Is Shinto Secular? the 2016 G7 Meeting at Ise in Light of Postwar Japanese Secularism

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Ernils LARSSON, Uppsala University, Faculty of Theology, History of Religions, Sweden
In June 2015, it was announced that the 2016 G7 meeting would take place close to Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture, Japan. The suggestion to enter the bid was made to the Governor of Mie by staff working directly under Prime Minister Abe Shinzô, who during his time as prime minister has had closer ties to the shrine and the Shinto establishment than most of his predecessors. Although Ise Shrine as a historical site dates back millennia, it has retained its role as the locus of modern era Shinto nationalism well after State Shinto was disestablished in 1945.

It has been suggested that the constitutional secularism of post-war Japan can be divided into two periods, based on how the courts have viewed Shinto. Before 1997, Shinto was generally equated with culture and hence not affected by the separation of state and religion posited in Articles 20 and 89 of the Constitution, but since the landmark Ehime Tamagushiryô case in 1997 this has changed and Shinto is now generally – but no exclusively – considered a “religion” in legal terms. This is a position that has been much criticized by the National Association of Shinto Shrines, with its central shrine at Ise.

Building on Jason Josephson’s idea of the discourse of the “Shinto Secular”, I suggest that Abe’s promotion of Ise for the G7 summit lies within the discursive field of what I call the Shinto Normative. Although this discourse has lost ground in the Supreme Court since 1997, the idea that Shinto is something else – something closely connected to what it means to be Japanese – is still common in Japanese political discourse. In this paper, I will analyze Abe’s bid to hold the G7 meeting in the vicinity of Ise in the light of Japanese secularism post 1997.