Ethnicity, Ritual, and Violence in the Japanese Buddhist Tradition
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About the author
Michael Como is Fukami Professor of Shinto Studies at Columbia University.
Prince Shotoku (573?-622?), the purported founder of Japanese Buddhism, is widely referred to as Japan's first national hero. The cult that grew up around his memory is recognized as one of the most important phenomena in early Japanese religion. This book examines the creation and evolution of the Shotoku cult over the roughly 200 years following his deatha period that saw a series of revolutionary developments in the history of Japanese religion. Michael Como highlights the activities of a cluster of kinship groups who claimed descent from ancestors from the Korean kingdom of Silla. He skillfully places these groups in their socio-cultural context and convincingly demonstrates their pivotal role in bringing continental influences to almost every aspect of government and community ideology in Japan. He argues that these immigrant kinship groups were not only responsible for the construction of the Shotoku cult, but were also associated with the introduction of the continental systems of writing, ritual, and governance.By comparing the ancestral legends of these groups to the Shotoku legend corpus and Imperial chronicles, Como shows that these kinship groups not only played a major role in the formation of the Japanese Buddhist tradition, they also to a large degree shaped the paradigms in terms of which the Japanese Imperial cult and the nation of Japan were conceptualized and created. Offering a radically new picture of the Asuko and Nara period (551794), this innovative work will stimulate new approaches to the study of early Japanese religion focusing on the complex interactions among ideas of ethnicity, lineage, textuality, and ritual.
Oxford University Press
; April 2008
253 pages; ISBN 9780198040736Read online
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Author: Michael I. Como
In the press
"This is an ambitious and richly interdisciplinary book that reexamines our sources on Prince Shotoku to trace the Prince's iconic image as cultural hero and royal Buddhist paragon in Japan's seventh and eighth centuries. Unwrapping Shotoku's multi-layered image provides critical clues to the multifaceted transition that spanned Japan's pre-Buddhist and Buddhist epochs. At the center of the process, Como locates Korean emigr?s, especially those from Silla, whose grasp of the tools of literacy gave them key roles in the construction of kingship and mythmaking. Shotoku is a well-written book that anyone interested in Japan's history, culture, and religion will want to read." --Joan Piggott, Gordon L. Macdonald Professor & Director of the Project for Premodern Japan Studies, History Department, University of Southern California
"This book vastly expands our understanding of ancient Japan and the role played by 'immigrants' in its formation. Michael Como's sleuthing in the historical record and his close readings of legends and myths enable him to trace the genealogies, intermarriages, locations, and functions of these communities. The evolving myths surrounding the figure of Shotoku Taishi constitute the centerpiece of this reconstruction. Pleasantly surprising mini-denouements of suspense-building interpretations invariably tie together beliefs and practices that have traditionally been labeled separately ('Shinto,' 'Buddhist,' 'Daoist'), as sharing roots in 'non-native' cultural soil. Como's focus on the immigrant connection and his firm and sure expository style cuts a clear path through and around the innumerable historical controversies that surround this fascinating period of Japanese history." --Herman Ooms, author of Imperial Politics and Symbolics in Ancient Japan
"This is a very creative work that breaks new ground in understanding the historical sources of early Shinto and Buddhist traditions. All students of Japanese religious and cultural history will find Como's insights invaluable." --Religious Studies Review
"I would heartily recommend this study to anybody concerned with early Japanese history." --Journal of Japanese Studies