Accepted paper:

Only Shugendō is a true Japanese religion: Gorai "narrative" research on Shugendō and its criticism


Claudio Caniglia (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Seen from the standpoint of recent criticism, Gorai Shigeru's vision of Shugendō sharply contrasts with the amount of data he collects and his knowledge. My paper aims to assess to what extent his ideas on original religion and Japaneseness oriented data organisation and the results of his studies.

Paper long abstract:

Recently emerging trends in Japanese Shugendō studies are radically reconsidering the chronology, development and actual position of Shugendō in the pre-modern Japan religious landscape. One of the objects of major criticism is the essentialistic vision at the basis of the interpretation of Shugendō as part of folk religion (minzoku shūkyō) and representing an example of the distinctiveness of the Japanese national character. This idea, dating back to the initial studies on Shugendō published by the anthropologist Unō Enku (1885-1949), continued in the seminal work by the founder of Shugendō studies Wakamori Tarō (1915-1977), and came to be theorized by Gorai Shigeru (1908-1993), who, at the beginning of the seventies, moved his studies from folk Buddhism to Shugendō. Heavily influenced by Yanagita Kunio, Gorai sees Shugendō as originating from the beliefs of "mountain people" (yamabito) and especially from their purificatory practices. Shugendō is thus read as the core of an original religion (genshi shūkyō) to which imported traditions such as Buddhism and Onmyōdō were later added without really modifying its essential characteristic of a "natural religion" (shizen shūkyō). The processes of historical transformations of Shugendō are seen as a departure from this essential nucleus, with the effect of scattering and breaking the original tradition. The process of reconstruction implies a great deal of creativity and, in spite of his extensive use of different sources, Gorai's data organization and analysis are informed by his ideological assumptions and oriented toward his own personal narration of Japanese folk religion. In my presentation I will consider different aspects of Gorai's Shugendō interpretation and his influence on Shugendō studies. I will also consider his treatment of some ascetic practices, highlighting the contrast between the strict use of sources and "partly narrative" conclusions, as well as some problems emerging from the use of "Shugendō" as a heuristic tool. The main works historicising Shugendō in contrast with the Gorai approach appeared already at the beginning of the nineties. The reasons why they were so late in becoming the centre of debate would be another interesting point of discussion.

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.