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Critical Book Review By John Pasco, Central CT State University

Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism A Revealing Study of Japans Religion of Conquest By D.C. Holtom Chicago, Illinois, 1943 The University of Chicago Press

I. Why This Book

D.C. Holtom is a frequently cited source in studies of the role played by Shinto in the nationalistic fervor of Japan in the years leading up to World War II; his analysis has been noted as having been influential in the U.S.-imposed policy regarding the disestablishment of state-sponsored Shinto in post-war Japani. This particular volumeii, containing material slightly modified from lectures given by Holtom for the Haskell Lectures in Comparative Religion at the University of Chicago at an unspecified date, was in preparation before Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked by the Japanese, but published soon after. Further situating the book in its particular place and time, Holtom notes ominously in his foreword of 2/16/42 that Singapore has just fallen to Japan. We learn from the books publisher that Holtom lived in Japan for thirty years, and was a representative of the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society and taught church history, history of religions, and modern languages in various Japanese colleges, and that he contributed to the periodical Christian Century, among other writings. (Holtom had previously published The National Faith of Japan: A Study in Modern Shinto in 1938. In earlier, less politically turbulent times, he had written Japanese Enthronement Ceremonies in 1928, and Some Notes on Japanese Tree Worship in

2 1931.) The authors credentials to address his subject matter are thus confirmed, and an identify behind the viewpoint of these lectures begins to take shape. The historical context in which this book found publication, as well as the authors personal history, make this book not just a dispassionate study, but a functional tool of wartime intelligence for use by the enemies of Japan, military and civilian, to better understand their enemy. Significantly, it was published before the outcome of the war could be known, giving no small urgency to the authors arguments. This book exists, therefore, as a piece and part of its own historical era, fairly to be considered as such. The material has immediacy for our own time, as well, given that secular government is not nearly accepted worldwide, either by churches or states, or even within the U.S.A. Inevitably, the reader must ask whether the Holtom model, in which Japan makes use of religious beliefs to justify conquest, can provide insight into current world affairs.

II. Major Ideas of the Author

The author details the intertwined relationship of Shinto to the Japanese state in Chapter I by providing Japanese religious-political background extending back to the time of the Meiji restoration of 1868, when Shinto was used as a rallying cry by the victorious samurai in re-establishing imperial power. Holtom here contrasts the old communal forms of religion, typified by Shinto, to the universal ones, i.e., Christianity and Buddhism. The roots of Shinto belief are given a more extensive historical grounding in Chapter II, albeit with the goal of demonstrating what Holtom calls that belief-systems primitive cosmogony. He chronicles the process by which state and sect Shinto were differentiated, and rejects the government argument that state Shinto is not a religion. He examines the Yasakuni Shrine, which deifies Japans war dead, and the Grand Imperial Shrine of Ise, which deifies the emperor and his ancestors. The status

3 of these two most important shrines of Shinto, contends Holtom, clearly demonstrates the sanctification of Imperial Japans military causes. Chapter III develops the argument that Japan is subject to great tension between nationalism and universalism, and he considers the general religious climate in the years prior to the war. Holtom then devotes one chapter apiece (Chapter IV and V) to Christianity and Buddhism, and to their respective relationships to the Japanese state, including their attempts at accommodation with the states needs. He concludes by examining Shintos role overseas in Chapter VI, and considers how Shinto, a nation-based religion, can present itself to conquered non-Japanese peoples as having relevance to them. Holtoms general argument can be summed up as this: Shinto, as a primitive belief-system native to Japan, is well-suited to promote national unity under a cloak of divine authority for the imperial goals of a militarized Japan, but, unlike the other, universal belief-systems (Christianity and Buddhism), lacks the sophistication to serve an educated modern society otherwise.

III. Critical Reaction

Holtom is clearly in command of his material, which is well researched and documented. In many respects, even Shinto nationalists of the 1930s could have been pleased with his presentation of the facts; however, the conclusions Holtom draws, while certainly defensible, are not the only ones possible. Considering the authors conclusions, as drawn from the above summary : intertwined relationship of Shinto to the Japanese state: From 1868, when the Meiji restoration used state-sponsored (Shrine) Shinto to displace Buddhism (which had served as state religion under the shogunate), the unity of government with its

4 own brand of Shinto had not been in dispute. The Shinto belief in the divine ancestry of the Emperor, and the sacred mission of Japan as Land of the Kamiiii to bring the Whole World Under One Roofiv provided the benevolent philosophical rationale for Japans military expansion into East Asia, as Holtom documents. Holtom does more than simply recount these facts, however. He poetically reflects on vestiges of Western (religious) folk-beliefs, asserting that the old communal form of religion that was normal in the West two thousand years ago exists in Japan today (1943), and characterizes Shinto as a system of ancient tribal gods. (This theme of Shinto as primitive sun worship recurs throughout the book.). Not satisfied with criticizing the performance of this belief-system as a servant to an imperialistic power, Holtom challenges Shintos historical accuracy and validity. He declares, speaking of the Emperors claimed divine lineage from the sun-goddess, Amaterasu: when we reach this kind of interpretation of imperial divinity, we have transcended the limits of logic and history and find ourselves in the presence of assertions of religious faith that represent sentimental attachments to traditional survivals out of ancient folkways and mythology. While this is an arguably valid point of view, it must be said that Holtom does not apply these same tests of logic and history to the assertions of religious faith in either Buddhism or Christianity, in his later treatment of those belief-systems. Therefore his comments reveal a parochial antipathy toward Shinto, which should be kept in mind throughout Holtoms analysis. roots of Shinto belief: Holtom here differentiates state-sponsored Shinto from sectarian Shinto, and demonstrates the religious character of the former, despite the Japanese government definition of this form of Shinto as, essentially, a patriotic exercise. Holtom convincingly demolishes this argument, which at first appears to be an easy task (at least with forty years of hindsight). We find later in this book, however,

5 that it was indeed possible for a modern western institution the Roman Catholic Church to accept the interpretation of the Japanese government at its face value, so Holtoms methodical demolition of the government position was apparently not so obvious. Holtoms discussion of the two major Shinto shrines Ise and Yasakuni is well documented, but his analysis continues to be parochially skewed against Shinto. For example, Holtom considers it self-evident that: No student of early Japanese history and mythology who is really equipped to work in this field and who is free from the coercion of the state can deal first hand with the evidence and fail to conclude that the Amaterasu Omikami concept rests on primitive sun worship. Again, this is a valid analytical point of view, but selectively applied to Shinto. great tension between nationalism and universalism: Japans self-imposed exile from the rest of the world during the Sasoku (closed country) period, from 1639 1867, allowed its ruling class to establish a Japanese national identity without fear of contradiction or dissent. Yet when circumstances, including Western pressure, led to the re-opening of the country, the Japanese desire for world standing meant it needed to learn new, foreign methods of industry, trade and commerce. This led to periods of what Holtom calls infatuation followed by reaction and a strong reassertion of self-sufficient nationalism. As well, foreign contact could not be limited to technical issues alone, and exposure followed to new ideas, including religious ideas. Holtom speaks warmly of the early Meiji years, in which Christianity flourished like a plant in the warmth of spring sunshine. But it flourished too well, threatening the carefully nurtured Japanese identity, and this was a factor in the dissemination of the Imperial Rescript on Education in 1890, which demanded primary allegiance to the Emperor. Holtom here describes the nationalistic attacks on Christianity, and early apologetics by the Christians in response. And although he discusses a period after Japans victory in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 in which Christianity now basked in official

6 favor, a general attack on Western individualism, as eventually expressed in The Fundamental Principles of the National Structure, issued by Japans Department of Education in 1937, left Christianity on the defensive. Holtoms approach to Japans compelling showdown between nationalism vs. universalism the former characterized by what he calls insularity, fear, conservatism, antiforeignism, ethnocentrism, and the latter characterized by cordiality toward foreign culture, liberalism, incipient democracy - equates his preferred universalism with Christianity. This approach is simplistic, but in this volume, thematic. Christianity: The authors identification with Christianity comes full bloom by this chapter. He credits the magnificent contribution of Christianity to social melioration, the humanizing of education, and the emancipation of personality in Japan. Holtom clearly believes Japan needs Christianity. The fervor of the pre-war years, though, left the Christians two choices, according to Holtom: persecution and martyrdom or compromise and accommodation. And, he concludes, the Japanese Christian Church has chosen the latter. This chapter outlines these attempts at accommodation, by proclamation, public act or theological discussion. Using, as an example, the Roman Catholic Church, Holtom shows an evolution of thought from the Bishop of Nagasakis proclamation in 1918, which characterized Shinto as poor in religious ideas and a religion forced upon the people, and in which he said that as Catholics we cannot accept the interpretation of shrine worship given by the government, nor can we visit the shrines nor can we ever pay respect to the so-called gods, to a 1936 decision by the Vaticans College of Cardinals characterizing the shrine ceremonies as purely civil and allowing Catholics to join in the ceremonies. Holtom is not approving of these and other accommodations to Shinto, made by Christians, but is careful to allow for the factors behind these accommodations: 1) a national

7 educational program which produced loyal subjects; 2) the patriotic sentiment of a war psychology; and 3) official compulsion. Holtom goes on to discuss efforts by both Christian and Shinto theologians to find common ground for their beliefs, e.g., comparing Christianity to Bushido (the Way of the Warrior), or finding a basis for monotheism or trinitarianism in Shinto, but he justifiably finds these arguments lacking. Holtom says that the leaders of the Christian movement in Japan have as a purpose to fit Christianity fully into the scheme of comprehensive regimentation demanded by the state, and it is this purpose which much more credibly explains the efforts at finding a common basis of theology. Holtom presents a well-documented case of Christian obeisance to, and collaboration with the Japanese government. Christianity, one of his beloved universal religions, is found guilty of being in service to a pagan, totalitarian state with military conquest as a goal. A readers question arises: why are we to consider the universal religions as superior to the primitive, if both types trip over each other trying to do the bidding of the powerful in like proportions? Holtom never asks this question, and so never answers it. Buddhism: Buddhism, as Holtom explains, has deep roots in Japan and yet, following its own disestablishment during Meiji, found itself on the defensive to certify its status as authentically Japanese. Similar to Christianity, Buddhism moved progressively with the rest of Japan toward a war psychology and issued apologetics for its theoretically pacifistic beliefs, as well as affirmations of its support for Japans wars of expansion. Despite this, as in his tunnel view of Christianity, Holtom never questions his premise that as a universal religion, Buddhism is superior to primitive Shinto. Buddhism is also held up to the charge of hypocrisy regarding its principle of pacifism, contrasted with its actual practice of complete accommodation to its governments war policies. Holtoms point is well made, but raises a question for the reader as to why a similar charge is not raised against Christianity, whose nominal founder is quoted as recommending love your enemy do

8 good to those who persecute you. The answer apparently lies in Holtoms description of religious activity in pre-war Japan: it seems that the Christian churches of Japan had not promoted this particular teaching of their own founder as loudly as the Buddhists had promoted the non-violent teaching of their own founder. Holtom writes respectfully of Buddhism (as he does not of Shinto), but with disappointment. Shintos role overseas: Holtom says the rise of modern Japan to ascendancy in far eastern affairs has been accompanied by an impressive geographical expansion. With this imperial expansion went Shinto (much as Roman Catholicism had once gone with the conquistadores), serving to reinforce the Japanese self-image of benevolent conquerors seeking to share their blessings with the rest of the world, and forcing subservience on religious institutions in conquered territories (Holtom uses Koreas Christians as an example). Shinto faced theological and theoretical problems, however. Since so much of shrine worship centered on the things, places and people, living and dead, of Japan, what would the shrines in other lands honor? And what relevant spiritual principles could Shinto offer to conquered peoples? A partial solution to the first question was a 1938 decree that all foreign shrines would honor Amaterasu. For an answer to the second question, Holtom says Shinto developed a previously existing concept of moral excellence, called makoto, magokoro, or shinjitsu. All these words are probably best translated sincerity. Holtom quotes The Fundamental Principles of the National Structure: The heart of sincerity is the purest manifestation of the spirit of man. In sincerity man possesses the foundations of his life. By sincerity he becomes one with the universe. By this he gives life to the universe and attains harmony therewith. Holtom is understandably skeptical, and provides his own definition of the essence of Shinto sincerity as conformity to rule. He does, though, provide a long quote on sincerity from Miki

9 Nakayama, the founder of the Tenrikyo sect, one of the thirteen approved sects of non-state Shinto in prewar Japan, calling the passage profoundly eloquent and Shinto at its highest. Holtom asserts that the popular sects of Shinto reveal to us the soul and aspirations of the real Japanese people, as opposed to the state version, which he says is made incredible by mythological crudity." The reference to Tenrikyo is the sum total of Holtoms positive comments about Shinto belief in this book. general argument Holtoms final point is that the best of Japanese leadership, Buddhist and Christian alike have painful misgivings regarding those who control the national destiny. The reader notes that Shinto leadership, popular or otherwise, is not mentioned in this context. The use of Shinto by the Japanese state as an ideological tool of wartime expansion is disputed by no one. Its roots in national identity allowed it to be abused in extreme ways. However, these facts alone do not explain Holtoms obvious aversion to Shinto as a belief-system. Christianity and Buddhism, to cite Holtoms preferred universal religions, demonstrably made every effort to prove themselves good citizen-institutions of Japan by supporting the war effort, and it will never be known how much farther they would have gone in support, had they been given an opportunity by the Japanese government. (In World War II-era Europe, organized Christianity had certainly been used by, and cooperated with governments based on arguably primitive ethnic tribal allegiances. v) Yet Holtoms lenient verdict for Christianity and Buddhism in Japan is that these religions were merely caught in the trap of power politics. That Shinto filled a political role for some Japanese as well as a purely spiritual one does not make it primitive. Belief-systems cannot be studied separately from the culture in which they evolve; the functions of religious beliefs are many and, as western history confirms, its use to justify war is a constant. It does not seem to be religious belief that shapes a cultures attitude to war, but a cultures needs and the needs of its ruling class are always primary which shape its religious beliefs.

10 Holtoms methodology to attack the mythological crudity of Shinto is selectively applied, as we have seen. While it can be argued that the simpler the culture, the simpler the concept of god, it cannot be logically deduced that the simpler the concept of god, the less true the concept of god. Holtom never allows his own concept to be tested. Holtom writes as a wartime partisan of both Christianity and of the West. There is no evidence from this volume that he was able to apply the standards by which he judged Shinto to his own cultures history, politics and belief systems (comparison to the U.S. belief in Manifest Destiny would have been appropriate). Such an application would have made this well-documented study of more scholarly use. Holtoms book is quite valuable in understanding the religious scene in wartime Japan. Is Holtoms model of a religious state relevant to world affairs in 2003? Theocracies exist to varying degrees in todays political landscape, and the combination of temporal power and religious vision can be nightmarish. However, I do not find hard evidence that religiously inspired nationalism is, in practice, more dangerous than secular nationalism. Both thrive on powerful mythological constructions (of either god or nationhood), on intimidation (of either heresy or dissent), and are dangerous to the extent that their cultures separate themselves from others and value power over others, for whatever their stated end. If Holtom did not apply his own standards to his own culture, his readership is not so restricted. His attack on the use of nationalistic fervor, justified by religious dogma, to promote military expansionism and unquestioning obedience to government authorities should remind his readership to question such use wherever it is found, including, but not limited to, within the three branches of government established by the pointedly secular U.S. Constitution.

McKeon, class handout, New Britain, 2003; Earhart, Religion in the Japanese Experience, Belmont, 1997; Anesaki, Religious Life of the Japanese People, Tokyo rev. 1961


in 1947, Holtom revised this volume as Modern Japan and Shinto Nationalism; a Study of Present-Day Trends in Japanese Religion. iii Kami, sometimes translated as gods, here used in the sense of the sacred, as Holtom recommends (see Earhart) iv : hakko ichi-u, a wartime slogan v see, for example Hitler's Pope-the Secret History of Pius XII by John Cornwell, NY 1999