with the Hata and other immigrant kinship groups had already been adopted as primary figures of worship by the court—so many, in fact, that immigrant deities (karakami) constituted a major element within the court’s cultic agenda. As a result, the cultic centers of immigrant lineages such as the Hata also came to play a major role in shaping the development of court ritual and what would later be thought of as the “Shinto” tradition.

    The influence of immigrant lineages and deities, however, was not limited to the...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Female Rulers and Female Immortals
    (pp. 55-83)

    BY THE START of the Nara period continental-style rites and deities were an established part of the cultic life of the Japanese islands. One by-product of the establishment of thetennō-centered polity that emerged following Tenmu’s victory in the Jinshin war of 672 was substantial ferment in the worship ofkami. As cults and deities from as far as distant Kyūshū entered the Yamato plain,karakamiand ritual practices with roots in continental understandings of spirits andyinandyangproliferated both at court and across the countryside.

    The diffusion of continental conceptions of spirit was not limited to the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Queen Mother of the West and the Ghosts of the Buddhist Tradition
    (pp. 84-108)

    ONE AFTERNOON EARLY in the seventh month of 587, so the story goes, the political and cultic landscape of the Japanese islands was profoundly transformed as an army of pro-Buddhist princes and lineages led by the Soga kinship group overcame the forces of their powerful Mononobe opponents and established a new, pro-Buddhist regime within the Japanese islands. The birth of the new order, however, was also apparently drenched in blood, as the victors hunted down the members of the main Mononobe line and confiscated the lands of their allies. After installing a new ruler, Suiko, upon the throne, the Soga...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Shamanesses, Lavatories, and the Magic of Silk
    (pp. 109-135)

    IN THE STORY ofRumpelstiltskin, every western child knows that the mysterious forest dweller’s ability to spin straw into gold helped a young maiden become queen of a kingdom. The basic elements of this legend would probably have been intelligible to people across Asia by the sixth century C.E. Indeed, triangles of kings, weavers, and spirits have been ubiquitous elements in East Asian myths and legends since at least the second century C.E. These legends were not rooted, however, in the fanciful premise that straw could be turned into gold. Rather, they focused on something at once more real and...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Silkworms and Consorts
    (pp. 136-154)

    IN 608 A delegation from the court of the Chinese ruler Sui Yang-ti arrived on the shores of the Japanese islands with the goal of establishing amicable relations with Yamato in advance of a planned invasion of the Sui’s nemesis, the Korean kingdom of Koguryŏ. Although geopolitical concerns almost certainly were foremost in the minds of the Sui envoys, the cultural and cultic effects of their arrival reverberated across the Japanese islands long after the Sui dynasty itself had ceased to exist. Because diplomatic contact with the Sui required participation in diplomatic protocols that were deeply rooted in Chinese conceptions...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Silkworm Cults in the Heavenly Grotto: Amaterasu and the Children of Ama no Hoakari
    (pp. 155-192)

    IN THE DECADES following the Suiko court’s decision to actively promulgate continentally inspired court ritual and the Chinese festival calendar, successive rulers worked at expanding an extensive program of bureaucratic and ritual innovations that were in large part rooted in continental conceptions of divination, spirit pacification, and sage kingship. By the reign of Tenmutennō, one important element was the development of ancestral rites and legends for the freshly mintedtennōat the apex of the newly constituted organs of government. Accompanying this shift was an increased focus within the royal cult on the Ise shrine and the figure of...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 193-196)

    IN THIS BOOK we have examined several key moments in the formation of the Japanese Buddhist tradition, the Japanese royal cult, and popular worship ofkamiin the Japanese islands. We have seen that from at least the time of the Yamato ruler Wakateru down to the Heian period, both the royal cult and popular cultic life were characterized by tremendous ferment, as changes in the technological and material culture of the Japanese islands helped spur dramatic changes in political and cultic orientation both at the Yamato court and in the countryside. As continental cults and deities were inscribed into...

  13. Glossary of Names and Terms
    (pp. 197-222)
  14. Appendix: Notes on Sources
    (pp. 223-236)
  15. Notes and Abbreviations
    (pp. 237-278)
  16. Works Cited
    (pp. 279-294)
  17. Index
    (pp. 295-306)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-307)