Jablonski, Marek (Michael)

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IV. Religious music

1. Introduction.

2. Shintō.

3. Buddhist.

4. 16th- and 17th-century Christian music.

5. New religions.


Japan, §IV: Religious music

1. Introduction.

Religious doctrines, beliefs and practices are generally not regarded as mutually exclusive in Japan; an immense variety of religions, sub-schools and sects co-exists and overlaps. Accordingly, there are many distinctive genres of religious music, and some performance traditions are of great antiquity and complexity. Only the most important kinds can be mentioned here.

Before the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the main religions were the indigenous cults of Shintō and various sinified forms of Buddhism. Confucianism, which became a religion in China, was a major intellectual and social force in Japan, influencing Japanese musical thought and practice, but it never took root as a distinct religion. At a folk level, ideas from Daoism greatly influenced Japanese religious belief, but it too was not a distinct religion in Japan.

Shintō (‘the way of the kami’) comprises a huge number of animistic or nature cults, in which purification and fertility ceremonies play a major part, along with shamanistic rituals of divination, faith healing etc. In the central group of myths the leading deity is the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, enshrined at Ise; these myths provide the basis for the cult and rituals associated with the emperor. Shrines to several others of the countless kami (literally, ‘superiors’) are found nationwide. Shintō thinking has been much affected by Buddhism, with which it existed in a partly symbiotic relationship until the Meiji Restoration; by Confucianism and Daoist yin-yang philosophy; and by Japanese nationalism. However, Shintō cults and rituals are mostly local, while sharing many features. The later 19th century saw the official separation of Shintō and Buddhism and the creation of ‘State Shintō’ (kokka Shintō) at designated shrines. The term ‘Shrine Shintō’ (jinja Shintō) came to describe traditional, public shrines at all levels, as opposed to ‘Sect Shintō’ (kyōha Shintō), which referred to new and often syncretic denominations, such as Konkōkyō, Tenrikyō and Ōmoto. Shrine Shintō has lost the privileged position it held before and during World War II, but it continues to flourish and redefine itself, and important kinds of ceremonial and festival music are actively maintained.

Buddhism was officially introduced from the Korean kingdom of Paekche in 538 ce (a correction of the traditional date 552) but was probably known earlier. It has always been understood in Japan as a Chinese rather than an Indian religion: the Buddhist canon used in Japan is in Chinese, and the main branches of Japanese Buddhism (Tendai, Shingon, Pure Land and Zen) were based on Chinese models. Nevertheless, Japanese Buddhism developed a highly distinctive character, each school or sub-school having its own doctrines and often elaborate liturgy, as well as its own types of music. In the Nara period (710–84), six schools, known collectively as the Nanto Rokushū, flourished in the capital: Sanron, Jōjitsu, Hossō, Kusha, Kegon and Ritsu. The Heian period (794–1185) saw the introduction of the Tendai and Shingon schools, emphasizing esoteric teachings of the caryā and yoga forms of Tantric Buddhism, though Tendai is formally grounded in the teachings of the Lotus Sūtra (the Nichiren-shū). At the same time, the teachings of Pure Land Buddhism, focussed on the celestial Buddha Amitābha (Jap. Amida-butsu), began to spread more widely. During the Kamakura period (1192–1333) two schools of Zen Buddhism (Rinzai and Sōtō) were introduced, and new schools based on Pure Land faith or on the Lotus Sūtra became popular. In succeeding centuries further developments included Ōbaku, a major new school of Zen. Buddhism suffered after 1868 but revived strongly in the later 20th century. Since World War II Japanese Buddhism (especially Zen) has also been spreading outside Japan.

Christianity has had much less influence than Shintō or Buddhism. Introduced by Jesuit missionaries soon after the first arrival of Europeans from Portugal in 1542 or 1543, it flourished for a while in the later 16th century, particularly in southern Japan, but was progressively banned in the early 17th century (the definitive exclusion came in 1639). However, along with elements of its music it continued to be practised secretly, more as a folk religion, by small groups in Kyūshū. It was reintroduced after the Meiji Restoration by Protestant as well as Catholic organizations and has had some impact on education as well as the new religions. The history of Christianity and Christian music in Japan thus falls into three distinct periods, of which only the first is discussed here.

Japan, §IV: Religious music

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