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A Fresh Look at State Shinto

Wilbur M. Fridell
Journal of the American Academy of Religion
Vol. 44, No. 3 (Sep., 1976), pp. 547-561
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1462824
Page Count: 15
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A Fresh Look at State Shinto
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Abstract

Because of its extreme political sensitivity, the Japanese phenomenon retrospectively called State Shinto was the object of very little critical study during the "State Shinto period" itself (1868-1945). This was especially true of Japanese scholars; and among foreigners, even Daniel Holtom's excellent work focused too narrowly on the nationalistic roles of Shinto shrines. Now that more objective postwar studies are appearing, it is possible to reappraise the place of State Shinto (a) within the Shinto world; and (b) beyond the Shinto world, in the larger context of Japanese nationalism. Within the Shinto world, this essay deals particularly with the relationship between State and Shrine Shinto because of the distressing tendency of Western scholars to confuse, or virtually equate, these two types of Shinto during the pre-1945 decades. Granted, there were large areas of overlap between them, but also significant areas of divergence. Moving beyond the Shinto world as such, State Shinto is placed within the broader context of Japanese nationalism as a whole. While State Shinto did in fact serve as one major component of Japanese nationalism, it combined with extra-Shinto elements (e.g., Confucianistic ethics) under the larger umbrella of kokutai (national essence, characteristics). It is more comprehensively accurate, therefore, to speak of "kokutai nationalism" than of "Shinto nationalism." Until such fundamental relationships as these are clarified, research in prewar Shinto will inevitably suffer confusions and ambiguities. This article is a quest for orientation in these matters.

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