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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Amaterasu

天照大神

Amaterasu


On a recent trip to the town of Kawagoe, about an hour by train out of Tokyo, I saw this poster in a rather unattractive little Shinto shrine called Kumano Shrine in the town’s Renjakucho area. Drawn by the odd-looking character depicted on it, with his stick-on looking beard, I did some research.

He is holding a fuda (the name for the oblong piece of card he is holding) with the words
Amaterasu-sume-ohkami-miya, a shrine name that indicates it is affiliated to the national shrine bearing that name, Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture.

Amaterasu is held by the Ise Jingu shrine to be the supreme god of the Shinto pantheon, the god of heaven, who created heaven and earth, while all the other gods are no more than her retainers.

Amaterasu, however, has not always been held to be the supreme deity. In a fierce dispute that happened within the Shinto ranks in 1880 and 1881, the followers of the Ise Shrine pitted themselves against the followers of the Izumo Shrine in Shimane. While the Ise faction insisted on the supremacy of Amaterasu over the separate worlds of the seen and unseen, the Izumo faction insisted equally vociferously on the unity of the seen and the unseen, and the supremacy of the god of the earth Ohkuninushi (as opposed to the god of heaven, Amaterasu) who should be regarded as supreme.

The dispute was so virulent and divisive that the Emperor Meiji was brought into the dispute to pronounce upon it, declaring in favor of the Ise faction.

The doctrine of the Ise faction has spread throughout Japan, and there is a Jinmei Shine (i.e. one where Amaterasu is worshiped) in every part of Japan.

Along the very bottom of the poster is the name of the body that produced the poster, the Iruma Branch of the Saitama Prefectural Department of Shrines. The Department of Shrines is a nationwide body administering Shinto shrines that, for all its (no doubt wishfully) official-sounding name, has nothing officially to do with the government.

Finally, I never found out who the bearded gentleman was - maybe just a poster boy for Amaterasu.

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