Postwar Shinto
Contemporary Issues
Postwar Shinto


Yasukuni (Pacifying Our Country) shrine stands across the street from the imperial palace in the Kudan section of Tokyo. It was built in 1869 under the name “Shokonsha” (Shrine for Beckoning the Spirits), but in 1879 it was given its present name as it assumed its status as a central shrine with various branch shokonsha established throughout the country. These shokonsha, of which Yasukuni is the prototype (and in effect the holographic entry point for all of them), were built to enshrine the spirits of the Japanese who died for their emperor in either the Meiji Restoration civil war or in the ensuing foreign wars. ... Altogether there are some 2.5 million enshrined there (all individually named and almost always including their funerary ashes). (Shinto: The Way Home, 142-3)
Enshrinement at Yasukuni
To be enshrined at Yasukuni is to be kami. Hence all those who have “died for the emperor” during the foreign war years, almost 2.5 million souls (mitama), are now kami. In dying for the emperor, they have realized most fully their own tama nature; they have expressed their spiritual essence in its purest form. In so dying, they have holographically reflected the holistic tama of the emperor, the land of Japan, and its people. So when one is enshrined at Yasukuni, one’s individuated tama has merged into a collective tama protecting and energizing all Japan. (Shinto: The Way Home, 144)
The spirit (mitama or tamashii) of the deceased emperor leaves the body and ultimately rejoins the collective imperial tama. This pool of tama is probably most easily thought of as a living force directly linked to the kami, especially Amaterasu. At the coronation the tama is sent into the new emperor, energizing his own individual spirit. Technically it is through this tama transference that the emperor becomes kami. Some Japanese throughout history have understood a similar dynamic between themselves and their own ancestral tama. Although the theoretical understanding is probably not as clear as the doctrines behind the imperial succession, the general understanding is that upon death the individual spirit (at least in part) merges into the familys ancestral spirit and subsequently the accumulated ancestral spirit becomes a kind of tutelary power for the family. (Shinto: The Way Home, 143-4)
A Pilgrimage to Yasukuni
Oesterle: 299.561 Sp4f

Separation of Religion and State?
Court cases related to the Yasukuni Shrine (the controversial site dedicated to Japan’s military war dead) have been going on for some time now. Most recently they were provoked by Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi, who stirred public controversy by following through on his campaign promise to LDP members that he would visit the Yasukuni Shrine in his “official” capacity if elected, which he did a number of times between 2001 and 2006. There was considerable domestic opposition to Koizumi’s visits, and eight different court cases were launched against him across the nation. Over 900 plaintiffs claimed that his behavior violated the Constitutional separation of religion and state, causing them mental anguish, and demanded compensation. Although the district courts dismissed these lawsuits, the Osaka High Court judges ruled on September 30, 2005 that the Prime Minister’s visits did violate the constitution, but denied compensation for damages. This decision did not seem to discourage Koizumi, however, as he returned to Yasukuni the following month during the Fall Festival. Emboldened by the Prime Minister’s actions, 195 Diet members made a group visit to Yasukuni the following day (these politicians belong to a group within the Diet organized in 1981 to encourage regular visits and support of the Yasukuni Shrine). (Church and State in Japan)
Imperial Rescript ~ January 1, 1946
Emperor Hirohito Disavows His Divinity
… We stand by the people and We wish always to share with them in their moments of joys and sorrows. The ties between Us and Our people have always stood upon mutual trust and affection. They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine, and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world. ... (Religion in the Japanese Experience, 43-4)
Since 1945, various problems have arisen regarding the interpretation and implementation of this document [i.e. the Constitution of Japan, which abolishes State Shinto and mandates the separation of religion and state in Articles 20 and 89]. These issues have never been completely resolved, and continue to pose difficulties for Shinto today. Shinto authorities claim that the directive was a foreign intervention into the Japanese tradition, creating an artificial division of state and religion that had never existed in Japan. Controversy arises particularly around such concrete issues as the religious status of the emperor and whether his annual ritual ceremonies are only a private matter or (according to Shinto authorities) are actually state ceremonies; whether the funeral for an emperor and the enthronement of a new emperor are state ceremonies or religious rituals; whether the national shrine for war dead (Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo) is only a religious institution or (according to Shinto authorities) is also a national monument; whether rites at the Ise Shrine and the periodic rebuilding are only religious ceremonies or (according to Shrine authorities) also involve state concern. Within the present Japanese constitution, all of these issues are treated as private religious concerns, but state funds were used for the funeral of Emperor Hirohito (also known as the Showa emperor) in 1989 and the enthronement of his son as Emperor Akihito. (Religion in the Japanese Experience, 38-9)
Reflection Paper Icon
Choose one of the following two topics:
  1. What is the religious justification for the inclusion of war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine? Does this religious justification make the controversial visits of Japanese Prime Ministers less problematic? Why or why not?

  1. What is the current relationship between Shinto and the State? Has the constitutionally mandated Separation of Religion and State been realized or is Shinto still effectively the “state religion”?
Poll Everywhere: Shinto