Horses, Dragons, and Disease in Nara Japan by Como, Michael,
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies , Vol. 34, No. 2 , July 1, 2007
Although the introduction of horses into the Japanese islands has long been a topic of interest for scholars concerned with political and military relations between the Japanese islands and the Korean peninsula, their role in shaping cultic life in the Japanese islands has received surprisingly little attention. Because horses were a central node within the technological, political and ritual systems that formed the material and ideological basis of the Japanese court, however, they helped engender a series of cultic developments that were essential for the formation of what later generations would come to consider native Japanese religious and cultic identity. This article argues that myths and legends of deadly horse-riding spirits were most likely shaped not by the memory of ancient horse riding armies, but rather by a host of forces that included immigrant deities, natural disasters and plagues from which even rulers were hard pressed to escape.
KEYWORDS: Egami Namio … – horse riders – Shotoku – chimata …- ekijin …-Gion Matsuri …
(ProQuest: … denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)
In 1948, WHEN Egami Namio first proposed that the Japanese islands had been overrun by a group of horse riders from the Korean peninsula in the fourth century ce, he set off one of the longest running academic controversies in the field of Japanese history. Neatly standing prewar Japanese claims to historical dominion over the Korean peninsula on their head, Egami’s thesis succeeded in undermining a major pillar of Japanese imperialism. Beyond this, Egami’s thesis also possessed the considerable virtue of accounting for a dramatic transformation in the technological and political structures of the Japanese islands in the centuries that gathered force during this same period. As a result, in no small part thanks to the work of Egami, scholars of ancient Japanese history came to regard the Korean peninsula as a major force in the formation of the political and cultural norms of the Japanese islands. Less felicitously, however, Egami’s work also helped establish ancient Japanese history as a central node of the Korean as well as Japanese nationalist discourses. As a result, although very little archeological evidence has emerged to support Egami’s theory in the subsequent decades, numerous modified versions of the horse rider hypothesis still hold sway among many scholars on the Korean peninsula.1
Much of the impetus for the horse rider theory came from a new reading of the figures of Jingu … and Ojin …, two semi-historical ancestors of the royal house and pillars of Japanese nationalism. In the decades following Egami’s bombshell, several scholars noted that even as the Nihon shoki and Kojiki state that Jingu successfully invaded the Korean peninsula and subjugated the Korean kingdom of Silla …, they also depict immigrant lineages flocking to the Yamato court during the very same period.2 By the 1970s scholars such as Gary Ledyard were suggesting that the court chronicles were a reworking of earlier legends in which these figures arrived in the Japanese islands not as returning conquerors, but rather as heads of a new aristocracy that overran the Japanese islands with cavalry. Ledyard surmised that, after having established themselves as rulers of the Japanese islands, these horse riders subsequently lost their influence on the Korean peninsula. As a consequence of this, he argued, the descendants of the horse riders changed their narratives of conquest, promoting the fiction that it was the Korean peninsula that had been conquered (LEDYARD 1975, 217-54).3
One ironic consequence of the heavy ideological freight borne by this discourse has been the unintentional support it has lent to a series of prewar nativist premises concerning the royal house, the Japanese nation, and the relationship between cult and kingship in ancient Japan. In spite of the iconoclastic intent of many of the horse rider theory’s proponents, the desire on the part of the theory’s advocates to resist Japanese nationalist assertions has often led to a fairly crude hermeneutic of suspicion in which myths, rites, and legends are read not within their cultic and cultural horizons of reception, but rather as coded historical/political messages.
In the same vein, read:
In Search of the Dragon: Mt. Muro’s Sacred Topography
A thesis by Benedette Lomi “Historical Analysis of the Foundation of Japanese Female Impurity in Japan”
Benedetta Lomi, Dharanis, Talismans, and Straw-Dolls: Ritual Choreographies and Healing
Strategies of the Rokujikyōhō in Medieval Japan, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 41/2: 255–304
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