Bloody Shovel 3

We will drown and nobody shall save us


Doing some research on Japanese religion, induced by Jim's latest overstretch, I found a very neat building in Japan.



Here's a different angle:



This is the 神社本庁, the state bureau that manage the nation's Shinto shrines. Which is why it's called 本庁, central bureau.

Oh, but McArthur's reforms decreed that Japan was to have separation of state and religion. So the state can't manage the shrines anymore. No problem. We'll just get privatize the agency, not even changing its name, and keep the same people running it anyway. We'll just make it like the same bureaucrats from the same agency just happen to move there when they retire from the government.

Creative politics, and creative architecture that is. The building appears to be in Shibuya, one of the trendy parts of Tokyo, so that's probably why it's hard to get the right angle to take a picture. But you can tell that it's a very modern building with big windows and modern piping and whatnot; but they've had the good sense of making the roof look like a Shinto shrine. Which makes it a lovely building. I'm sure the bureaucrats enjoy going to work there every morning.

Here's Ise shrine for comparison:

Oh and I haven't finished my reading but I think it's fair to say that Shinto was a totally made up contraption, cooked up by nationalist scholars in the 18th century and made into a national religion by government decree a century later. It's a pretty interesting story and may shed some light on how to make a New Religion, and how it may work.


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  • I think the propertization of holiness is a key element of Shinto's success. It gives the holy an incentive to support order,, private property rights, and the established hierarchy. Open entry holiness in inherently revolutionary. If you have an order of monks, the holiest monk is likely to become abbot, and a very holy abbot is likely to cause problems. "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

    • Not even close. Shinto didn't succeed, it died unceremoniously to the trendy Buddhists in the 6th century.

      It was only in the Meiji era that Shinto was "revived" and made into the state religion. Which meant it was managed by the state. Priests were civil servants appointed by Tokyo, not property owners. It's after McArthur that the priesthood was made hereditary; the grounds aren't their personal property though. And it hasn't helped. Attendance to shrines has been dropping steadily.

      Buddhist monks were made hereditary by the Meiji government, and Buddhism has been in decline ever since. Do a quick Google on "hereditary monks" and all you get is people damning the fat monks who break their vows, take wives, drink alcohol, and still have the nerve to call themselves monks. Buddhism today is dead except as the usual choice for funerals; but that goes a long way.

      Actual buddhist monks had a fairly strenuous admittance process, and you couldn't eat meat, drink alcohol or have sex. Hardly open entry holiness. Still the ascetic monks did engage in holiness competition in the old days; they started new sects all the time. But that ended when the Samurai got tired of the whole thing.

      • Wasn't Buddhism used by the 6th century imperial court as a tool to consolidate control, much as Christianity was used for the same purpose in early Middle Age Europe?

        • There was no centralized church though. I do think they wanted to use it to break up the local clans, but it didn't work out very well, did it? People could always change temples; temples could change patrons, and there were new sects coming up all the time. It kinda looks like Europe would have looked like if the Protestants had appeared 1000 years earlier and the Catholic church had remained a local organization in Rome.

          • I believe there were several waves of Buddhist conversion, a new sect occupying the dominant, state-supported position each time, with the principal patron being the court (emperors or Fujiwaras as the case might be). The massive shrines like Todaiji are products of such periods. Then the impetus ran out and the wave was consumed by court infighting or whatever.

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