David L. Romney

Subject Librarian for East Asian Languages and Cultures, Washington University in St. Louis
Faculty Adviser: Thomas D. Conlan

Godly Politics: Ise, the Court, and Japanese Religion 1330-1615


The Ise shrines are known throughout Japan as the residence of the mythical progenitor of the Japanese Imperial line, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. Ise has held long-lasting importance in legitimating the Japanese imperial line and operating as an important site for state-sponsored rituals. Ise maintains an image of unchanged continuity reaching deep into the foundational myths of the country.

In fact, Ise fell into ruin in the mid-fifteenth century. The physical destruction of the Ise shrines has long been thought to coincide with the collapse of the Japanese state during a period of internal conflict at the end of the fifteenth century. Conversely, this dissertation posits that the Ise region was selectively ignored by the imperial court who supported the Yoshida family, an ambitious sect of Shintō ritualists, in place of the Ise shrines. The interactions between the court and the Ise shrines reveal a shift in the meaning of Ise as a place of political and religious significance, and not the collapse of the state itself.

The Yoshida moved important sites where deities were worshiped and determined the sacred geography of Japan. They relocated Amaterasu’s shrine, first to the capital in Kyoto, and then eventually to the city of Yamaguchi in western Japan. In response to this reconfiguration, local pilgrimage facilitators known as onshi propagated an image of Ise as a desirable location for travel and ritual observance. It was during the important period of division with the Yoshida family that much of the imagery and meaning of what Ise became was developed and came to play a central role in the forms of cultural, religious, and political legitimacy that exist in Japan to this day. The shrines were similarly threatened economically and politically by local actors within their home province. This dissertation also examines the Kitabatake family of Ise province to provide insight into the larger picture of economic and political change that took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. This dissertation aims to provide insight into this dynamic period of contestation and present a new vista of religious and political behavior in Japan.