Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Amino Yoshihiko (11): Karatani's criticism

I've already remarked on the similarities between Amino's and Karatani's take on the emperor system. Let me briefly discuss the differences as they are highlighted in a criticism Karatani makes of Amino in a paper from 1991 ("The Discursive Space of Modern Japan").

This is a paper in which Karatani discusses the closure of Japan's discursive space and is looking for ways to get out of it. The relevant section is one in which he argues that the state is constituted through its relations to other states and that it is therefore wrong to look for the roots of the emperor-system in the people, as the nativist scholars (kokugaku) or Yanagita Kunio tried to do.
People are conscious of the emperor when they are also conscious of international tension, and when the emperor is forgotten, it is because tension with the outside has eased. The same applies to the Edo period. (Karatani 1991:206)
The roots of the emperor-system, then, are not internal but external. He extends this criticism to anthropolocially inspired researchers today who turn to internal "others" such as marginals or minorities to destabilize the emperor-system. "What are called 'exterior' and the 'Other' in cultural anthropology do not in fact maintain any exteriority or otherness. Rather, they are indispensable to the community and are thus part of it" (ibid 208).

This criticism falls on Amino as well.
For example, the historian Amino Yoshihiko attempted to find the basis for overturning the emperor system in outcast groups, yet ended up finding the emperor system there, because outcast groups are not external to the system; the community system is precisely that which includes them. Amino, who had previously written on the Mongol Invasion and had seen in that international crisis the transformation of the ancient system, was subsequently caught in the trap of structural theory. To discover plurality and otherness on the inside does not amount to escaping interiority. [...]
There are other, more "fundamental," strategies that fall under the name of relativizing the emperor system and tracing it back to a previous state of plurality; these result, as with Yanagida, in a move to the Southern Islands. Some, like Yoshimoto Ryumei, have literally turned to the Southern Islands, while others, like Umehara Takeshi, have looked to Jomon or Ainu culture. Whether toward the south or toward the east, and whether to affirm or negate the emperor system, this type of "introspection" has produced no effect. (ibid 208f)
"Introspection" into Japan's history, no matter how seemingly pluralistic or even cosmopolitan it may be portrayed, can only result in self-congratualtory fictions that fail to introduce genuine exteriority. What destabilizes the system is outside forces like the world market or foreign imperialism that produce a real sense of crisis, not any internal ”others” who are in fact part of the system. At least according to Karatani.

Now, Karatani’s criticism seems unfair from many points of view. Let me mention a few obvious points.

1) Amino’s ”discovery” of the emperor among the outcasts wasn't a failure, since he set out precisely to show that such a link existed.

2) They talk about different things: Karatani is looking for exteriority, a true other outside the system. Amino is looking at the idea of freedom in medieval society (muen) and how it animated and guided groups like the non-agriculturalists and other itinerants. These are two completely different things and to accuse Amino of having failed to point out a true other is to miss his point.

3) Amino is not disregarding the question of the outside of the community. Remember that he claims that the emperor comes into being in order to rule that which escapes the community. To Amino too, the state's roots are therefor not internal to the community but external to it. He never presupposes any unitary "national" culture as the basis of this state, which he instead portrays as similar to what Karatani will later label ”empire”, the rule over markets and trade, over what takes place between communities.

4) It also seems unfair to claim that trying to encourage alternative forms of cultural identification is meaningless or that it will merely result in a seeming cosmopolitanism that is the flipside of ultranationalism. Karatani's claim that the ”emperor” ever since the Edo period has been held in latency during periods without foreign threats only to appear again when needed rests on an ahistorical presupposition of an unchangeable system or ideology.

Karatani’s text, however, is still instructive. In pointing to how a system is destabilized by forces outside it, he anticipates Amino’s shift in around 1990 towards a more ”deconstructive” tactic that focuses on the lack of unity in ”Japan”, its myriad differences, and its links to the outside – things like the Emishi, the East Asian trade network, or western Japan’s similarity to Korea. In these later works Amino shows how Japan never forms a unitary system at all, except in ideology, since it is located within a larger field of forces. This is not merely a matter of  tracing the emperor-system "back to a previous state of plurality” (as Yanagida and Yoshimoto), since the lack of unity persists even today. While in his earlier stance he tended to focus on how emperor and outcasts or agriculturalists and non-agriculturalists were dialectically interrelated, he now shifts to a stance in which this interrelationship is subject to strong local variations. With this shift, the dialectical interplay with the emperor is downplayed since it wasn't important outside western Japan. To be sure, Amino doesn’t break completely with his previous approach. He continues to use internal "others", such as itinerants, as a lens to show how multifarious society was. He also continues to be interested in how the ideas of freedom and independence empowered people. This is not a contradiction. Shifting to local variations doesn’t amount to giving up the idea of muen. As I have written elsewhere, the idea of muen is not at all in need of any protecting emperor in a unitary empire, but thrives in a fragmented society with a plurality of power-centra.

That Amino makes this shift doesn’t mean that Karatani was ”right”. Karatani himself changes stance when he realizes that he cannot just wait for outside market forces. In the 90’s he instead turns to activism animated by the idea of transcritical space. In other words he turns himself into an actor within the system who uses his own idea of an outside or exteriority as a guiding star for his actions. This is not so dissimilar to how muen served as lodepoint for the medieval ikki. That transcritical space comes into being by bracketing social status in society is also similar to muen. To be sure, he thinks asscociations would be completely ”outside” the sytem of the capitalist nation-state, without any link to the emperor of course. But as I have shown, muen too can be dissociated from the idea of the emperor.

The importance of the ”external” as one source of the state and of ”sovereignty” cannot be denied. I recall Ishimoda Shô's statement that already at the time of Himiko the state consisted in control over markets and diplomatic relations. The suggestion that the Mongol confrontation might help explain Go-Daigo’s seemingly strange transformation of the idea and style of sovereignty is also suggestive. Certainly the central role accorded to the prayers at Ise may have helped resucitate imperial prestige. But is the state explained only by its relations to other states, as Karatani seems to suggest? How then did the first states originate? How should we explain the sovereignty of ”world-empires” that lack outside since they see themselves as co-extensive with ”civilization”? Isn't it a more fruitful hypothesis to say that the first states and empires come into being in order to control trade and military vagrancy ("the nomadic war-machine"), regardless of the existence of other states?


Karatani, Kôjin (1991) ”The Discursive Space of Modern Japan”, pp 191-219, boundary 2, 18:3 (Autumn).

Friday, 4 June 2010

Amino Yoshihiko (10): The emperor's deep roots

One of the controversial points in Amino concerns his treatment of the emperor. Here I won’t enter into the debate on the role of Go-Daigo’s failed “restoration” in the transformation of Japanese society in the late Middle Ages (which I have treated elsewhere).

Instead I will focus on Amino’s equally controversial thesis of an ancient link between the emperor and the idea of muen on which “non-agriculturalists” depended for their freedom of movement. As he himself tells us in an interview, his writings on this link once led him, to his utter surprise, to be accused of being an “apologist for the emperor system” by a critic (Amino 2002:164, 172).

There are two things that make Amino’s thesis on the link between non-agriculturalists and the emperor controversial. Firstly, by portraying the emperor system as “rooted” in the life of the “common people”, he appears to deny any easy possibility of abolishing it. Secondly, by “contaminating” the idea of muen through a link to the emperor, he makes it appear as part of the emperor system and thus much less appetizing as a principle of resistance. A solution to these problems depends of finding a way of extricating the emperor from the “common people” or from muen.

In what follows I will suggest that the problem is not as intractable as it is sometimes made to appear. A careful reading of what Amino writes will reveal that he never in any single work portrays the “partnership” between emperor and non-agriculturalists as harmonious or “natural”, but rather as the result of an ongoing power struggle or tug of war which in turn suggests that the partnership itself is an instable and contestable edifice. Recognizing this will at least be a helpful first step in solving the above problems.

The emperor and the non-agriculturalists

In his major work on the relation between emperor and “non-agriculturalists” – Nihon chûsei no hinôgyômin to tennô from 1984 – Amino starts off by positioning himself in relation to an early postwar debate between two famous historians, Ishimoda Shô and Tsuda Sôkichi, the former a Marxist and the latter generally regarded as conservative. Against Tsuda’s view of the emperor system as a cultural construct resting not on force but on spiritual authority and the people’s acceptance of it as a “natural” phenomenon, Ishimoda argued that this amounted to a “depoliticization” of the emperor system which stemmed from Tsuda’s “fear of revolution”. While sharing his mentor Ishimoda’s Marxist approach to history, Amino states that “the illusionary nature of the revolutionary movement” of the times (in which both Ishimoda and the young Amino participated) must be recognized as a fact. Although critical of Tsuda’s silence in regard to the sufferings brought by the emperor system on the countries occupied or invaded by Japan peoples, Amino defends Tsuda from Ishimoda's attack, stating that he appreciates the former's willingness to lend an ear to the common people and that he wants to learn from Tsuda’s attitude (Amino 1984:5-9).

Amino’s work on the relation between “non-agriculturalists” and the emperor system is indeed a long probing investigation into the deep roots of the latter in the common people. As he shows in his writings, the “non-agriculturalists” – itinerant traders, artisans, fishermen, outcasts, and entertainers – often strove actively for official appointment as kugonin, imperial servants. Why did they feel that they needed the emperor-system and how crucial was this system for upholding their “freedoms”? That is a question which is central not only to Nihon chûsei no hinôgyômin to tennô but also to Amino’s work as a whole.

Before going on, let’s note that Amino gives his own, very special slant to the question debated by Tsuda and Ishimoda. What Amino discusses is not the emperor system as a whole, but one of its two pillars: its support among non-agriculturalists. One of the most interesting points in the picture of the emperor system provided by Amino and other historians working at the same time is its two-fold structure. Apart from being a structure of rule based on the domination of land and the collection of land-tax from the agricultural population, it also rested on a direct rule over people engaged in non-agricultural occupations such as fishermen, traders, artisans and entertainers. In return for offering up their services or “divine gifts” to the court, these non-agriculturalists would be granted a title (usually that of kugonin) along with privileges such as the exemption from taxes and freedom of movement without being hindered by barriers or toll-gates - a system Amino refers to as the kugonin system.

This twofold structure is reflected in the ambivalence of the image of the emperor, who - as Amino writes - had "two faces". On the one hand there is the old mythical association of emperor with rice and fertility, the agricultural monarch ruling the abundant land of luxurious rice (Mizuho no kuni), but on the other hand there is the very different but no less ancient image of the emperor as the ruler of mountains and seas extending imperial protection to traders, artisans and other non-agriculturalists.

An interesting fact which Amino points out is that while the agriculturalist aspect of imperial power was often expressed in a paternalistic ideology stressing harmony and cooperation, the non-agriculturalist aspect had an affinity with despotism. This, he believes, was because policies designed to further commerce forced the state to assert its control over roads, sea lanes and rivers. Go-Daigo examplifies this despotic aspect of imperial power (Amino & Ishii 2000:173ff).

The great role played by the kugonin system in Japanese society in the Middle Ages means that Amino is uncomfortable with using terms like “feudalism” in a Japanese context.  While the term “feudalism” may be applicable to the warrior-dominated society of eastern Japan, it is much less useful to understand the western parts, where the kugonin-system was more developed and in which the influence of the imperial court remained strong during the Kamakura period. Medieval Japan was thus a mixture between a land-based system of indirect taxation which resembled European feudalism and a direct rule over “non-agriculturalists” which had more in common with empires such as the Inca Empire, which had similar systems of “holy servitude” under the emperor.

What creates the violent tension in Amino’s works is a seeming paradox. His relentless attempt to relativize and “deconstruct” the nationalist imaginary of Japan as a homogeneous nation based on rice-agriculture means that he tends to view commerce, trade and itinerancy as liberating forces that help relativize the legacy of the agricultural ideology. As the kugonin system reveals, however, these forces for freedom were themselves allied to the most despotic aspects of imperial rule.

This is a point many critics have pointed to as a disturbing flaw in Amino’s historiography. The historian Miki Seiichirô, for instance, criticizes Amino for failing to clarify whether the kugonin achieved freedom by their association to the emperor or ended up in another kind of unfreedom (Miki 2009:25).  Commenting on the thesis that the emperor was the lynchpin of the freedom of itinerant people, the religious historian Yamaori Tetsuo notes: “It must be noted, however, that this well known first thesis of Amino’s conflicts and overlaps with a second thesis: that the Japanese State is beleaguered by the autocratic nature of the emperorship. Between this countervailance and tension is hidden a tremendous abyss that cannot be crossed in a single leap. Perhaps it is within the deep fissure between these two theses that the dark and mysterious forces of the State are concealed” (Yamaori 1994:219).

In Amino’s account, then, the kugonin system comes forward as a place where extremes meet, as a vehicle for both liberation and despotism. Is there a way to “solve” this ambiguity?

Karatani and Amino

As a small aside, let me mention that Amino’s account of the dual nature of imperial power has probably been an important influence on Karatani Kôjin’s recent thoughts on the difference between empires and nation-states (e.g. Karatani 2004, 2006). While nation-states model themselves on the idea of a national community, empires are indirect structures of rule that seldom interfere directly with the governing of the various peoples or communities under its jurisdiction. According to Karatani, imperial rule instead consists in regulating the commerce and other forms of exchange that take place between the communities it has subjugated, in the gaps or interstitial spaces where people encounter each other as strangers. Empire, then, is the shared rules that allow strangers to engage in exchange.

With Karatani’s terminology, we could say that in the case of ancient and medieval Japan the “empire” consisted in the rule extended over what Amino calls the itinerant non-agricultural population and the lines of communication they used. Spaces in-between communities are exactly what Amino refers to as muenjo – riverbeds, mountains, the sea, beaches or cross-roads. Such spaces were inhabited and used by the non-agriculturalists – hunters, fishermen, traders, itinerant shamans or artisans. As Amino points out, the fact that in such spaces people encounter each other as strangers was why markets would spring up there. Pure, rule-governed commercial exchange simply couldn’t take place within a community where normally all exchange of things or services would lead to a strengthening of the bonds between the people involved. The similarities don’t end there. Karatani also seems to build implicitly on Amino when he argues that feudalism is born in the backward “peripheries” of the grand world-empires, such as the Roman or Chinese empires, to which they look up and on which they sometimes try to model themselves. This accounts for the feudal character of eastern Japan, while western Japan was an intermediate form, peripheral in relation to China but with strong ambitions to form a Chinese-inspired “mini-empire” of its own. As Karatani points out – again, probably under the influence of Amino – it is wrong to call Japanese premodern society as a whole “feudal” since Western Japan had more in common with “empire”. In Marxist terms, this means that Western Japan was less feudal than characterized by an “Asiatic mode of production” or what Wittfogel called a “hydraulic society”. If we compare Amino and Karatani, we can see that they provide the same picture – the former a historically contextualized close-up, the latter a generalizable theoretical birds-eye view model, but in essence the picture is the same.

Using Karatani’s terms we can say that the ambiguity of the Japanese emperor system is that it combines the cosmopolitanism of a non-agricultural “empire” with the parochial nationalism of a settled agricultural “community”.

We can recall that during much of his career, Karatani has been battling the “closure” of discursive space in Japan, which he feels is the flip-side of nationalism. In the 80’s he tended to celebrate the logic of capitalist markets, with their link to exteriority and spaces in-between, as a tool for deconstructing the closure of national space (e.g. Karatani 1995a:182, 1995b:143ff). In this tendency, we recognize another interesting parallel to Amino, who similarly musters the non-agricultural multitudes engaging in trade against the stubborn Japanese self-image as a homogeneous, agricultural nation. However, since the early 90’s, probably under the impact of the victory of global capitalism, Karatani has been far more critical of capitalism and instead puts his hope in “associations” – open and non-hierarchical networks of the type long favored in anarchism – which he believes provide an alternative both to the nation-state and to capitalism (along with the latter’s tendency to favor the establishment of empires).

Karatani’s expositions of associationism is lacking in historical detail. The interesting question then becomes: can Amino help us make up this deficiency? Or will the close contact with historical detail which his works offers us instead pull us in some other, but perhaps equally interesting direction? Or is history with its love of detail fundamentally so complex that it must resist political theorizing?

The tug of war

Amino was not the first historian to be interested in the link between kugonin and the emperor. For instance, Nakamura Naokatsu had studied the practice of falsifying kugonin diplomas (nise-monjo sakusei) in the late Middle Ages which he saw as expressing the desire of commoners to idealize the emperor, to whom they looked up since they were tyrannized by the oppression of warriors (Amino 1984:36ff). The emperor had become the focal point of devotion and Utopian expectations precisely because he is one step removed from and unsullied by the repressive order which he has nevertheless sanctioned – just as during the late Edo period. Nakamura, however, saw the kugonin system primarily as a late medieval phenomenon and refused to recognize its existence in the early middle ages. Thereby, in Amino’s view, he missed the chance of explaining the origin of this system and roots of the attachment to the emperor.

To clarify the problem of the entanglement of liberation and despotism, we need to follow Amino’s explanation for why the non-agriculturalists turned to the emperor in the first place. This explanation requires Amino to go back in history to ancient Japan, to the time when the nascent imperial state made its first attempt to control the muenjo (ibid 44). In this, he follows Akamatsu Toshihide, who – against Nakamura – showed that the origin of kugonin system can be traces at least to the early 10th century, to the mikuriya, an office responsible for the fish and other food prepared for religious rites in ancient Japan, and niebito, people providing the fish or birds used in rites. In return for these goods, the niebito would be granted protection and privileges which they could use to strengthen their local power and prestige. By the 11th century, these people would be recognized as kugonin (ibid 1998b:26-29). Going back that far in time is important, because by doing so Amino can show that the formation of the kugonin-system is the result of a long power-struggle between commoners and the state.

Let us first look at the answer to the question of why traders and other itinerants actively strove for kugonin status. This was because the emperor was the guarantor of freedom of travel. In ancient times, fields and mountains, rivers and the sea were free areas where anyone could enter, but by the Kamakura period taxes and tolls were levied heavily at barriers, passes, and ports. The official recognition of the emperor was thus what enabled the itinerants to travel freely, something which was necessary for them in order to make a living. “That was the basic reason that traveling artisans demanded the title of kugonin and the guarantee of privilege” (ibid 2001a:373f). Conversely, the imperial court and officials would gain economic advantage by organizing the kugonin since that helped them secure control over the important trade lanes, waterways and harbors. Often there was fierce competition between court, shrines and temples about who would be able to organize them first (ibid 1998b:b30f, 2001a:372ff).

But how did this system arise? In Nihon chûsei no hinôgyômin to tennô Amino looks at the ancient imperial right to rule ”mountains and fields, rivers and sea”, which probably originated as “the natural and original rights of the community” itself, which was impersonated in the person of the ruler. As the first centralized state emerges in Japan with the ritsuryô system as its legal backbone this right was used by the emperor to prohib commoners from hunting on imperial hunting grounds, but on the whole, mountains and rivers are left to the commoners to use freely in accordance with their age-old rights (ibid 1984:97f). While the ritsuryô laws codified the emperor’s right to all land, they also established that mountains, fields, rivers and the sea were places where anyone was free to enter, and that they would be administered by centrally appointed local governing organs and not handed out as fiefs (shôen) to the aristocracy (ibid 2001a:121). However, with the increasing partitioning of land into fiefs starting in the 8th century, regulations were gradually tightened. In tandem with that the ”original rights” start to be awarded as privileges to specific groups such as the niebito. Finally, they take the form of the freedom of travel granted to limited groups such as the kugonin (ibid 1984:97f).

But in the course of this process, there was struggle. Communities resist the increasing privatization of mountains and fields in the hands of the aristocracy with “a tenacious vitality which power-holders are forced to recognize”. That such resistance was raised in the name of the anger of "the god of the land” (jinushi no kami) shows that it was motivated not by a violated sense of collective village ownership (iriaichi) but by something more basic, ”the people’s fundamental right to ’lands and oceans’”. As examples of the assertiveness of non-agriculturalists in the late Heian period, Amino mentions the jinin of Ise Shrine storming into the residence of the minister Fujiwara Kanetada, and mountain priests and yamabushi threatening the court. In late 11th century the court responds to this both by tighter regulations and by trying to co-opts the non-agriculturalists, “organizing them within the system” by according them privileges as kugonin. In that way, the kugonin system is stabilized in the 12th century. Although increasingly regulated, these rights are also given official recognition and live on because of (ibid 1984:100, 2007b 407).

In this account, there is very little or no harmony between emperor and non-agriculturalists. What comes forward is instead the image of a fierce tug of war between those groups in society who want to make use of the freedom of movement and the state power that tries to subjugate them. The really important point is that Amino clearly shows that it was popular resistance, rather than benevolent imperial protection, that helped preserve at least a measure of freedom for the “mountains and fields, rivers and the sea”.

Clarifying the relation between emperor and muen

Even in our modern times, Amino writes provocatively in Nihon chûsei no hinôgyômin to tennô, many of us have had opportunity to grow attached to the familiar sight and characteristic calls of travelling salesmen. But we should be wary of nostalgia: ”In practically all of these people, we have now distinctly discerned the shadow of the emperor. That the shadow of the emperor and the gaze of discrimination are both present at the very heart of the life of the common people is an abysmal fact which we need to confront with steady eyes and ascertain with own hands” (Amino 1984:101f).

No doubt statements like this have contributed to the impressions that Amino presents us with a thesis of an indissoluble entwinement between emperor and non-agriculturalists. However, as I have shown, in reality his account shows that this entwinement is a contingent relation. The emperor is a secondary phenomenon, an external force that tries to control and regulate the movements, the trade flows and the markets of the non-agriculturalists and marginal spaces where they take place.

This is stated with all necessary clarity by Amino himself. In one text, he approvingly quotes an important statement by Ishimoda Shô to the effect that in Japan the state made its first appearance – starting with Himiko, the shaman-queen mentioned in Chinese sources – in the form of control over markets and foreign diplomacy. “The monarchial rule over the market was a secondary [kôhatsuteki] element, and the market is by origin [honrai] something rivaling and checking such rule”, Amino concludes (ibid 1998a:331f).

This statement is an important clarification in several respects. To begin with, it bears directly on the problem of the origin of the state – a problem which has been much debated (in Japan perhaps most famously by Yoshimoto Takaaki in Kyôdô gensôron) without any conclusive results. Amino uses his division of the population into agriculturalists and non-agriculturalists to suggest a theory that explains this origin. The state comes into being in order to control that which escapes the community – which is to say: the itinerants, the non-agriculturalists who make their living in the marginal spaces outside the settled community. In other words, the state in its very origin comes into being as what Karatani calls an “empire” that aspires to rule over the “traffic” or trade between or outside communities.

However, if the state comes into being precisely as rule over muen, is muen then really capable of offering any resistance or refuge from the state? That itinerancy and the wandering in marginal space can offer freedom from the closure of settled community and agricultural life goes without saying, but can it offer any freedom from “empire”, which by contrast thrives on openness, trade and cosmopolitanism? Is Amino after all, in his affirmative stance towards the non-agriculturalists, taking the side of empire?

No, because in his account of the origins of the kugonin system he shows that muen and the freedom of marginal space can do without the emperor. Imperial rule was secondary. All he is saying is that imperial power was formed in the process of establishing rule over marginal spaces outside or between communities. The special link established between these spaces and the emperor was formed because they were beyond the reach of the community or the power of the local lords and that therefore only the emperor could control them. Empire is the last card played by the forces of order to rein in and impose rule on the areas of anarchy.

My criticism of Amino

I am not wholly satisfied with this clarification, since I wonder if Amino is not putting unnecessarily much emphasis on the link between muen and the emperor. Muenjo need a plurality of rivaling power-centers to proliferate, not the protection of an emperor. This is shown by the fact that they thrived in periods when power was fragmented and by the fact that they were found also outside western Japan where imperial rule was strongest.

This also means that I don’t accept any simple equation saying that muen can be only be formed in Karatanian “empires”. Remember that Amino himself compares muen to the “asylum” of feudal Europe. This strongly suggests that sanctuaries don't need the protecting hand of an emperor. What is crucial is a fragmented power structure in society and probably also a widespread sense of the sacred. This of course does not mean that I am going to advance any opposite thesis feudal society being a more favorable environment for muen than empires. But I don’t see any evidence at all that muenjo can only emerge in empires.

The entire emperor-paradox in Amino’s writings seems to stem from a strange unbalance. As I have shown, he clearly states that the muenjo arise and are preserved in ancient Japan because of the strength of popular claims. But as soon as one recognizes the importance of popular claims as the basis of muen, then it no longer makes sense to claim (as Amino does in works like Igyô no ôken or Nihon shakai to tennôsei) that the fall of imperial prestige after Go-Daigo’s failure was a decisive factor in weakening the respect for muen - let me refer to this claim as the "Go-Daigo thesis" as a shorthand. Such an explanation only makes sense if muen needs imperial support for its existence. But is he right? Wasn’t there still a popular, religious basis for muen that didn’t need the emperor? I think Ikkô-ikki shows that there was.

Amino himself seems to be aware of the continuing strength of the popular energies that helped uphold the ideal of muen even as late as in the Sengoku (Warring states) period. Commenting on the fact that many of the formal letters recognizing the rights of muenjo or the rakuza-rakuichi were issued by feudal lords of that period, he stresses that such institutions were neither invented by those lords nor granted willingly. The statutes built on strong local tradition which were only recognized reluctantly by the lords, when they had no other choice. Giving them official recognition was often just a final means to bring them under at least partial control (Amino 2001b:35, 52f, 170f).

Amino’s ”emperor-problem” in fact consists of two separate problems: the problem of Go-Daigo (is it tenable to portray him as the hope of the discriminated?) and the problem of origins (how deep are the roots of the emperor system in the stratum of common people?). If the entwinement between emperor and non-agriculturalists is really indissoluble the "Go-Daigo thesis" seems reasonable, but as Amino himself shows the entwinement is contingent. It is only after the emperor succeeds in imposing imperial rule on the muenjo that it becomes crucial for traders and other non-agriculturalists to receive the privilege of being appointed kugonin. This admission opens up for the possibility of muen existing without the emperor. If that is recognized, then the "Go-Daigo thesis" is no longer a sufficient explanation.

That Amino himself didn’t feel he had reached a satisfying solution to the problem of the emperor is evident in interviews. In one interview, Oguma Eiji asks him about his attempt to resist the authority of the emperor which uneasily coexists with his preference for many of the features of the society of western Japan, the stronghold of imperial power – such as the fact that it was less hierarchical than the east, that women had a stronger role in society, or that muen was upheld by the big temples. Amino can only reply that he is “still squirming and struggling for a solution” (imada ni mogaite, jitabata shite iru) (Amino 2002:200f).

This squirming and struggling seem to arise from the fact that Amino still believes that the emperor’s protection was important for maintaining muen and the other parts of western society he liked.

However, the features of western society Amino likes do not seem to have relied necessarily on closeness to imperial power. That muenjo and the regions of freedom it offered were not in need of imperial protection is demonstrated by the fact that muenjo existed also outside western Japan – for instance on Tsushima, a very marginal domain. The famous enkiridera Tôkeiji was located in eastern Japan and so was Mantokuji. As Amino himself shows, many of these temples were granted their rights not by the emperor but by feudal lords, and the rakuichi rakuza were also implemented by feudal lords. To repeat: what muen needed to thrive was a strong living sense for the sacred and the absence of a strong secular central power, not the emperor.

Surely we can imagine travelling salesmen without the shadow of the emperor.

The future

The “emperor problem” in Amino’s writings does not consist in any thesis of an indissoluble link between the emperor and the non-agriculturalists. As he shows, that link was contingent.

This does not by itself solve the bigger problem of whether the “freedom” of muen is attractive as a guiding star today. Even without the emperor, isn’t there always a risk for mini-emperors to spring up in organizations meant to resist hierarchy and oppression? The risk even of lynchings and other forms of internal repression in the name of the “sacred” struggle against outer enemies? Look at the ikki who adopted the orange dress and the straw hats of the hinin. Were the real hinin welcome to participate? And look at the temples functioning as muenjo – what happened to those who challenged their hierarchies?

As Oguma asks Amino in his interview, didn’t the muenjo have their own internal stratifications and hierarchies? Weren’t they often in fact a prime example of the kind of enclaves run by local bosses that Maruyama Masao criticized as a mainstay of the emperor system? Amino’s answer is vague – such opinions, he thinks, arise because people think of communes as communities. He doesn’t deny the internal hierarchies, only states that what he wanted to bring out was a way of human interconnectedness that didn’t rely on power or state (Amino 2002:192f).

In one of his books, Amino himself addresses the objection that the free cities were ruled by rich elite cliques, that the local powerholders who led the ikki were themselves oppressors of their servants and that the temples serving as sanctuaries for a variety of refugees (kakekomi-dera) were little better than "takobeya" (notorious cramped lodgings of workers), or that the Honganji temple was pervaded by hierarchies with the head priest at the top. Again his answer is vague. He says that he won’t argue against these objections, but adds that these relations of private possession, private subservience or the logic of dominance were counteracted by the principle of muen which was also at work in these organizations (Amino 2001b:34).

These objections touch on a fundamental problem. Can muenjo be organized? How can a sacred place be regulated without itself being profanated, turning into a secular worldly power? Isn’t that what happened to the the Buddhist establishment? Isn’t it also exactly what happened to the capitalist market, which Amino claims developed out of the muenjo? Is it possible to imagine an unregulated public or commons, in which the ”sacred of chaos” can remain untained?

Amino has no solution, but at least he brings up face to face with the problem.

He talks about communes and mirs. Like them, the sacred of muen, of the primitive and of nature, can remain an inspiration for revolts, a reminder of freedom that can spur us to resist and try to go beyond the worldly order of power and money.

He seems to suggest that what muen needs to thrive is not organizations. It needs something very different, a completely other way of life, the outlook of the world of itinerants, gamblers, outcasts and bandits. One could call it the air of muen. The organizations that from time to time spring up to challenge the powers that be – the ikki, revolts and religious reformers – are inspired by this air.


Amino, Yoshihiko (1984) Nihon chûsei no hinôgyômin to tennô (The non-agricultural peoples and the emperor in Japan’s middle ages), Tokyo: Iwanami shoten.

Amino, Yoshihiko (1998a [1982]) Higashi to nishi no kataru Nihon no rekishi (Japan’s history as told by east and west), Tokyo: Kôdansha gakujutsu bunko.

Amino, Yoshihiko (1998b) Kaimin to Nihon shakai (The sea people and Japanese society), Tokyo: Shinjinbutsu ôraisha.

Amino, Yoshihiko (2001a) Môko shûrai (The Mongol Invasions), Tokyo: Shôgakukan.

Amino, Yoshihiko (2001b) Nihon chûsei toshi no sekai (The world of medieval Japanese cities), Tokyo: Chikuma shobô.

Amino, Yoshihiko (2002) “Jinruishiteki tenkanki ni okeru rekishigaku to Nihon” (History and Japan in a transformative period of humankind) (interview by Oguma Eiji), pp 143-232, in Amino & al ‘Nihon’ o megutte: Amino Yoshihiko taidan-shû (About ‘Japan’: Collection of conversations with Amino Yoshihiko), Tokyo: Kôdansha.

Amino, Yoshihiko & Ishii, Susumu (2000) Kome hyakushô tennô – Nihonshi no kyozô no yukue (Rice hyakushô emperor: the development of the virtual image of Japanese history), Tokyo: Daiwa shobô.

Miki, Seiichirô (2009) “Amino Araki ronsô o megutte” (On the Amino-Araki debate), in Kanagawa Daigaku Nihon Jômin Bunka Kenkyûkai (ed) Umi to hinôgyômin: Amino Yoshihiko no takumonteki kiseki o tadoru, Tokyo: Iwanami shoten.

Karatani, Kôjin (1995b) Architecture as Metaphor: Language, Number, Money, Cambridge, Mass. & London, England: The MIT Press.

Karatani, Kôjin (1995a) Shûen o megutte (On the end), Tokyo: Kôdansha gakujutsu bunko.

Karatani, Kôjin (2006) Sekaikyôwakoku e – Shihon=nêshon=kokka o koete (Towards a World Republic: Transcending the Capitalist Nation-State), Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Karatani, Kôjin (2004) Nêeshon to bigaku (Nation and Aesthetics, in the series Teihon Karatani Kôjin Shû, vol. 4), Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten.

Nakazawa (2004) Boku no ojisan Amino Yoshihiko (My uncle Amino Yoshihiko), Tokyo: Shûeisha shinsho.

Yamaori, Tetsuo (1994) “Book Review: Amino Yoshihiko Nihonron no shiza: rettô no shakai to kokka (A new standpoint on Nihon-ron: society and state on the archipelago), Shogakukan, 1990”, pp 211-219, Japan Review 5.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

In a bad world, being an angel is revolutionary (more comments on Vilks)

The Vilks controversy still rages in far-away Sweden (I’ve already explained my stance on this issue here). A very good and kind friend of mine – E. – is trying to keep me updated. Here’s a reply I wrote to her a few days ago (translated with a few revisions)

Hi E.,
  Good to hear you’re out moving around among people and listening to a lot of views. I’m rather isolated here, and maybe that’s why I always think I understand everything so well :)
  No, I’m really not the right person to disentangle your thoughts with.
  But there is one thing I can still say I truly believe, and that’s that one can’t judge everything according to how it relates to the freedom of expression. Of course there’s much else one needs to take into consideration.
  That seems to be what Dan Jönsson – in the article you sent me – also wants to point out, even though it’s a bit comical that he believes that the Vilks’ caricature "deserves a place in art history" just for having demonstrated the untenability of adopting an “institutional” attitude and behaving as if nothing outside the art world had the slightest importance. What a hyperbole! - for surely its self-evident that there’s a world outside art, a world where people can be hurt and where insults are not only art but precisely and above all insults.
  What (might) be interesting is why in heaven’s name people have suddenly started to judge everything according to the aspect of freedom of expression. You tell me about the crucifix in urine which was exhibited somewhere and made so many Christians upset, and you wonder why that felt more acceptable or ”better” than the Muhammad caricatures. I don’t know the circumstances, but I think Christians have a right to be angry about that, just as Muslims have a right to be angry now. As I wrote earlier, “I’m ready to die for your right to be angry”. What I want is not a law that gags artists and others, but that artists (and others of course) reflect a little on what they're doing and stop acting indignant and surprised when people are provoked by art that is meant to provoke them.
  Another interesting question is why artists have suddenly started to think that it’s artistically advanced and radical to challenge what they think is political correctness. This must be something new, mustn’t it? Picasso or Duchamp didn't scandalize their audiences by ridiculing other cultures. But today people seem to think that political correctness is an artistic convention which they need to reject in order to prove how artistically radical they are. Why has it become like that?
  Now I’m not the right person to judge if that is right or wrong. Maybe it’s right. Maybe it is “good” art. But even if it’s right it means that art has ended up in a big dilemma, since such art almost by its very definition will have to trample on minorities and other weak groups in society. Muslims today, disabled tomorrow? Maybe it's time to resurrect the humour of bodily defects?
  Dear E., you who are so good at softening people’s hearts, on helping that “which is not inferno” (Calvino). That is just what I want art to do! I want art to discover a way to be radical and transgressive in a way that liberates and makes people feel exhilarated and fantastic.
  Dada did it, punk did it – but throwing out insults against whole peoples sure doesn't.
  You won’t get any argument from me, because what I’m going to tell you is impossible to use in a debate: I want people – including artists – to be angels!
Having decided to publish this, maybe I should also explain the last sentence. Angels, I think, are people who don't insist on their right. But maybe what I want to say is impossible to explain. Let me just state that I don’t like the motives of those who speak so self-righteously about the freedom of expression nowadays and that I’m surprised and shocked at how little understanding there seems to be for those who feel offended by the caricatures. As Kajsa Ekis Ekman puts it, to say the words “freedom of expression” in Sweden today has become tantamount to saying “Shut up”, a way of depriving the offended of the right to reply.

To be right is not all that matters. If you believe that, you’ve got to have a heart of stone.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

White and red

Let me just quickly try to disentangle one of the threads I happen to have on my mind.

Recall the red-and-white contrast of the figures and paintings showing Yamauba as an affectionate mother together with Kintarô (which I discussed here). Here we see, I believe, a confluence in one and the same art work of two quite separate ways of associating beings with the wilderness or the supernatural.

For the sake of simplicity, let me say that such beings seem to arrange themselves in a ”red” series and a ”white” series.

I’ve already touched on the ”red” series. It consists of the animals and beings usually portrayed with round eyes: tengu, oni, Deva kings, Bodhidharuma, Kintarô, tanuki, octopuses, tigers, lions, monkeys, horses, cows, and so on. They usually come with the color red, or colors close to red such as brown or a golden yellow.

The ”white” series consists of usually white or pale beings who are depicted with slanted, narrow eyes: foxes (kitsune), yûrei (ghosts), Yuki-onna (the snow-woman), Yamauba (Mountain-hag), cats and elephants. The ”O-Shira-sama” worshipped in the Tôhoku region also seems to belong here. Tanuki too are sometimes portrayed with narrow, slanted “fox-like” eyes.

What could this seemingly long-standing association white-narrow and red-round mean?

The partition of beings or animals in either one or the other group doesn’t seem to depend on any desire to portray them realistically. Foxes for instance are usually not white.

In general, the reddish round-eyes beings are powerful, and are not necessarily evil or harmful. The round eyes probably mean simply that they exude power. We find similar round eyes on human beings associated with great power or effort such as monks or warriors in battle. In addition, many of the ”red” beings, such as Deva kings and Bodhidharma, have a clear affinity with Buddhism, and tanuki and tengu were believed to be able to transform themselves into Buddhist monks or hermits. Tengu are usually portrayed as dressed in monkish robe (as on the 19th century ink painting below) and there are also famous pictures in folk art of oni dressed as Buddhist priests (the so-called ôtsue below).

Tengu, 19th century ink painting

Oni (Ôtsu-e)

The oni picture has been interpreted variously as a satire of Buddhism or as expressing the Buddhist truth that salvation is extended to all living beings, including oni (or even the mystical union of liberation and fallenness, nirvana and samsara). However, it could also simply be a product of the long-standing association in popular mind of all the ”superhuman” or ”inhuman” beings inhabiting the sacred sites such as the mountains – including wandering monks and hermits, animals, oni, and tengu.

To find a common denominator among the ”white” animals and beings is harder. We can observe, however, that rather than exposing strength and power, they appear to hide it, holding it back, or focusing it inwards. Even if some of them are feared for their supernatural power, like the foxes, this power is a potential rather than something that is shown openly.

Could it be their ability to conceal their powers that make many of them so dangerous and feared? The fox is thus an expert in deception, in bewitching human beings or tricking them by adopting human form (see right). The snow-woman (yukionna) similarly uses her likeness to a beautiful woman to deceive and kill people. The yamauma too is by no means rendered wholly benevolent by being cast in the role of loving mother, since she of course retains her fearsome ogre powers which are simply disguised or pushed to the background. The ghost (yûrei) too is uncanny precisely because of its likeness to the human form. Although it doesn’t deceive, it inspires terror through its resemblance to the dead, who were once our victims but who have now come back to haunt us equipped with new, superhuman forces.

To some extent this holds for cats as well. Look at the picture by Kuniyoshi below. The cat is white, has narrow eyes and are on the whole strikingly fox-like. Being pictured as behaving like human beings, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the foxes on the picture above who have just transformed themselves into humans. Cats were certainly not regarded as supernatural beings, but perhaps they too were regarded as beings that hid their strength? At least I have a healthy respect for these cute, furry and small animals, since I’ve seen them turn into lethal killer machines at a moment’s notice.

Kuniyoshi, Neko no odori

The elephants are admittedly more problematic. Elephants always seem to have been portrayed as white and with narrow, slanted eyes (for an early example see the reproduction below of a scene from Senmen Hokekyô Sasshi, in the collection of things related to Shôtoku Taishi and Hôkôji in Shitennôji temple). One might argue that they too are usually portrayed as being at rest, holding back their strength, but perhaps that would be a bit far-fetched? 

Then there are pure anomalies like this (an Edo period painting of a "nurikabe", a monster said to produce walls blocking the road for wanderers at night):

Here's a print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, "Kasane no bôkon" (1847-52), which according to Japan Times was recently rediscovered in Tokyo. Look at the interesting combination of the huge red "Daruma-san" eye with a narrow one.

Kuniyoshi, Kasane no bôkon, 1847-52

I'm sure art critics have a lot of things to say about this very suggestive print. Let me just point out that I think that the red eye can be explained by the ghost's agitation. When a ghost ceases to hold back, giving full vent to her rage and resentment and pouring out her strength, the usual narrow eyes are no longer felt to be appropriate. Instead, some element of roundness (and red-ness) becomes necessary. Hence the "Daruma-san" eye. 

Yin and yang

How do I get on from here? Let me toss out a guess. Maybe the white-narrow and red-round things are related to yin and yang? I have hesitated to make this association until now since yin and yang are amorphous categories and I'm fully aware that the association may be somewhat facile. However, if – just for the sake of trying – we simplify very much and try to relate ”red” and ”white” to yin and yang, then we would get:

Red – life, power, activity, sun, male

White – death, passivity, moon, female

The red-round things would be like the sun, exuding strength. Remember that the sun is associated with the color red in Japan. The white-narrow things would be more like the moon – passive, cold and associated with darkness and night. We could also add that red stands for blood, the pulsation of blood, the erection, masculinity, and birth (recall that babies are called red in Japanese, as in the words akago, akanbô or aka-chan). White stands for the opposite phenomena: the draining away of blood, the waning of power, impotence, femininity and death.

Once we make the association to yin and yang, many pieces fall to place. It’s easy to interpret the beings in the ”red” series as yang-symbols. The tengu’s long phallus-nose and the tanuki’s comically over-dimensioned scrotum (see below) spring to mind. And why is Bodhidharma depicted with a prostitute? As Amino Yoshihiko points out the staff – saibô or saitenbô – used by Buddhist monks as a weapon was a symbol of yang. Children used to run around with a similar staff to hit the behind of young women, shouting ”Crow-crow-crow, this is the mountain god’s saitenbô” (”Kaa-kaa-kaa, yama no kami no saitenbô”). On a medieval scroll, the Ippen hijirie, there is a comical scene depicting a monk with such a staff walking down a street, a scared woman running away from him.

The foxes, by contrast, were believed to take the form of a woman. Many of the ”white” characters are female, such as the snow woman and Yamamba. We can also add that normal human women were also usually portrayed as white or pale. The snow woman is furthermore associated with the cold. Some ”white” characters, like ghosts, also have an obvious relation to death. So does the mysterious white animal which appears to be dead. Pilgrims were dressed in white and this was also the clothing of the dead.

Trousers and undergarments

If I say yin and yang, then I am already moving in the realm of a mysticism in which the question of unity, of taichi, and its symbolic representation are not far removed.

As an example of such a representation, let me mention the dress of miko (Shintô shrine maidens), which consists of white jacket (haori) and red trousers (hakama).

Kannagi miko
One often hears that red and white are auspicious colors in Japan, and that they are often used for special occasions such as weddings and births. Even today they are often seen in shrines. The auspicious aspect of the colors also explains their use in the Japanese flag. However, both red and white also connoted dangerous and often supernatural forces and carried strong connotations of things like blood and death, things deemed ”polluted” in ancient Japan. Only by mastering or ”purifying” such forces could any auspicious effect arise.

The ”dangers” symbolized by the miko dress can be glimpsed in Takeda Sachiko’s discussion of trouser-wearing in ancient Japan.  In Japan, to which trousers were imported from China, the custom of wearing trousers became established at the court in the 8th century. Trousers originated as attire for officials and court functionaries. Priestesses, shrine attendants and the shrine princess (saiô) of Ise all participated in official rites and hence wore red trousers.  Red trousers were also worn by court women and soon spread to prostitutes (yûjo) and female entertainers (such as the kuse maimai below). What was the meaning of red trousers? Takeda speculates that ”perhaps red symbolized the sacred power invested in the person of the tennô [emperor]” (Takeda 1999:58). The color red, she believes, was associated with sex. So was the sacred power of the emperor. ”Red trousers, which were worn against women’s flesh and surely had some association with their sexuality, could express the wearer’s position of privilege within the inner court, in particular, their proximity to the sacral and sexual power of the monarch” (ibid 59).

Shirabyôshi dancer

Takeda’s analysis is helpful in bringing out the ”yang” element of the color red. However, if I’m correct in my juxtaposition of white and red in two ”series” both signaling wild or superhuman power, then it follows that it is insufficient to focus merely on the ”red” element as Takeda does. The miko’s red trousers cannot be understood in isolation from the white robe, since they together signaled a unification of yin and yang in the divine powers she represented.

A good illustration of the association of the color red with the emperor is the imperial ceremonial coat, red and covered with daoist symbols, with the great dipper in the center.
Although the color white seems absent here, we can recall that the emperor - in his role as the "polestar", the symbolic center of cosmos - was believed to personify the unification of yin and yang (Ooms 2009).

A similar symbolic message may well have lingered on in the use of the colors red and white among prostitutes and other female entertainers, who – as Amino argues – were associated with holy powers in the early middle ages. In fact, some miko were prostitutes, especially the itinerant miko (arukimiko) who weren't affiliated to shrines and functioned as shamans. "Women shamans were associated with prostitution from the earliest days. Brothels developed around the shrines, and many of the inhabitants of the brothels were shamans" (Fairchild 1962: 103; cf. also 60, 79ff). It also seems clear that the wandering miko were frequently associated with sex in popular consciousness. For instance, the wandering miko of Shinshu province were said to use a form of erotic dolls in their rites. Fairchild quotes a popular story about a man peeking inside the secret box of miko who had stopped at a house for the night. "The miko left the house and one man opened the box and saw the dolls. They were clay dolls and were kissing each other, their bodies entwined about each other" (ibid 82).

The combination red-white can also be seen in other groups closely linked to the sacred, such as outcasts (hinin). For instance, the leader of the hinin of Kôfukuji temple wore a red robe and had a white staff (Amino 1993:121).

There is in fact an element held in common by miko and outcasts. Purification was the occupation of two groups in society who are usually considered to have been widely apart in social status: on the one hand the Shintô shrine officials conducting purification rites (oharae) and on the other the outcastes responsible for removing defilement in dead bodies (kiyome). While the close connection between Buddhist monks and outcasts is well documented, Shinto is usually portrayed as allergically averse to associating with the outcasts, almost panically sensitive about associating with ”defilement” – at least in the books I’ve read so far. However apart they may have been socially, there is nevertheless a clear symbolic affinity between the two groups, and color symbolism is one way in which this is expressed.

To bring out the connection between Shinto and outcasts, we can return to the itinerant miko who were also closely associated with death (conducting funeral services, carrying sculls in their boxes etc) and sometimes shunned in a manner reminiscent of the way outcasts were shunned. During the Edo period many miko came from families (tsukimono-suji) who were regarded as related to animal spirits capable of possessing humans (tsukimono). As the ethnographer Fairchild reports "the fox spirit families were not Eta families... but like the Eta were avoided even though they were often rich and prosperous" (Fairchild 1962:38). The ostracization of the tsukimono-suji testifies to the close link that existed, if not officially then at least in popular consciousness, between the outcasts and religious practitioners dealing with the sacred or supernatural.

The red-white combination can also be seen in the Kumano bikuni, nuns of Kumano, a mountainous region on the Kii peninsula which attracted many pilgrims and was much associated with supernatural forces. As Tokita (2008) writes, the sacred site of Kumano ”was one of the few Buddhist precincts which was female–friendly and welcoming to women. The Kumano bikuni, nuns affiliated with the Kumano religious complex, were active in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as both proselytisers of the Kumano faith and as fund-raisers, travelling throughout the country collecting donations for the Kumano shrines and temples”. In propagating the faith, the bikuni used pictures to show that salvation was attainable to all, whether rich or poor, pure or impure, man or woman. On one of these pictures (the Sankei mandala) below, we can see the bikuni in red robes and white capes next to a bridge.

Ninose bridge in Kumano. The Kumano bikuni are in red robes with white capes

Tokida also interestingly points out that these Kumano bikuni were ”a Buddhist transformation of the earlier itinerant shamanesses (aruki miko) of Shinto”. Furthermore, she sees them as ”remnants of the medieval itinerant religious practitioners, who were performers and entertainers, even prostitutes, and who continued as liminal figures operating on the margins of society”. Both the Kumano bikuni and the miko, then, had roots in the stratum of”holy” itinerants living in the interstices of settled society and were likely perceived to be close to the sacred or supernatural forces of nature, much like other ”non-agricultural” groups discussed by Amino.

Now, both yin and yang have an obvious sexual connotation. This may have been subdued in the case of hinin and shrine-affiliated miko (the case of bikuni is ambiguous, since the word was also used about travelling female entertainers and prostitutes), but comes right to the fore in the case of Dakini, the goddess worshipped in tantric forms of esoteric Buddhism, who is always depicted as dressed in white and red. She is also always riding on a white fox and was even believed to be a fox-spirit herself (cf Amino 1993:212ff).

Dakini, Edo period

Tantric Buddhism aspires to the unification of yin and yang forces through ritual reenactment of the sexual union. In Japan the worship of Dakini was central to the Tachikawa-ryû current in esoteric Buddhism, in which the sexual union was regarded as a means to achieve ”Buddhahood in this very body”.

Although Tachikawa-ryû was declared heretical and suppressed, the cult of Dakini as such was widespread. Sometimes it fused with Inari worship, the cult of the harvest god, and the cult of Dakini may have been the origin of the belief that foxes were the messengers or servants of Inari.

If the association I’ve made between red and yang, white and yin is correct, then the red-white outfit of Dakini could well be interpreted as a representation, in dress, of the old fertility couple – the dôsojin or sai no kami standing on guard outside the villages.

Dôsôjin, Gunma prefecture

In Seirei no ô, the religious scholar Nakazawa Shin'ichi, in a roundabout but suggestive discussion, actually links together the dôsojin with the couple Dakini and Heruka. And who, seeing the happy couple above, can refrain from thinking about the clay dolls in the miko's box, kissing each other with their arms entwined around each other?


Amino, Yoshihiko (1993) Igyô no ôken (The heteromorph monarchy), Tokyo: Heibonsha.

Fairchild, William P. (1962) ”Shamanism in Japan”, pp 1-122, Folklore Studies 21.

Nakazawa. Shin'ichi (2003) Seirei no ô, Tokyo: Kôdansha.

Ooms, Herman (2009) Imperial Politics and Symbolics in Ancient Japan: The Temmu Dynasty, 650-800, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Takeda, Sachiko (1999) “Trousers: Status and Gender in Ancient Dress Codes”, pp 53-66, in Hitomi Tonomura, Anne Walthall, and Wakita Haruko (eds) Women and Class in Japanese History, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Tokita, Alison (2008) “Performance and Text: Gender Identity and the Kumano Faith”, Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific 16 (March),
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