Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Japanese Sacred Spaces in Jilong

Japanese Buddhism and Shinto followed closely in the wake of Japan's military and administrative colonization of Taiwan, as settlers and officials carried familiar spirituality out of the home islands and used it to transform the colony. Part of their motivation to do so derived from the “religious wars” that emerged in Japan during the Meiji period, when new laws enforced the separation of Shinto deities from their long-term homes in Buddhist temples and the creation of officially-sanctioned Shinto shrines, and legalized religious freedom. This new framework promoted intense competition for adherents and resources between Shinto, Buddhist, and Christian groups and institutions. The energy thus generated, when transported overseas, translated into a strong missionary zeal among Japanese Buddhists in particular. Shinto adherents did not embrace a similar proselytizing agenda, but given Shinto's close affiliations with the new Meiji state and its key symbol—the Emperor as kokutai—settlers and officials both placed great importance on using Shinto to make Taiwan Japanese. (Kokutai is a concept that scholars often translate as the “national polity,” and it refers to the imperial institution, or the symbols and structures associated with the Emperor as the embodiment of the Japanese nation.) Not only could they alter the political and spiritual terrain of the island by exporting the recently-constructed administrative hierarchy of shrines into Taiwan, they also could use Shinto, as an example of modern, rational, and civilized religion, to challenge the spiritual backwardness of the peoples of Taiwan. The Government General wasted little time in setting up the Taiwan Shrine (Taiwan jinja) on a site north of Taipei, which they classified as an imperial shrine (kanpeisha) and enshrined therein three deities of pioneering and reclamation and to Prince Kitashirakawa, who had died of malaria in the campaign to pacify southern Taiwan. In Jilong, settlers played the more important roles in inserting their religious institutions into the urban landscape.

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