Communal Cult

Sep 29, 2021Blog, Culture, Shinto

Communal Cult

“As by the “religion” of the household each individual was ruled in every action of domestic life, so, by the “religion” of the village or district, the family was ruled in all its relations to the outside world.”

Like the “religion” of the home, Domestic, the religion of the community, Communal is also based upon ancestor worship. 

What the household shrine (kamidana 神棚) represents to the immediately Japanese family, the Shinto parish-shrine represents to the greater community.

It is here in the Communal Shinto shrine where the tutelar god called Ujigami (氏神) is venerated.

Ujigami-jinja - Land Of The Rising Son

Ujigami can be looked upon as the tutelary deity of a particular village or geographic area. 

Originally the term referred only to the ancestral deity (kami) of a family or clan (uji), the blood kinship, which formed the basis of the spiritual relationship from the earliest time in the evolution of Japan. 

Here one can observe the Japanese evolving to adapt to ever-changing conditions, where the protection of the Ujigami was later enlarged to cover those who lived with the clan or near it, and extends over the entire community into which one is born.

Yakumo observed the following:

Lafcadio Hearn Bust - Land Of The Rising Son

“It is difficult to venture any general statement as to the earliest phase of the Communal cult in Japan; for the history of the Japanese nation is not that of a single people of one blood, but a history of many clan groups of different origins, who were gradually brought together to form one huge patriarchal society.”

Most every Japanese municipality has its own Ujigami, and that community’s inhabitants, otherwise known as Ujiko (children of the tutelar deity) venerate their respective guardians. 

The veneration and celebration of tutelar deities can still be observed during special festivals (matsuri) throughout Japan today. 

Sawara Gion Matsuri- Land Of The Rising Son

Indeed, our fair city has a spectacular historic festival in two parts, the first in summer, the other in autumn.

Here one can see ferocious and friendly rivalries displaying and honouring their respective tutelar deities as they parade these gods throughout our small slice of paradice.

Naturally, one can feel these venerated gods taking utter delight not only in the mirth and merriment of fleeting moments, but even more so, gratification in the genuine humanity on display as the Japanese worship and honour their gods.

- Land Of The Rising Son

Still now, the Shinto shrine plays an important role in Communal, where the Japanese will go to celebrate special events such as the shichi-go-san, the coming of age ceremony, and of course the most important event of the year, first New Year prayer (hatsumode 初詣). 

The Japanese come to these shrines to give gratitude, petition for good fortune, or to appeal for better days.

Interestingly enough, during the middle of the Meiji era, Yakamo’s understanding of the Shinto priests and their role in their community was described as follows:

“In spite of the fact the Shinto priests exercise no civil function, be it shown that the Shinto priests had, and still have, powers above the law.” 

“The relationship with the community was of an extremely important kind, and their authority was only “religious” but it was heavy and irresistible.”

Japanese Shinto Priest Figure - Land Of The Rising Son

The principles guiding the Japanese are based upon their ancient laws and customs, and the benign sages of the Shinto shrines and Japanese Way continue to hand out timeless wisdom based upon the all encompassing and inclusive Ban Bustu (万物) tenants of Shintoism.

The Japanese community is still strong, and this is thanks to the evolution of the Communal spirit, and the glue of our society; the Shinto shrine and the extraordinary gods who continue to keep watch over our honourable nation. 

Based Upon

Japan,  An Attempt At Interpretation

Published 1904

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn