Often called "the indigenous religion of Japan," Shinto's institutions, rituals, and symbols are omnipresent throughout the island nation. But, perhaps surprisingly, both its religiosity and its Japanese origins have been questioned. Hardacre investigates the claims about Shinto as the embodiment of indigenous tradition, and about its rightful place in the public realm. Shinto has often been represented in the West as the engine that drove Japanese military aggression. To this day, it is considered provocative for members of the government to visit the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors the Japanese war dead, and this features as a source of strain in Japan's relations with China and Korea. This is a debated issue in Japanese national politics and reliably attracts intensive media coverage. Hardacre contends, controversially, that it was the Allied Occupation that created this stereotype of Shinto as the religion of war, when in fact virtually all branches of Japanese religions were cheerleaders for the war and imperialism.
The history and nature of Shinto are subjects of vital importance for understanding contemporary Japan, its politics, its international relations, and its society. Hardacre's magisterial work will stand as the definitive reference for years to come.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-10-10
- Reviewer: Staff
Hardacre, a professor of Japanese religions and society at Harvard, surveys the history of Shinto from ancient Japan to the present in this even-handed and detailed treatment of the topic. Few single-volume histories are this comprehensive; Hardacre covers the religions origins and sacred texts, its medieval artwork, and its modern manifestations, with carefully chosen (and delightful) images to add to the analysis. She also briefly evaluates several analytical frameworks, such as public vs. private and indigenous vs. foreign, that have been applied to Shinto and its development in the past, offering careful consideration of the validity and usefulness of each. Her conclusions are generally brief and more summary could have strengthened the work, which is primarily focused on historical explication and so can be daunting in its length and level of detail. Nonetheless, this will serve as a valuable primer for college classes, or for those simply interested in Shinto, and it will be sure to stand as the definitive factual treatment for years to come. (Dec.)