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Deconstructing Divinity: Old Identities Obscured, New Identities Constructed 

Gaynor Sekimori

 

In April 1868 (Keiō 4.3.28) the Dajōkan, under pressure from nativist scholars who had power of influence in the new government, legislated to “clarify” the boundaries of kami worship. Shrines could no longer use Buddhist designations, such as “Gongen” or “Gozu Tennō” to refer to their deities. Furthermore, they could not be shown to have any relationship with Buddhism at all – if the shintai was a Buddhist statue it had to be changed, and if Buddhist statues were enshrined as the original form (honji) of the kami they had to be removed. This had an almost immediate impact on the visual culture of Japanese religion, and this impact can be seen particularly well in the printed images of deities (osugata, mie; “ofuda”) that were issued by shrines before and after the early years of the Meiji period.

In this paper I will discuss examples of Edo and Meiji period religious representation that illustrate the reconfiguration of deity that resulted from the legislation taken from a number of collections of “ofuda” that date from this period. I will look briefly at the type of changes imposed on shrines when Buddhist designations could no longer be used, highlighting how old identities were obscured (but sometimes suggested) and new identities constructed. My main focus will be on various sites around Dewa Sanzan, an area whose checkered history of opposition and compromise to the new order is well reflected in its popular iconographic material. 

 

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