The Expansion of Shintō in the Colonies: Between Religiosity in Exile, Religious Convictions, and Imperial Ideology

The Expansion of Shintō in the Colonies: Between Religiosity in Exile, Religious Convictions, and Imperial Ideology

By Édouard L’Hérisson

Keywords: shintō, Japanese empire, overseas shrines, colonialism, Manchuria

The perception of modern shintō, which is elaborated from 1868, is trapped in a contradictory tension. On the one hand, it is placed in the continuity of a tradition based on the worship of the kami, autochthonous divinities and spirits defined as such after the introduction of Buddhism in the VIth century, often associated to a particular place and worshipped in shrines. On the other, it is disqualified as a political tool taking the shape of an orthodoxy usually called state shintō (kokka shintō 国家神道). These two sides are clashing within shrines that are the place of official ceremonies and daily worship. This aspect is even more obvious in the case of the establishment of shintō in the colonies where it is associated on the one hand with the spreading of imperial ideology within local populations, and on the other hand with the building of the Japanese exiled communities’ identity. Again, shrines are the space where this double nature appears the most clearly. The present article will try to shed light on the nature of modern shintō through the lens of the shrines that have been built within the imperial space.

When the kami cross the sea

When Japanese people settle in the territories falling under the control of the empire from the end of the 19th century, the kami cross the sea, too. Shrines that enshrine divinities are thus linked to the building process of two modern Japanese margins: the national margins, and the imperial margins. The former spread to Hokkaidō, Okinawa and Ogasawara archipelago, whilst the latter spread to regions of variable status, especially Taiwan, the Korean peninsula, and Manchuria. So are defined the inner lands (naichi 内地), and the outer lands (gaichi 外地). The inside marks the boundary of the national domain, where the identity and unity of the modern Japanese people are created; the outside marks the boundary of imperial ambition, through which Japan seeks to reach the level of Western countries by taking part in the expansionist game.

The case of the Sapporō shrine, built in 1871 (renamed Hokkaidō shrine in 1964), is the most representative of the process of land integration into the national space (Figure 1). The authorities then choose to enshrine three divinities able to embody the effort of developing this new territory: Ōmononushi, Sukunahikona and Kunitama; the three kami of the settlers (kaitaku sanshin 開拓三神). Illustrating the will to make this shrine the pillar of the colonization process, it is named “great protector” (sō chinju 総鎮守) and is the first colonial shrine resulting from a religious invention of the modern authorities. It is indeed the archetype of shrines built later to appropriate the land through the kami. The shrines of Taiwan (1901), Karafuto (1911), Korea (1925) (Figure 2), Nan.yō (1940) and Kwantung (1944) will follow this example. These places are designed to become in the meantime the symbols of the expansion and the rallying point around an official cult for the emigrated communities. They can therefore be placed within the larger frame of the establishment of state shintō and show that there is a direct link between the national and imperial space building process.

figure 1: The Hokkaidō shrine today. Source: Wikimedia Commons, checked 16th April 2021.


figure 1: The Hokkaidō shrine today. Source: Wikimedia Commons, checked 16th April 2021.

figure 2: The central hall of the Korea shrine (Chōsen shrine). Source: Chōsen jingū hōsankai (ed.), Mitama no fue Chōsen jingū go-chinza jūshūnen kinen. 1937.

figure 2: The central hall of the Korea shrine (Chōsen shrine). Source: Chōsen jingū hōsankai (ed.), Mitama no fue Chōsen jingū go-chinza jūshūnen kinen. 1937

Shrines built within the imperial space far exceed, however, these few great protectors. Around two thousands of them were built (Figure 3). Historians generally class them into two categories: popular shrines, built by the migrants to strengthen the communitarian identity in the context of exile; state shrines, built by the authorities in order to disseminate imperial ideology. The former is thus focused on the inside, supporting a specific religiosity, whilst the latter is focused on the outside, serving as relay of power.

figure 3: Overseas shrines built in the territories under Japanese control between 1868 and 1945. © Edouard L’Hérisson


figure 3: Overseas shrines built in the territories under Japanese control between 1868 and 1945.
© Edouard L’Hérisson

The three dimensions of overseas shrines

Edward Saïd has shown how much exiled people, cut from their roots, are in quest for identity. They have to rebuild this identity abroad through narratives and symbols, but also through built structures supporting concretely such narratives and symbols. In such a context, places of worship are among the most efficient structures in the recreating of national identity. So, it is not surprising that, during the whole expansion process in Asia, one of the first initiatives of the settlers was to build a shrine to perform daily worship – whether it be popular events like shichi-go-san (visits for the children aged three, five and seven), or official events like the anniversaries of the emperor and the national foundation. This aspect also relates to Durkheim’s thesis on the role of religious ceremonies as times of collective turmoil. Overseas shrines festivals thus tend to recreate the atmosphere of the homeland, or even to concretely set a piece of Japan within the special space-time of the festival.

This dimension of shintō encompasses what can be called its popular side, dealing with a religiosity limited to the frontiers of the Japanese community. However, such a vision obliterates the real complexity of shintō shrines. They are undeniably the places of daily worship, still, they are also, and always, expressions of religious convictions on the one hand, embodiments of imperial power on the other. These two sides are moreover intertwined because the individuals encouraging such building projects are members of the elite, whether it be the religious elite – especially missionaries from the shintō sects Taishakyō (linked to the Izumo shrine) and Jingūkyō (linked to the Ise shrine) – or the colonial elite – especially army and navy officers taking part in colonial governments. Consequently, they always take part in the spreading of the way of the kami within the empire. Two examples from the dissemination of shintō in Manchuria will illustrate this argument.

The first one is the case of Dalian shrine (Liaodong peninsula). Founded in 1907, it is considered as a worship place built by and for the Japanese community (Figure 4). It has nonetheless been built under the supervision of Matsuyama Teizō (1878-1947), a missionary of Taishakyō, a sect recognized by the state in 1882. An influential leader in the South of Manchuria, Teizō’s religious convictions can be found in almost every shrine erection in this region. The second one is the case of the numerous shrines built within the farming colonies established in the North of Manchuria from the 1930s (Figure 5). Called “shrines of the settlers’ groups”, they illustrate the most clearly the popular side of worship sites supporting communities’ cohesion in the context of exile. Despite this reality, behind these shrines lies Kakei Katsuhiko (1872-1961), a constitutionalist who becomes one of the main ideologues of state shintō. Shrines thus can be separated neither from their imperial nature, nor from their religious nature.

figure 4: The first spring festival of the Dalian shrine in 1908. Source: Minami Manshū tetsudō kabushiki-gaisha, Manshū shashinchō, 1929.


figure 4: The first spring festival of the Dalian shrine in 1908. Source: Minami Manshū tetsudō kabushiki-gaisha, Manshū shashinchō, 1929.

figure 5: An overview of farming settlers in Manchuria. The Iyasaka shrine is visible on the top right of the illustration. Source: Minami Manshū tetsudō kabushiki-gaisha sōmubu shomuka (ed.), Manshū gaikan 2596 nenpan. 1936.


figure 5: An overview of farming settlers in Manchuria. The Iyasaka shrine is visible on the top right of the illustration.
Source: Minami Manshū tetsudō kabushiki-gaisha sōmubu shomuka (ed.), Manshū gaikan 2596 nenpan. 1936.

The adaptability of the shintō establishment policies

Acting as an underneath drive in the building of shrines, imperial ideology is explicitly associated with them when religious policies are enforced during the 1930s. This decade is marked by the Manchurian Incident (1931) and the opening of the Sino-Japanese war (1937), and also by the strengthening of colonial policies, especially regarding shrines. If the measures taken in Taiwan, the Korean peninsula and Manchuria appears similar – compulsory visits during state ceremonies, hierarchical organization of worship sites, new shrines constructions –, their aims are actually different. In Taiwan, the main targets are local minor temples and popular worship sites, which are destroyed and replaced by shintō shrines. The objective is thus to centralise Buddhism and to weaken the influence of popular religion. In Korea, the systematic enshrinement of Kunitama, literally the soul of the country, as a common ancestor is the main measure taken. Supporting the theories on the common origin of Japanese et Korean through this divinity appears to be the objective. In Manchuria, the emphasis is put on the enshrinement of imperial figures, Meiji and Jinmu. The goal is therefore to place Puyi, Manchukuo’s emperor, within a legitimate genealogy of Japanese power. Far from being a uniformed system, subjection policies are adapted to their target area and illustrate the diversity of the political uses of shrines.

Conclusion

Often separated in two types, popular sites and state sites, the former acquiring an imperial side only after the enforcement of assimilation policies during the 1930s, overseas shrines are characterized from the beginning by a complex nature, at the intersection of daily worship, shintō elites’ convictions, and expansionist ambitions. These three sides illustrate overseas shrines’ three dimensions. Moreover, they reflect the complex position of shintō within Japanese history, and even more during an imperial period characterized by its establishment as a state cult.
 

Edouard L’Hérisson holds a PhD in Japanese studies (Inalco) and is post-doctoral researcher at the French Research Institute on East Asia (IFRAE/UMR 8043). His research focuses on the propagation of shintō within Japanese empire and on the expansion of Japanese new religious movements abroad.

References

L’Hérisson Edouard, « Trajectoires shintō et construction de la Mandchourie japonaise : spatialisation religieuse, expansion de l’empire et structuration du shintō moderne », PhD thesis, Inalco, 2020 (https://tel.archives-ouvertes.fr/tel-03179790).

Nakajima Michio, “Shinto Deities that Crossed the Sea: Japan’s ‘Overseas Shrines’, 1868 to 1945”, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 37, n° 1, 2010, p. 21-46.

Suga Kōji, “A Concept of “Overseas Shinto Shrines” – A Pantheistic Attempt by Ogasawara Shōzō and Its Limitations”, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, vol. 37, n° 1, 2010, p. 47-74.

The Expansion of Shintō in the Colonies: Between Religiosity in Exile, Religious Convictions, and Imperial Ideology