Accepted paper:

Re-enacting antiquity and reviving religious passion. Orikuchi Shinobu's vision of kodai in 20th-century Japan


Chiara Ghidini (L'Orientale, Naples)

Paper short abstract:

Orikuchi Shinobu focused on kodai in his academic and fictional works,aiming to revive in 20th-century Japan ritualised everyday life and belief in kotodama (spiritual efficacy of words).This paper deals with his notions of kodai and kotodama, assessing their legacy on a variety of research fields.

Paper long abstract:

Orikuchi Shinobu (1887-1953) is well known within Japanese and international academia above all as one of the first minzoku (Japanese folklore) scholars, but also as poet and writer of fiction. In some respects, he could be considered an historian of religions, in spite of his peculiar understanding of the notion of history. In particular, Orikuchi believes the foundation of Japan's history to be poetry and prose transmitted through the oral narration of kataribe (storytellers). In this sense, he tends towards the identification of "history" with "story", one that is ordinarily extraordinary, since katari (narration, recitation) is understood as the performance of a ritual linguistic act occurring within ritual, or ritualised, time. A passionate scholar of Japan's antiquity, Orikuchi devotes most of his attention to the Man'yō period, emphasising how (aristocratic) life back then was meaningfully ritualised, revolved around the supernatural efficacy of the spoken word (kotodama), and was genuinely led by a type of "religious" passion and by strong faith in miracles. It is such a "society" that Orikuchi names kodai (ancient Japan), fruit of his familiarity with textual sources as much as of his own visionary and oneiric perspective. Re-enacting ritual time in 20th-century Japan, reviving the supernatural origin of the spoken word, and discovering through a particular type of fieldwork places where traces of his envisioned kodai seem to endure (especially in the Ryukyus) are Orikuchi's priorities within his project of turning Shinto into a world religion as Shintō shūkyō. In my paper, I intend to explore Orikuchi's perspective on kodai and kotodama, while historically contextualising his "creative" theories, which seem to come together in fictional form in The Book of the Dead (Shisha no sho, 1939), his monogatari-style novel. Also, I aim to point out those scholars, Japanese or otherwise, who have criticised or overcome Orikuchi's views, and assess the impact that his multifaceted oeuvre, often focusing on the notion of threshold, has exerted on a variety of research fields, extending from Ryūkyū Studies to Literature and the Arts, and History of Religions.

panel S8a_20
Moulding the past in 20th-century Japan. The influence of narrative and academic discourses on the study of Japan's history of religions.