Is Prime Minister Abe planning "a revival of Shinto as a state religion"?

by Nobuo Ikeda


It seems that a stereotypical news coverage of Japan is on the rise again as the Ise-Shima Summit approaches. The majority of such coverage is criticism of “Abe's ultra right wing regime” thanks to their flawed association of ideas that the Ise shrine equals a state religion of Shinto which equals nationalism. I assume that the above column was written by an editor for Asian affairs based in London. Because he is typically relying on a secondary source of information, such as Japan Times, a number of basic errors are cited in the column.

Firstly, Shinto is not a religion as he understands it. There are neither doctrines nor a founder. When it began is also unknown. The name, 'Shinto' was given to the collective ancient faiths of various folks from different regions in Japan by Atsutane Hirata, et al in the Edo era. It is believed that the Ise shrine was founded in the 9th century, and the “state religion of Shinto” did not exist at the time. Therefore, the Ise shrine is irrelevant to nationalism.

Amaterasu Ohmikami is the deity enshrined at the Ise shrine. She is not the God as in Christianity. There are hundreds of gods in Japan and she is just one of them. There are other shrines that enshrine the same god in Japan and the Ise shrine wasn't the special one originally. The first emperor to visit the Ise shrine was Emperor Meiji.

Since the Meiji era, the Ise shrine had been used for deifying the emperors. It, however, is a completely different case from the Yasukuni (shrine), which was founded at the end of the Edo era to comfort the spirits of the war dead. Therefore, the following conclusion as in the column is a total nonsense:

“The problem for America in dealing with Mr. Abe […] includes a revisionist view of history, in which Japan's only important mistake in the second world war was to lose it; a rejection of the American-imposed constitution and its renunciation of war; and perhaps a revival of Shinto as a state religion.”


It is troublesome that a highly esteemed publication, such as the Economist, is printing such an unsubstantiated argument that Prime Minister Abe is planning “a revival of Shinto as a state religion” and that it is read by world leaders. The Japanese government must unravel such a misunderstanding and make diversity of Japanese culture known to the world in this opportunity of the summit.

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