Ise Shrine?

There was an interesting language-related squib in the Mainichi Shinbun last month: Ise Shrine ponders changing name to Ise Temple.

The idea to change the English-language name of Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine) has been floated as a way to help foreigners better understand its centuries-old institution, spokesman Tatsumi Yoshikawa told an audience of some 130 people at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) on May 24.

No need to get too upset, though:

[A]fter his lecture, the spokesman said that Ise Shrine does not anticipate any specific development on the idea anytime soon. He also declined to speculate on how a change of a popular shrine's name to "temple" in English would affect other famous shrines such as Tokyo's Meiji Shrine.

There's a Japanese version of the story at Yahoo, too, complete with poll (74% of respondents are against a change from "shrine" to "temple" in the case of Shinto). The Japanese version also includes some background:


According to [the religious corporation responsible for managing the shrine]*, the English used to translate the word jingū 神宮 has changed before. The diplomats of the early Meiji period used the word "temple" for all all non-Christian temples [聖堂] and [Shinto] shrines [神殿]. However, the Buddhist connotations [of "temple"] were so strong that the latter usage was changed to "shrine" in order to differentiate between the two.

* Apparently the official English rendering of 神宮司庁 is just "jinguushichou", i.e. a transliteration. I figured that using this wouldn't be helpful. Incidentally, the official webpage of the shrine/temple in question uses jingū exclusively, but according to Yahoo! (and pace the Mainichi story above) they have been using "sanctuary" instead of "shrine" in their explanatory materials since 1993.

It's true that temple = Buddhism, shrine = Shinto wasn't always the rule. We don't have to take anyone's word for it; we can see the lack of consistency in easily available English-language works. For example, check out this passage from the 1727 History of Japan, translated into English from Kaempfer's original (unpublished) German Heutiges Japan by Johann Caspar Scheuchzer:

Chap. II.
Of the Sintos Temples, Belief and Worship

The Sinsju, that is, the adherents of the Sintos Religion, call their Temples, or Churches, Mia, which word, as I have observ'd, signifies dwelling places of immortal Souls. They come nearest to the Fana of the ancient Romans, as they are generally speaking so many lasting monuments erected to the memory of great men. They call them also Yasijro, and Sia, or Sinsja, which last takes in the whole Court of the Mia, with all other buildings and dependencies belonging to the same.

"Shrine" appears only a few times in the History, and only with a much more specific meaning, essentially involving the storage of "relicks", e.g.:

... Nor indeed do they keep any Images at all in their temples, unless they deserve it on a particular account, either for the reputation and holiness of the carver, or because of some extraordinary miracles wrought by them. In this case a particular box is contriv'd at the chief and upper end of the temple, opposed to its grated front, and it is call'd Fongu, which is as much as to say, the real, true Temple. In this box, which the worshippers bow to, the Idol is lock'd up, and never taken out, but upon the great festival day of the Kami, whom it represents, which is celebrated but once in a hundred years. In the same shrine are likewise lock'd up, what relicks they have, of the bones, habits, swords, or handy-works of the same God.

Moving forward, Lafcadio Hearn seemed to use both "temple" and "shrine" more or less indiscriminately when referring to places of worship (for want of a better term distinguishing such from butsudan, which he referred to as "household shrines" quite consistently). Here are some examples:

It is almost the sensation received when, after climbing through miles of silence to reach some Shinto shrine, you find voidness only and solitude,—an elfish, empty little wooden structure, mouldering in shadows a thousand years old.

When one compares the utterances which West and East have given to their dreams, their aspirations, their sensations,—a Gothic cathedral with a Shinto temple, an opera by Verdi or a trilogy by Wagner with a performance of geisha, a European epic with a Japanese poem,—how incalculable the difference in emotional volume, in imaginative power, in artistic synthesis! (Kokoro, 1895)
Of whatever dimension, the temples or shrines of pure Shinto are all built in the same archaic style. (Gleanings in Buddha Fields, 1897)
In the period of the Ashikaga Shōgunate the shrine of Ogawachi-Myōjin, at Minami-Isé, fell into decay; and the daimyō of the district, the Lord Kitahataké, found himself unable, by reason of war and other circumstances, to provide for the reparation of the building. Then the Shintō priest in charge, Matsumura Hyōgo, sought help at Kyōto from the great daimyō Hosokawa, who was known to have influence with the Shōgun. The Lord Hosokawa received the priest kindly, and promised to speak to the Shōgun about the condition of Ogawachi-Myōjin. But he said that, in any event, a grant for the restoration of the temple could not be made without due investigation and considerable delay; and he advised Matsumura to remain in the capital while the matter was being arranged. (The Romance of the Milky Way and Other Studies & Stories, 1905)

So the potential argument that calling a Shinto shrine a temple is just illogical and historically ill-informed is a non-starter. However, the argument that it will cause confusion, essentially undoing the attempt by the Meiji diplomats above to distinguish Buddhism and Shinto, does seem reasonable. And neither of these reports has much to say about what the corresponding upside would be — just some hints about "shrine" being inappropriate because (in the Christian tradition) it often refers to a place where bones and other relics are stored, which is apparently giving people the wrong impression about Shinto. I wonder if that connotation is really so strong for the average English speaker, though; for me, the secular, non-mortuary "shrine to Kurt Cobain in my bedroom"-type meaning is much stronger.

In summary, I don't have particularly strong feelings about whether the word "shrine" or "temple" is more suitable, but it will make my life more difficult if I can no longer explain to my parents that shrines are Shinto and temples Buddhist.


If you would behold the moon

Here's a poem from the Ryōjin hishō 梁塵秘抄:

Tsukikage yukashiku wa, minami omote ni ike o hore, sate zo miru, kin no koto no ne kikitakuba, kita no oka no ue ni matsu wo ueyo
If you would behold the moon, dig a pond south of your house; you'll see it there/ If you want to hear the kin, plant a pine atop a hill north of your house

"The wind in the pines" was a standard metaphor for the sound of the guqin/kin.

I find it kind of interesting that it's hard to tell whether this poem is lampooning literary pretensions or simply reproducing them. In context (the poem just before it is an obscure pun about polygamy-related domestic troubles) the latter interpretation seems likely.

But you can also imagine similar sentiments put in the mouth of a minor zen figure. In that case I'd interpret it as a cryptic admonishment, with a deeper implied meaning than just "I got your moon right here, buddy."