Kanda (holy rice paddies, Batman)
So, welcome to part two of my series What does Kanda mean? This article is basically a supplement to part one, which discussed the complex etymologies regarding the area and Kanda Shrine. This time we’ll talk about some topics that I felt were too distracting, needed to be separated, and were too long for footnotes. We’ll talk about enshrinements and the relationship between Shintō and Buddhism, and we’ll also talk about family names… and who knows, maybe something else will come up along the way[i]. Since this is a supplement to the previous article, I highly suggest that you read part one first. Otherwise, there’s no context for everything that follows.
Who is Enshrined at Kanda Myōjin?
Time for a little review. In part one, this wasn’t very important. However, in part two, this is going to be critical.
|An earthly kami who handed over control of Izumo Province to the heavenly kami who were ancestors of the imperial family and the original court. He was blended with a Buddhist kami, Daikokuten.|
|This kami, who may or may not be the same as Ōkuninushi, was involved in the transfer of earthly lands to the control of the imperial family.|
|A Kantō-based samurai who revolted against the imperial family in the 900’s. His attempted to secede failed, but the locals saw him as a hero eastern autonomy. After the Meiji Coup, he was de-enshrined, only to be re-enshrined after WWII[ii].|
Kanda no Miya → Kanda Myōjin?
As mentioned in part one, 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine was originally called 神田ﾉ宮 Kanda no Miya Kanda Shrine. This name has serious imperial connotations. Imperial princes, princesses, and their respective cadastral families bore the familial suffix ～宮 miya for centuries[iii]. Many shrines still use -miya in their names or when referring to enshrined deities. For example, Taira no Masakado no Mikoto can be called 三宮 San no Miya the Third Kami of Kanda Shrine[iv]. -Miya can also be used to refer to shrine rankings within certain pilgrimage routes or within certain former provinces[v].
When the Tokugawa Shōgunate was established in Edo, a cultural shift occurred. At that time, the people with all the money and prestige were the samurai. The local people preserved their traditions, but the influx of samurai from the provinces who came in on sanin-kōtai duty brought a distinct warrior culture to the new capital. Under the shōgunate, education generally took place at 寺子屋 terakoya schools operated by Buddhist temples. Also, Buddhism made the samurai (and the ruling Tokugawa clan in particular) distinct from the imperial family, which used Shintō mythology to legitimize its existence.
Buddhism, on the other hand, seemed more universal. After all, the Chinese were all about that shit. China had been around long before Japan and they were way bigger and presumed to have been way more philosophically advanced. Furthermore, Buddhism existed all over Asia and even in some distant, exotic land called India.
Shintō was nowhere to be found in the world, except for Japan. Shintō definitely wasn’t discarded in the Edo Period, but among the educated elites, Buddhism offered an alternative to mythology, the imperial family, and folklore. It offered philosophy, a way of life, and even some answers to the question “what happens when you die?”[vi]
The term 明神 myōjin enlightened kami was a Buddhist term that highjacked the Shintō term 名神 myōjin notable kami, a word used by the imperial court to refer to local kami throughout the realm with highly developed cults, worship that dated back to time immemorial (the Age of the Gods[ix]) or appeared in the mythologies of the imperial clan, and those who were particularly powerful.
But long story short, myōjin means “obvious” or “self-evident.” In this case, Ōkuninushi/Ōnamuchi, and more importantly, Taira no Masakado were obviously beloved by the locals and revered as important 氏神 ujigami tutelary deities[x]. Ōkuninushi and Ōnamuchi qualified as “notable kami” in the Shintō sense because they were included in the legitimatory texts of the imperial family[xi]. In fact, the myth of Ōkuninushi isn’t only directly related to the imperial family’s claim to divine descent and dominion over the earthly realm, he may actually represent an ancient historical event in which the powerful 出雲国 Izumo no Kuni Izumo Province either submitted to or formed an alliance with the imperial family after decades of rivalry.
At any rate, by the Edo Period, Shintō and Buddhism were blended quite nicely and Kanda no Miya had come to be known as Kanda Myōjin. In this period, it was a tutelary shrine of Edo Castle (the Chiyoda area), modern Kanda, modern Akihabara, and most of the shōgun’s capital in general. You could pretty much assume that the main temples/shrines of Edo were 浅草寺 Sensō-ji Asakusa Temple, 山王比叡神社 Sannō-Hiei Jinja Sannō-Hiei Shrine, and 神田明神 Kanda Myōjin Kanda Shrine – the oldest and most revered religious complexes in central Edo[xii]. To this day, the 神田祭 Kanda Matsuri Kanda Festival is not just one of the most important summer festivals of Edo-Tōkyō, it’s one of the most important in all of Japan[xiii].
But Wait! I Have a Friend whose Family Name is “Kanda.”
Of course, you do. It’s the 262nd most common name in the country[xiv]. There are more than 86,000 people in Japan with a family name spelled 神田. I say spelled because there are at least eight readings that I know of… and I could be mistaken, maybe there are more: Kanda, Kamita, Kamida, Kanada, Kōda, Gōda, Jinda, Jinden[xv]. Of these names, Kanda is by far the most common, so much so that all the other readings would probably provoke questions about regional origins and family history.
Speaking of family history, as I mentioned in part one, the family name, and subsequent place names, derive from the title 神田宿禰 kanda no sukune a title granted to the 大伴氏 Ōtomo-shi Ōtomo clan[xvi], which traced their roots back to a mythological event called 天孫降臨 Tenson Kōrin the Divine Descent[xvii] – when the 天津神 ama tsu kami heavenly kami came down to earth to rule over humans and the 国津神 kuni tsu kami earthly kami. The group sent from the heavens was led by 瓊瓊杵尊 Ninigi no Mikoto, the grandson of the sun goddess, 天照大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami. The grandson of Ninigi was 神武 Jinmu, the mythological founder of the 大和氏 Yamato-shi Yamato clan – that is to say, the imperial family itself[xviii].
A handful of the most elite families in the 大和朝廷 Yamato Chōtei Yamato Court could also trace their ancestry back to this most important story of all Shintō mythology. The Ōtomo clan were said to be descendants of 天忍日命 Ame no Oshihi no Mikoto[xix], a heavenly kami who was part of Ninigi’s entourage that descended from above to the earthly realm. In other words, they didn’t claim imperial power, but they claimed divine ancestry to justify their closeness and loyalty to the Yamato Court.
The Ōtomo were granted the title kanda no sukune by the son of 嵯峨天皇 Saga Tennō the 52nd emperor in the early 800’s. The title roughly translates as Governors of the Shrine Fields[xx]. Forgive me for repeating myself, but the clan hailed from Izumo Province, an ancient and powerful kingdom so closely tied to the Yamato Court that it plays a significant role in the foundational myths of Japan – in particular, the story of Ōkuninushi.
What’s the connection between Ōkuninushi and Daitokuten?
As stated earlier, myōjin is a term that Buddhism highjacked from Shintō which means something like “dude, he’s obviously a god.” Depending on which legitimatory texts promulgated by the early imperial court you believe, Ōnamuchi represents either a relative of or another iteration of Ōkuninushi[xxi]. It’s probably better to think of them as two kami rolled into one, or one kami unrolled into two. Or something like that….
Whether you understand them as one or two kami in any configuration, what you can’t deny is that ancient Japanese people soon associated them with another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is far more well known today called 大黒天 Daikokuten. If you take them as separate kami, then Ōnamuchi is an earthly kami who helped Ōkuninushi support the Yamato State[xxii]. In this case, he is associated with yet another kami – a mostly Buddhist kami – that is even more well-known than Daikokuten today. That kami is 恵比寿 Ebisu. Since the Edo Period, these two kami have been worshipped as distinct members of the 七福神 Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck. As they’re both Yayoi and/or Kofun Period kami[xxiii], it’s understandable that they are associated with bountiful rice production and prosperity. As such, their importance has been intrinsic to the heart and soul of Japan from time immemorial[xxiv].
De-enshrinement and Re-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado
OK, so all that crazy mythology dating back to proto-historical times aside, the third and final enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was Taira no Masakado[xxv]. He was an historical personage. He’s well recorded and he clearly made an impact on the people living in the villages and hamlets near 江戸 Edo[xxvi]. His legacy energized eastern samurai, and as a kami he became a symbol of infinite human potential for the everyman[xxvii].
But what did the people in the east find appealing about Masakado’s story; his uprising, his defeat, and head magically flying back to the original Kanda Shrine? He was a warrior who rejected a byzantine imperial court in the west that was interested in milking the outer provinces for taxes, grains, and foot soldiers. He also represented a samurai culture that was growing stronger every day, and year by year distancing itself from the outdated and increasingly insular court in Kyōto. Masakado nor his worshippers knew it, but he set the stage for the Rise of the East.
Once the Tokugawa Shōguns began expanding their castle in the early 1600’s, they exploited the importance of Kanda Shrine for its spiritual value. After all, the Tokugawa were also eastern samurai who distanced themselves from the authority of the imperial court in the west[xxviii].
The Fall of the East
(AKA, the Second Rise of the East)
As everyone knows, the Tokugawa clan ruled for roughly 250 stable years in Japan. As an eastern samurai family – nay, the premier samurai family in the whole country – they recognized the importance of Kanda no Miya and the enshrinement of Taira no Masakado. They also recognized the importance of such ancient kami as Ōkuninushi and their ties to the imperial family. The Tokugawa Shōgunate also successfully maintained a policy of keeping the imperial family and the imperial court in the proverbial kiddy pool, thus suppressing the west while allowing it to maintain a ritual and literary culture under the close supervision of samurai lords who were loyal to the Tokugawa Shōguns.
The imperial family and its goofball court had been pawns in political games of chess since the 1100’s[xxix], but in the Meiji Coup of 1868, the imperial court – while, yeah, still a pawn – was given legitimacy in a western post-Enlightenment sense. The emperor was likened to German or French monarchs. Shintō effectively became a state religion, one based on the ancient texts that legitimized the Yamato clan as the divine rulers of Japan and a Japanese Empire – an empire in a western sense.
The Meiji Emperor and his court chose not to rule from Kyōto, which by this time was a kind of backwater without a port and access to the world[xxx], but from Edo, arguably the largest city in the world with the most impressive infrastructure in all of Asia. They moved into the shōguns’ castle – again, the largest castle in the world[xxxi] – and then found themselves confronted with a most bizarre situation. While the new imperial government wanted to play the religion card to legitimize its authority, it found that the shōgunate had been playing the religion card all these years to legitimize itself, too. One of Edo’s top three religious centers, Kanda Shrine, and the legacy of Taira no Masakado, a samurai who rebelled against the imperial court, were too much to bear.
In order to build up a new capital, Tōkyō[xxxii], the imperial court focused on the construction of western style buildings on the former lands of feudal lords loyal to the Tokugawa. More importantly, they issued a decree separating Shintō from Buddhism as well as the abolition of the samurai class. One of the first actions they took was the de-enshrinement of Taira no Masakado, a symbol of samurai power, and most importantly, a symbol of defiance against the imperial court and its legitimacy. Masakado’s legendary status as a bad ass was impossible to deny, so the Meiji Government de-enshrined him and hoped he would go away.
Masakado Didn’t Go Away
Local people didn’t forget Masakado, but they didn’t fight his removal from the shrine. Edoites, now called Tōkyōites, seem to not have given a shit about the de-enshrinement. The average person on the street was used to syncretic religion, which meant all religion was mixed together for them. Also, given the heavy influence of Buddhism, many of them in the 1870’s were probably atheists or uninterested in religion beyond its performative aspects[xxxiii]. That said, Masakado was removed from Kanda Shrine because he was seen as an imperial rebel.
Masakado’s grave is located in 大手町 Ōtemachi in front of the former Edo Castle. The shōgunate was so superstitious about Masakado that they never moved his grave; his enshrinement at Kanda Shrine was good enough. The Meiji Government was also apparently terrified of his ghost that they, too, left his grave intact.
After the American Occupation and the new secular government’s stance on the separation of religion and government, a new possibility opened for Kanda Shrine. For one, the popular local hero, Taira no Masakado could be re-enshrined without and threat to the imperial family. In fact, since the Shōwa Emperor renounced divine descent, imperial connections to any shrines were minimized to symbolism only. And whether this was a motive or not, I can’t say, but re-enshrining Taira no Masakado seems like a subtle “eff you” to the imperial family squatting on the burned out remains of Edo Castle.
Kanda Matsuri and all that Otaku Shit
I want to tell you what the Kanda Festival is, but instead, I’m going to show what the Japan National Tourism Organization says about it. Keep in mind, this is one of the most important festivals in Tōkyō and in Japan, and all they can say about it is this:
In the 1990’s and more so in the 2000’s, nearby Akihabara became known as an otaku mecca. In 2013, an anime titled ラブライブ! Rabu Raibu! Love Live! aired. It featured a character named 東條希 Tōjō Nozomi who got a part time job as a 巫女さん miko-san shrine maiden at Kanda Shrine. Because of that, and perhaps combined with the otaku penchant for cosplay, working as a shrine maiden here has become a very popular バイト baito part time job for high school and university girls. It’s so popular, in fact, that during the New Year season, applicants are turned away en masse, whereas other shrines have a hard time recruiting enough girls to handle the increased holiday traffic.
A few years ago, my sister-in-law was hired as a shrine maiden for New Year’s break, but I had no idea how popular it was nor how difficult it was to land a gig at Kanda Shrine. When asked why she wanted to do this job so badly, she said she thought the outfit was cute and she wanted to try and wear it at least once in her life.
In 2015, the shrine adopted Nozomi as the official mascot, and you can find 絵馬 ema wooden prayer plaques featuring her and other characters from the series. In fact, if you visit today, the combination of traditional Shintō architecture stands in sharp contrast to the anime characters decorating the premises. It’s really weird.
What Can we Take Away from all This?
Honestly, there’s so much in this story[xxxiv], I hope you just understand why I refused to write about this in 2013, again in 2014, again in 2015, and… you get the idea. The second take away, Japanese history is a black hole of non-stop discovery that’s the greatest soon-to-derail roller coaster I’ve ever dared to board. Lastly, if you’ve read this far, you’re clearly as addicted to this shit as I am. High five.
Before I do my “peace, out!” thing, I want to thank everyone who’s been reading all the while as well as all the new peeps who have come on board. If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section down below. Also, if you want me to keep doing this, consider supporting JapanThis! via Paypal and Bitcoin, or on Patreon, where I’m making super-secret and exclusive content for Patrons only.
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[i] Something that happens here at JapanThis! more often than not.
[ii] More about that later.
[iii] All clans have names. In English, the imperial family is often referred to as the Yamato clan. However, in Japanese, they aren’t commonly referred to this way. While they were, at one time, the Great Kings of Yamato, the main line of emperors has no family name. They are simply emperors. When you’re a descendant of the sun goddess, you can do that. I guess…
[iv] The funerary complex of Tokugawa Ieyasu is called 東照宮 Tōshō-gū. The name brings together a sublime blend of Buddhist and Shintō thought and in doing so, legitimizes the Tokugawa claim to power by divine mandate as a member of the 源氏 Genji Minamoto clan – ie; descendants of the 清和源氏 Seiwa Genji Minamoto family born of Emperor Seiwa’s line.
[v] Provinces, or 国 kuni, existed for most of Japanese history until the Edo Period. Under the Tokugawa Shōgunate, provinces existed as traditional territories, but the real administrative power lay in smaller, more manageable districts called 藩 han domains which were ruled by samurai lords called 大名 daimyo. After the Meiji Coup in 1868, the domain system was abolished and the prefectural system was established. The ancient provinces weren’t addressed because most weren’t functional districts since the Sengoku Period. However, to this day provinces are used to show pride and cultural unity in many areas of Japan. While this is mostly branding today, you can still find regional unity present in cuisine, tradition, and dialects that roughly correspond to the old provinces. And just for the record, Edo and modern Tōkyō fall outside of the Edo Period designations of domains (Edo was the shōgun’s personal property and not a domain). It’s located on the boundaries of two ancient provinces, 武蔵国 Musashi no Kuni Musashi Province and 下総国 Shimōsa no Kuni Shimōsa Province. This is reflected in the place name Ryōgoku.
[vi] Admittedly, some of Buddhism’s answers to the questions regarding death are pretty ridiculous, but all religions make outrageous claims about the nature of the universe and reality. That’s how they make money.
[vii] Very similar to Rome before Christianity came along and fucked up everything… and then Rome fell.
[viii] To what degree Buddhism and Shintō were considered separate is a discussion for another time.
[ix] Japanese cosmology, as recorded and promulgated by the imperial court in the 7th century, is essentially divided into two major periods: 神代 kamiyo the Age of the Gods and 人代 hitoyo the Age of Men. The dividing point is the mythological founding of the imperial line by the first emperor 神武 Jinmu.
[x] Again, with Taira no Masakado, as a local himself, superseding the former enshrined kami.
[xi] These texts are the 古事記 Kojiki Records of Ancient Matters and 日本書紀 Nihonshoki Chronicles of Japan, often referred to as a set by the term 記紀 Kiki, a word I don’t know how to translate.
[xii] On the outskirts of the city, 寛永寺 Kan’ei-ji and 増上寺 Zōjō-ji held the record for being the most ornate religious complexes, as they housed the funerary mausolea of the Tokugawa Shōguns.
[xiii] Learn more about the Kanda Matsuri here.
[xiv] To put this in perspective, Davidson was the 262nd most common family name in the US as of 1990.
[xv] The last two readings are extremely rare and restricted to place names, not family names. An example of this name can be taken from pop culture. A singer from western Japan by the name of 神田來未子 Kōda Kumiko changed her name to 倖田來未 Kōda Kumi. Her actual family name can be read as Kanda, but isn’t. In order to help market her as a singer and performer, management changed 神田 to 倖田. The change of the first character from “kami/deity” to “personal good luck” made the reading of the name easier and more auspicious.
[xvi] Other noble clans were granted this title, most notably the 松浦氏 Matsuura-shi Matsuura branch of the 嵯峨源氏 Saga Genji Minamoto clan descended from Emperor Saga and Taira no Masakado’s branch of the 平氏 Heishi Taira clan, the 桓武平氏 Kanmu Heishi Kanmu Taira clan. Descendants of these families or their clans were granted permission to use the name 神田 in one form or another.
[xvii] Or sometimes, the Descent of the Heavenly Grandson.
[xviii] By accounts of the official records, the imperial family were the rulers of Yamato Province. It’s normal for non-Japanese historians to call the imperial family the Yamato clan, but actually the imperial family has no family name. They are just the imperial family – the soul of Japan.
[xix] A kami so important he was worthy of mentioning in the earliest texts produced in Japan, but not important enough to the purpose of legitimizing the imperial family’s divine rule to preserve the purpose of this god’s function. Nevertheless, as descendants of Ame no Oshihi, the Ōtomo clan were clearly important in the Nara Period, thus the spread of their name under the guise of 神田 Kanda (and its various iterations).
[xx] The title 宿禰 sukune was originally the 3rd highest rank in a hierarchy call 八色の姓 yakusa no kabane. I don’t know how to translate this, but it was a court rank system that placed families on a hereditary ladder that went like this: 真人 mahito, 朝臣 asomi/ason, 宿禰 sukune, 忌寸 imiki, 道師 michinoshi, 臣 omi, 連 muraji, 稲置 inagi. There were various types of sukune. Kanda no sukune is just one. The important thing to bear in mind is that this rank is really high in the imperial court of the time.
[xxi] And to be honest, it doesn’t matter because those most ancient of Japanese texts are a mess of contradictions and variations.
[xxii] Also known as 事代主神 Kotoshironushi no Kami. He was a son of Ōkuninushi, but has other roles in other myths that contradict timelines, but whatever. It’s fucking mythology. Anyhoo, he’s associated with agriculture and medicine.
[xxiii] Why do I say they might be Yayoi Period or Kofun Period kami? It’s because of wet rice cultivation. The Yayoi culture brought rice production, land ownership, social stratification, and warfare to Japan. While these people didn’t have writing, we can see a reason for the importance of kami related to rice and land. While we don’t know if these beliefs actually formed at this time, it seems safe to say they were fully developed in the Kofun Period as they appear in the oldest imperial texts.
[xxiv] I just love saying “time immemorial.”
[xxv] I told Masakado’s story in my article What does Ōme mean?
[xxvi] He’s still considered a bad ass in the eastern portion of former Musashi Province (Tōkyō) and the western portion of Shimōsa Province (modern Chiba Prefecture).
[xxvii] This potential would be reached by the Kamakura Shōgunate, and later, on a much grander stage by the Tokugawa Shōgunate. Oh, yeah, the potential of the everyman, if you were a rich guy or samurai… Then again, the everyman always thinks he can be a rich guy someday, doesn’t he?
[xxviii] Of course, they performatively sought legitimacy from the court, then banned the court from any governmental influence as best they could.
[xxix] The Kamakura Period.
[xxx] It kinda had access to Asia, but the Japanese at that time were looking more to the west for inspiration.
[xxxi] Often described as a city within the city.
[xxxii] Edo was renamed 東京 Tōkyō Eastern Capital.
[xxxiii] As most Japanese are today.
[xxxiv] And I had to leave out a lot of stuff to keep your eyes from glazing over…